This is my second time participating in this yearly challenge. This year I want to write a bit on two of my favorite families – the Toneys and the Storms (I’m doing two because I couldn’t decide on one).
In a tiny cemetery in Basin Harbor, VT, four headstones stand together at the end of a row. One headstone reads “Primus Storms died May 23, 1842 aged 107 years.” Also in the row are Primus’ wife, Parmelia, and their daughters, Parmelia Langley and Susannah Storms. As far as anyone knows, they are the only African-Americans buried in that cemetery.
Local Addison County, VT history tells the story of Platt Rogers who journeyed to the Vermont side of Lake Champlain and started the town of Basin Harbor. Rogers, a Revolutionary War veteran, traveled from his home in Fishkill, NY, part of Duchess County. Besides settling Basin Harbor, he also created roads between the towns of Ferrisburgh, Vergennes and Panton, VT and ran a ferry that crossed to Lake Champlain’s New York side.
Rogers arrived in Vermont in 1789, bringing with him a female slave, “Millie” (Parmelia Storms). Parmelia’s formerly enslaved husband, Primus Storms and their children followed Rogers to Vermont. The local story is that Primus worked for Rogers for a set number of years in exchange for freedom for his wife and children and a plot of land. I’m not sure about that story because slavery was abolished in Vermont in 1777. It may be that Primus worked for Rogers in exchange for the land only.
Primus and Parmelia settled in Panton, VT, just a short walk from Basin Harbor. Primus built a home and planted an apple orchard. In later years, the orchard became known as Nig*** Orchard. Primus and Parmelia had five sons and three daughters. All lived, worked and died in Vermont. Most of their grandchildren, however, left Vermont before 1900 and settled in Massachusetts and New York.
I know little about Primus’ early years. The owner of the Basin Harbor Club (where the cemetery is located) told me that Primus served General George Washington during Washington’s New York campaign in the Revolutionary War. I do know that there was a wealthy landowning (and possibly slave-owning) family named Storms in Fishkill, NY during the mid to late 1700s. It’s possible that Primus was once owned by the Fishkill Storms.
I think it’s remarkable that a man of color lived to be over 100 years old in nineteen century Vermont. That alone testifies to what an extraordinary man he must have been. On a recent trip to Panton and Basin Harbor, my boss (who happens to own the land once owned by Platt Rogers) and I went to the old Nig*** Orchard and discovered an old cellar hole. She thinks the stones on the cellar hole are arranged similar to the ones in the old “Homestead” in Basin Harbor – a building thought to have been built by Primus. Here’s a picture of the cellar hole-