How can we use primary sources to learn about history that has been left out?
In the past, many Vermont history books ignored the history of Black Vermonters. One story that was left out is about the Buffalo Soldiers in Fort Ethan Allen. They were a regiment of Black cavalry(a group of soldiers who fight on horseback) who lived in Vermont from 1909-1913.
You could watch a recent video about the Buffalo Soldiers. This is a secondary source made over 100 years after the event. A secondary source is a history story told by someone who was not there at the time. To dig deeper, you could also look at primary sources. Primary sources are original documents from the time period you are studying.
Look at the postcard above. We can see four Black men wearing uniforms. There is also a red brick building behind them and the words “South End of Barracks(buildings used as housing for soldiers) Fort Ethan Allen, VT.” This postcard shows how the soldiers dressed and where they lived during their time in Vermont. But it does not tell us the names of the soldiers in the photograph.
The 1910 census record (the process by which the government counts its people and collects their information) from Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester gives us details about the Buffalo Soldiers. The first row lists James W. Cranson as a Private in the army. He is a 32-year-old single Black male. He was born in South Carolina. Most of the soldiers were born in southern parts of the United States. Most of them are young men under 45. This primary source gives us specific information about the Buffalo Soldiers in 1910.
We can also learn about the Buffalo Soldiers by reading newspaper articles. One article from the Barre Daily Times in May 1910 speaks about the Buffalo Soldiers playing a baseball game. The soldiers would take part in community events like sports games and parades. They would also invite Vermonters to watch their cavalry exercises. This tells us that the soldiers were a part of the community.
These primary sources are good resources for learning more about the Buffalo Soldiers. But these pieces of history only give us some information. Many of the newspaper articles written about the soldiers are biased(a strong feeling for or against something without enough reason) and racist. Historians do not know of any diaries or letters written by the soldiers during their time in Vermont. This means we do not know the soldiers’ perspectives(the way things are seen from a particular point of view).
Racism is the reason that their stories were left out from most history books. By looking at history again, we can learn about the stories of all Vermonters.
Thinking About History
Historians ask questions to think deeply about history.
What are some other ways you can learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers?
Follow the links below to explore related topics.
Watch the video Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Ethan Allen from This Place in History
Visit places around the state to learn more about Black Vermonters in history
Visit the United Methodist Church in Winooski to learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers
Copy and paste this citation to show where you did your research.
Vermont Historical Society. "Buffalo Soldiers." Vermont History Explorer. Accessed September 28, 2023. https://vermonthistoryexplorer.org/buffalo-soldiers