Windham Life and Times – February 19, 2021

Our black residents from an earlier time, lay buried in unmarked graves, in a quiet corner of the Cemetery on the Hill. Now might be a good time to recognize them

Early Black History in New England

Slavery in Windham NH (Part I)

    Beside the wall on the Cemetery on the Hill in Windham, in the south-east corner, in unmarked graves, lie the remains of Windham’s early black residents. I am probably one of the few people who is aware of their resting place. They had names like Jeff and Pomp and most were owned as slaves. Some were literate, all were hard-working and capable, entrusted with important tasks, and by their very presence here contributed much to the early town of Windham. They rest from their labors in the same ground as the Dinsmores, Morrisons, Parks, Cochrans and others, but only the African American’s resting place remains unmarked.  It has always been my hope and wish that the town would see fit to erect a granite monument in this unmarked space, to preserve the memory of these important African Americans. It would be an appropriate way of showing that black lives do matter in Windham. As Leonard Morrison so elegantly wrote in his history of Windham, in 1883; “In the grave they find perfect equality, which they never found when living. In its unbroken silence there is no distinction between white and black, bond or free, cultured or ignorant, and the quietness of peace resteth over all.” As I will show in the coming weeks, many African Americans were far from “ignorant” and some could write more eloquently than most whites during the same time period.

     Morrison explains that, “this town had never been largely populated with colored people. Near the commencement of the present century, a family of negroes lived in a house which stood on the road from George Copp’s house, over the hill to Isaac Emerson’s. Rose, Pomp, and Jeff, three negroes, lived in town. Rose lived at Squire John Dinsmoor’s (the John Kelley place), (the brother of Robert Dinsmoor, the Rustic Bard).  Jeff died at Squire John Nesmith’s (Horace Berry’s place). When he went to church he did not go inside, but sat on the porch. Pomp died in town. They were all buried in that part of the original cemetery on the hill, in the southeasterly corner, near the highway.”  According to a Windham census from 1773, there were 13 slaves in Windham in 1773. 

“In New England of 1776, 2.3% of the total population was African. This compares to the middle Atlantic states where 12.4% of the population was African and in the deep South where 39.2% of the population was African.” While the numbers are much lower in New England, there still was a large black presence and many of that population were slaves. Diversity in Colonial Times, April 21, 2008.

     According to Leonard Morrison, “Slavery was never legalized, or established by authority of law in New Hampshire; but as it existed in other colonies it crept in here, was tolerated, and regulated by law, so that Indian and negro servants or slaves were owned and held as property.* They were taxed as other property. In 1728, each negro, mulatto, or Indian slave being male was assessed at 20 pounds; each woman slave was excluded…Rev. Nathaniel Bouton, D.D. compiler of the Provincial and State Papers of New Hampshire, thinks that by the adoption of the first and second clause of the Bill of Rights in the constitution of the State, virtually and in effect slavery was abolished in New Hampshire.”

     “In 1775 the number of ‘negroes and slaves for life’ in New Hampshire was 657; in 1790, six years after the adoption of the Constitution, 158; by 1800, 8; by 1810, 0; in 1830, 3; and 1840, 1,—mistake of census taker.

     “While such is the history of the institution in the State, we shall have brief notices of its existence in Windham. Allusions are occasionally made of ‘slaves’ upon the reords of the town. In 1767, there were four slaves in town; in 1773, there were thirteen, five males and eight females. September 15, 1775, the number of negroes and slaves for life were thirteenth.”

     “In 1785, Windham voted the use of pew 36 in the church for negroes, if their masters would pay rates.”  I wonder in old Jeff was ever invited in, felt comfortable enough to enter, or had a master willing to pay for his pew so that he could abandon the porch and make his way inside the house of God to pray?

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