Discover the history of New Hampshire’s African-Americans

  • The grave marker of Prince Whipple stands in North Cemetery in Portsmouth, N.H., Saturday, Jan. 31, 1998. Whipple, a slave who became a soldier in the American army during the Revolutionary War, crossed the Delaware River with George Washington, and is pictured in the famous painting that depicts that event. His grave is one of 40 sites on Portsmouth's Black Heritage Trail. (AP Photo/Andrew Sullivan) ANDREW SULLIVAN—ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Valerie Cunningham walks through North Cemetery in Portsmouth in 2006. Born in Portsmouth, Cunningham has spent the last decades years researching the Seacoast’s black history. AP file

  • JerriAnne Boggis, who is working on a statewide, black history trail that recognizes African-American contributions, stands by a statue of Harriet Wilson in Milford. Wilson is considered the first female African-American to publish a novel in the U.S. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 2/17/2017 12:08:33 PM

Nationally and including New Hampshire, February is celebrated as Black History Month. Throughout the month, there will be events recognizing African Americans’ contributions to the Granite State from the colonial era to today.

Elizabeth Dubrulle, director of Education and Public Programs, suggested checking out some of these people and places to enrich your understanding of black history in New Hampshire.

Ona Judge

When many Americans think George Washington they picture a man who fought for freedom and liberty. The first president to lead a nation founded on those ideals. But that’s not the full picture. Washington and his wife, Martha, may have believed in those ideals for themselves, but were also slave owners. While living in Philadelphia, Washington circumvented laws that required that slaves be freed after six months by sending slaves to the South to “reset” the clock.

One of the people he enslaved was Ona Judge, Martha’s chief attendent. Judge ran away to Portsmouth in 1796, when she was just 22 years old.

Life for runaway enslaved men was difficult. For women, even more so.

At that time slavery was still legal in New Hampshire. Additionally, Washington put much effort to get Judge back into his possession. He did not succeed.

Judge’s story has been research and written in a recently published account Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar.

Dunbar will speak on her research and the book at Gibson’s Bookstore on March 2 at 5 p.m. On March 5, she will also speak at the Langdon House in Portsmouth at 2 p.m.

Additionally, Gwendolyn Quezaire-Presutti will portray Judge in a performance at the Dover Public Library on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail

As a major colonial center of commerce, it makes sense that Portsmouth would have a high concentration of sites connected to New Hampshire’s slave trade. The first black person to arrive in the Granite State was brought in 1645 after being kidnapped in Guinea. Sites connected to New Hampshire’s slave trade include the Wharf and Stoodley’s Tavern, where slaves were auctioned off. Other locations include where known slaves lived and worked.

Other sites, like Market Square, recall native Africans passing on traditions to American-born descendants and June coronations of black community leaders.

Portsmouth’s African Burial Ground, a segregated cemetery, has undergone efforts to respect the people buried there with a memorial after it was paved over to form Chestnut Street in the 1900s.

Full descriptions of the 27 sites of Portsmouth’s Black Heritage Trail can be found at portsmouthhistory.org/portsmouth-black-heritage-trail.

On Sundays through March from 2 to 4 p.m. at Discover Portsmouth, the trail will hold Elinor Williams Hooker tea talks on black history and African-American Culture. Today’s talk will be on Men of the Cloth: Black Masculinity and Spirituality; on Sunday there will be a discussion of the film The Birth of a Nation.

‘Shadows Fall North’

This documentary looks at Valerie Cunningham of Portsmouth and JerriAnne Boggis of Milford, who created the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail and are working to create a New Hampshire trail, and the push to bring more of New Hampshire’s racial history to light.

With Cunningham and Boggis, the film was created by Nancy Vawter, Brian Vawter and Burt Feintuch, David Watters and Katie Umans with the University of New Hampshire Center for the Humanities and Atlantic Media Productions.

A screening of the documentary will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Mara Auditorium at Southern New Hampshire University.

For more information, visit blackhistorynh.com.

Noyes Academy

You can’t visit this school, because it didn’t last very long.

In 1834 in Caanan, abolitionists worked to create an integrated school in a pre-Civil War. The school enrolled about two dozen students, 14 who were African-American.

Segregationists tried to end the school by discrediting teachers and fear-mongering of interracial relationships. When that failed, men from the region with oxen pulled the school from its foundation and put it into disuse, according to a town history of Caanan edited by James Wallace. The building later burned.

Harriet Wilson

Considered the first female African American novelist, Harriet Wilson hailed from Milford.

Her book, Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, was a fictionalized account of her life. Her father, Joshua Green, died when she was young, and her mother, Margaret Smith, abandoned her. Though considered a free person, Wilson was taken in as an orphan to be an indentured servant for the Hayward family (called Bellmonts in her book). She was physically and mentally abused from age six to 18.

As an adult, she became a seamstress and married Thomas Wilson, a lecturer. He abandoned his wife while she was pregnant and ill. She went to live at the Poor Farm in Goffstown, where her son George was born. After George was born, Thomas Wilson retrieved his wife and son, became a sailor, and died soon after.

Harriet Wilson and George returned to the Poor Farm, where George died at age seven.

It was then that Harriet Wilson moved to Boston and published her book anonymously.

The Hayward Homestead can still be found in Milford. A statue of Wilson was erected in Bicentennial Park in the town.

For more information on black history in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Historical Society dedicated a special edition of their journal Historical New Hampshire that exclusively focuses on it.




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