Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

This content is shared with MinnPost by MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia created by the Minnesota Historical Society and supported by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Prince Albert Honeycutt, Minnesota’s first Black firefighter

Born into slavery in 1852, Honeycutt set a course for himself that led from Civil War battlefields in Tennessee to freedom in the North.

Prince Honeycutt outside his barbershop in downtown Fergus Falls, undated.
Prince Honeycutt outside his barbershop in downtown Fergus Falls, undated.
Otter Tail County Historical Society

Prince Albert Honeycutt was born into slavery in Tennessee on Dec. 28, 1852. When Union troops under General William Sherman marched in, Honeycutt got permission from his mother, Sophia Gardner, to march with them. Too young to enlist in the military, Honeycutt served as a camp helper for a white officer named Captain James Compton of the 52nd Illinois Infantry. He remained with Compton throughout the war as one of the many enslaved people known as “contrabands” who actively pursued their own freedom by assisting the Union Army.

At war’s end, Honeycutt returned home to tell his mother goodbye before setting out to reunite with Compton. He joined the Compton family when they relocated to the newly organized Minnesota town of Fergus Falls in 1872.

After he arrived, Honeycutt immediately became an important member of the community. Local newspapers reported almost his every action and saying. He organized the first baseball team in Fergus Falls, called the North Star Club, in 1873, and is recognized as the first professional Black baseball player in Minnesota history.

In addition to working as a teamster for a flour mill, Honeycutt volunteered with the local fire department in 1874. As one of the first, if not the first, Black firefighters in the state, he was charged with ringing the fire bell to sound the alarm for other firefighters. He was elected fire department steward and represented Fergus Falls at a statewide firemen’s convention held in Ashby in 1890.

Article continues after advertisement

Honeycutt learned the barbering trade from a fellow Civil War veteran and then opened his own business in downtown Fergus Falls in 1884. An astute entrepreneur well aware of his Scandinavian clientele, Honeycutt is said to have spoken Norwegian to customers. In 1887, he added “an authentic and orthodox Finnish bathing house” to the barbershop.

Although Minnesota has never outlawed interracial marriage, Honeycutt’s 1878 marriage to a white woman named Lena Marston created a statewide controversy. Letter writers to newspapers threatened violence. Allies like James Compton, who served as a witness at the wedding ceremony, stood by the couple. They had two children together before Lena died in 1882.

One year later, Honeycutt remarried. Friends introduced him to Nancy Brown, who had come with her family to Otter Tail County to homestead. The couple raised their family in a house they owned in Fergus Falls at 612 Summit Avenue East. In addition to May and Albert from Honeycutt’s first marriage, the couple had two daughters, Rose and Inez. A son named Max died in infancy, and Inez contracted tuberculosis and died at age 14. The two eldest daughters were the first Black graduates of Fergus Falls High School. They both attended Moorhead Normal School and became public school teachers.

The Honeycutt home was a busy place. The couple was included in the parties and weddings of Fergus Falls, and Prince made an unsuccessful run for mayor of Fergus Falls in 1896. Both Honeycutts testified in a capital murder trial when their servant was killed by her intimate partner. Nancy taught piano lessons and served as a midwife. And when Black visitors came to town, they boarded with the Honeycutts.

When 85 Black individuals from Kentucky arrived in Fergus Falls in April 1898, Honeycutt assisted with their integration into the community as they enrolled children in school, joined churches, found housing, and took jobs. Ads placed in the local newspaper asked employers to contact Prince Honeycutt.

A special ceremony took place at the county fairgrounds in 1921 honoring Honeycutt and other “Old Settlers” of Otter Tail County. At about the same time, however, he lost his eyesight, became disabled, and almost lost his home to foreclosure. With the help of concerned residents, a city alderman and the city attorney, Honeycutt remained in his home. In 1923, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in downtown Fergus Falls, not far from the location of his original barbershop.

Prince Honeycutt died in 1924 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Fergus Falls, next to his family members.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.