150 years of history remembered through student’s eyes
By Elsie Lynn The Essex Reporter
“When I looked up at the stage, there was this grey-haired, very distinguished looking man and I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going to get that old,’” recalled Glendon K. Fleury from his home in Colchester on Friday. “Well, obviously it happened.”
Now 86, Fleury, who goes by Jack, is one of the few Vermonters still alive who witnessed John Branch’s account of the St. Albans Raid. According to Fleury, Branch made presentations to various groups on the 75th anniversary of the famous Raid of 1864. It was 1939 and the fifth- and sixth-graders of Fairfield Street School were one of Branch’s audiences, which is how Fleury came to be influenced by this first-hand account of history.
“When he (Branch) gave his presentation, I was the same age he was when he witnessed the Raid,” Fleury explained. The Dec. 12, 1925 St. Albans Daily Messenger describes how Branch and his friend came to be locked in a local jail cell when the Raiders came to town. (See clipping from Dec. 12, 1925 publication.) It was from this cell that Branch watched as the southern rebels terrorized, intimidated and corralled local citizens into Taylor Park, while different teams of raiders held up four banks. Not more than a half-hour later, it’s reported that the raiders made off with $208,000 and fled for the Canadian border.
The raid represented the northernmost land action of the U.S. Civil War. It was controversial because Confederate soldiers launched the Oct. 19 raid from Canada to rob local banks in the hope it would force the Union Army to divert troops to defend its northern border.
It’s said that within 24 hours 14 of the 21 raiders were captured by Canadian authorities and $87,000 was recovered.
“His presentation of the Raid obviously had an impression on me. It’s been with me all these years,” Fleury said.
The native Vermonter calls St. Albans home even though he was adopted twice and spent his youth working for room and board at various farms. Fleury attended school wherever he happened to be, which included 15 different towns from New Hampshire to Essex to the old Colchester schoolhouse. He entered the U.S. Navy in 1946 at age 17 and spent the majority of his service at sea. Three years later he got out of the Navy, and shortly after met his wife Elizabeth.
Before the Fleury’s celebrate their 65th year of marriage on Nov. 1, the St. Albans Raid will mark its 150th anniversary on Oct. 19.
This weekend from Sept. 17-21 reenactments, tours, celebrations and all sorts of festivities will flood downtown St. Albans to commemorate the historical event.
“Branch was able to see the significance of history and convey that history to others, and he did ask us to pass it on,” Fleury recalled, adding he is hopeful that together with the help of St. Albans school officials some type of contest that spurs students in eighth-grade or younger to pass on this history of their town.
In a letter Fleury wrote to the St. Albans Messenger on Sept. 2 of this year, he expressed his intention:
“I have always felt a special obligation to Mr. Branch for conveying his first-hand account of the Raid to the schoolchildren of his time. It certainly was both a selfless, and thoughtful act on his part. He shared with them a very important lesson for them to remember: that anyone can be called upon at anytime, to become a conveyor of history and they will never know when some historical event will stare them directly in the eye…”
“I hope to stimulate and get the attention of younger minds,” Fleury said. “We need to learn from people who experienced it; history offers concrete examples of what humanity has gone through, and we have so much to learn.
“I’m reaching out at the end of my life and I’m hoping someone will pass it on after me because it’s what Branch wanted, too.”
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the St. Albans Raid and this weekend’s events visit www.stalbansraid.com.