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Honeycutt, Prince Albert (1852–1924)

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Prince Honeycutt outside his barbershop

Prince Honeycutt outside his barbershop in downtown Fergus Falls, undated. Used with the permission of Otter Tail County Historical Society.

Born into slavery in 1852, Prince Honeycutt set a course for himself that led from Civil War battlefields in Tennessee to freedom in the North. He settled in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, in 1872, and his accomplishments there were milestones in the state’s history: the first Black professional baseball player, the first Black firefighter, and the first Black person to run for mayor. In addition, he used his business and leadership skills to assist other Blacks moving from the Jim Crow South to rural Minnesota.

Prince Albert Honeycutt was born into slavery in Tennessee on December 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 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.

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 fourteen. 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 eighty-five Black folks 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.

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Allen, James. “A Man of Many Firsts: Honeycutt Memorial Drive Dedication Brings Together Descendants of ‘The First 85.’” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, June 16, 2021.
https://www.fergusfallsjournal.com/news/a-man-of-many-firsts-honeycutt-memorial-drive-dedication-brings-together-descendants-of-first-85

“Base Ball Match.” Fergus Falls Advocate, June 18, 1873.
https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn85025478/1873-06-18/ed-1/seq-1

Cannon, Mary D., and Patricia Harpole. “A Day in the Life of Emily Goodridge Grey.” Minnesota History 56, no. 4 (Winter 1998–1999): 248–249.
http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/56/v56i04p248-249.pdf

“Citizens Nominate.” Minneapolis Tribune, March 27, 1896.

“A Colored Colony.” Wheelock’s Weekly, April 7, 1898.

Day book, George B. Wright, July 27, 1859–November 30, 1863. George B. Wright and family papers, 1785–1955. Manuscripts Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00227/pdfa/00227-00065.pdf

“February Wedding.” Fergus Falls Free Press, February 23, 1910.

“A Fergus Falls Sensation.” St. Paul Globe, July 17, 1878.

“For the Poor.” Perham Bulletin, December 8, 1892.

“Forty-Three Years: Prince A. Honeycutt Celebrating 43rd Anniversary of His Arrival In This City.” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, July 30, 1915.

“Goheen is Held.” Fergus Falls Weekly Journal, April 9, 1891.

Green, William D. Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865–1912. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Hermes, Melissa. “A Prince Among Men: The Life and Times of Prince Albert Honeycutt.” Otter Tail Record 13, no. 3 (1994).

“Home Sold.” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, March 18, 1922.

“In Order to Drill the Fire Department.” Fergus Falls Advocate, May 13, 1874.

“Mrs. Prince Honeycutt Celebrated Her 26th Birthday.” Fergus Falls Weekly Journal, June 26, 1890.

“The North Star B. B. C.” Fergus Falls Weekly Journal, July 24, 1873.

“P. A. Honeycutt Died Early Today.” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, January 29, 1924.

“Prince Honeycutte Ran Well.” Fergus Falls Weekly Journal, November 11, 1896.

“Personal Gossip.” Fergus Falls Weekly Journal, September 7, 1877.

Report of the Proceedings of the Army of the Tennessee at the Eleventh Annual Meeting Held at St. Paul, Minnesota, September 5th and 6th, 1877. Cincinnati: Society of the Army of the Tennessee, 1885.
https://books.google.com/books?id=8cX-Sk9vKlYC&printsec=frontcover

White, Frank M. They Played for the Love of the Game: Untold Stories of Black Baseball in Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2016.

Related Images

Prince Honeycutt outside his barbershop
Prince Honeycutt outside his barbershop
Prince Honeycutt and his family
Prince Honeycutt and his family
Bird’s-eye view of Fergus Falls, ca. 1890
Bird’s-eye view of Fergus Falls, ca. 1890
Firemen’s convention
Firemen’s convention
Black and white photograph of African American barber Prince Honeycutt in his Fergus Falls shop, c.1900.
Black and white photograph of African American barber Prince Honeycutt in his Fergus Falls shop, c.1900.
Prince Honeycutt with other Fergus Falls fire fighters
Prince Honeycutt with other Fergus Falls fire fighters
Fergus Falls Fire Department fire engine
Fergus Falls Fire Department fire engine
Sophia Gardner
Sophia Gardner
Prince and Nancy Honeycutt with their granddaughters
Prince and Nancy Honeycutt with their granddaughters
Otter Tail County Fair, 1921
Otter Tail County Fair, 1921
Prince Honeycutt House
Prince Honeycutt House
Dedication of Honeycutt Memorial Drive
Dedication of Honeycutt Memorial Drive

Turning Point

In 1872, Honeycutt moves to Fergus Falls and includes himself in the business, political, and civic life of the community.

Chronology

1852

Honeycutt is born into slavery in Elkton, Giles County, Tennessee.

1862

Honeycutt escapes slavery and seeks protection from the Union Army. He meets Captain James Compton of Company C, 52nd Regiment, Illinois Infantry, and works for the white officer during the Civil War. At war’s end, he lives with the Compton family.

1872

Honeycutt arrives by stagecoach in the newly organized Minnesota city of Fergus Falls. He immerses himself in every facet of civic life, from business and sports to politics and education.

1873

Honeycutt forms his own baseball team, the North Star Club, and becomes Minnesota’s first professional Black baseball player.

1874

The Fergus Falls Fire Department elects officers and chooses Honeycutt as its steward.

1878

Honeycutt marries Lena Marsden. The couple has two children, Albert and May, but Lena dies during childbirth in 1882.

1883

Honeycutt marries his second wife, Nancy Ann Brown.

1884

Honeycutt opens his barbershop in Fergus Falls.

1891

Both Honeycutts testify in the capital murder trial of Adelbert Goheen.

1896

Honeycutt runs for mayor of Fergus Falls.

1898

“The First 85,” a group of Black families from Kentucky, move to Fergus Falls.

1900

May Honeycutt is the first Black graduate from Fergus Falls High School. She and her sister Rose both attend Moorhead Normal school and become rural school teachers in Otter Tail County.

1916

Nancy Honeycutt dies of breast cancer.

1924

Prince Honeycutt dies and is buried at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Fergus Falls.

2021

The City of Fergus Falls dedicates Honeycutt Memorial Drive on the street in front of the Honeycutt House (612 Summit Avenue East).