Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Slavery in Portsmouth

The first African slave arrived in Portsmouth around 1645, the trade peaked before the American Revolution, and most enslaved servants were emancipated by the early 1800s.

Sheafe Warehouse
Victims of the slave trade in New Hampshire usually arrived through the port of Portsmouth. They worked in the shipyards and waterfronts, in tradesmen’s workshops, on farms and in family homes. Upon their owner’s death, the Africans were willed to the next of kin along with the rest of the estate.

African servants were scattered throughout the households of Portsmouth. Only the most wealthy had more than one or two slaves, and very few residents owned more than four. Slaves were assigned a first name by the person who bought them and used the family’s last name to identify their owner.

Stoodley's Tavern
Slavery was never a large industry in Portsmouth. Slave auction venues included Pitt Tavern, Stoodley's Tavern, and Market Square near the old State House. Slaves were sold to buyers on the waterfront from slave ships, the docks and warehouses. Many traders advertised their victims in local newspapers, including The New Hampshire Gazette.

Moffatt-Ladd House

The largest known shipment of African slaves to Portsmouth occurred in 1755 when the Exeter, owned by John Moffatt, arrived at the docks with sixty-one slaves: twenty men, fifteen women, seventeen boys, and nine girls.

Warner House

Many of the prominent people mentioned in my Walk Portsmouth blog who lived before the 1800s owned slaves, including the following:

Census records show the rise and fall of slavery in Portsmouth. There were 52 slaves in 1727, 187 in 1767, 140 in 1775, and 26 in 1790. The last enslaved person to be included in a New Hampshire census was in 1840. The state abolished slavery in 1857.

In October 2003, utility crews discovered an African burial ground while excavating Chestnut Street. State archeologists subsequently found the remains of thirteen people of African descent beneath the road and believe there are as many as two hundred more in the area. They were unable to determine whether they died as slaves or free men.

Maps as early as 1705 refer to the area west of Chestnut Street, between State and Court Streets, as the "Negro Burying Ground". It was originally located on the outskirts of town; however, as Portsmouth grew during the late 1700s and early 1800s, roads and buildings were constructed over the graves, and the burial ground was forgotten.

Portsmouth is currently raising funds for an African Burying Ground Memorial Park, to be constructed on Chestnut Street, that will sanctify the location. The memorial will be called We Stand in Honor of Those Forgotten. Below is a photograph of Chestnut Street. The west (left) side of the street is the location of the African Burying Ground and future memorial park.

For more information about slavery in New Hampshire, I recommend the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, an informative self-guided walking tour with twenty-seven markers commemorating the history of Blacks in Portsmouth. The Seacoast African American Cultural Center and Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage, a book by Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, are also invaluable resources.

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting overview of the history of slavery in Portsmouth. I feel it is important for New Englanders to learn more about this region's involvement in the slave trade. Not talking about it doesn't remove it from our history.