On October 3 at 11 a.m., Vermont’s first known elected Black sheriff and chief of police, Sheriff Stephen Bates, will be honored with the unveiling and dedication of an historic marker. Bates, a member of St. Paul’s, Vergennes, was first elected sheriff and chief of police in Vergennes in 1879, serving the city in those roles for nearly 25 years.
Formerly enslaved in Virginia, Bates escaped Shirley Plantation and served Union officers during the Civil War. Later, he was employed by Frederick E. Woodbridge, a U.S. Congressman from Vermont, who lived in Vergennes, where Bates also settled.
In fall, 2020, Larry Schuyler, a descendant of Bates, visited St. Paul’s. Following that visit, St. Paul’s member Bo Price began learning more about Bates’s life and started a discussion that ultimately led to the formation of the historic marker team.
Schuyler, an Episcopalian from Massachusetts, has become a friend of the parish, joining the congregation for Sunday services and the “Undoing Racism” book group on Zoom. He and his family will be present for the unveiling along with a representative from Senator Bernie Sanders’s office. Prior to the dedication of the historical marker, the Rev. Canon Walter Brownridge will preach at the 9:30 a.m. service at St. Paul’s. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, space is extremely limited for the in-person church service. To participate remotely, join via the St. Paul’s, Vergennes website.
Images: Stephen Bates (from the Vermont Historical Society), Larry and Lynn Schuyler at St. Paul’s, Vergennes.