From the African American Memorial Committee
Over the last several months a group of Windham residents have formed the African American Memorial Committee which has been working in conjunction with the Cemetery Trustees, The Windham Endowment, The Windham Presbyterian Church and the Historic District Commission, to develop a meaningful way to remember the African American community which was a vital part of the town of Windham during the time period surrounding the American Revolution. As you may know, there are at least four African Americans buried in the Cemetery on the Hill in unmarked graves.
The past spring, radar imaging was completed that verified the location of the four African Americans identified by Leonard Morrison as being buried in a corner of the Cemetery on the Hill. Members of the Committee reached out to the Black Heritage Trail NH, who will be partnering with us to provide a portion of the cost for creating a bronze plaque at the cemetery to remember the African American community in Windham. More specifically, Peter Thom, Pompey, Jeffery and Rose. We will also memorialize Nicholas Vicksham, a free black man from Windham, who fought in the Revolutionary War. In this way, their names will not be forgotten again.
Squire John Dinsmoor died in 1805 and he had an estate estimated at over $60,000. That was a sizable sum in the early 1800’s. Dinsmoor was a very successful man, he owned a store in the eastern part of town, he was an early investor in the Londonderry Turnpike, he was a judge who ruled on important local cases, and he also owned slaves which he leased out to his friends and neighbors in Windham. I have many of his log and account books showing every penny he earned from both his store and other enterprises. John Dinsmoor was rich in material wealth, and he spent his life ever increasing his personal gain.
Robert Dinsmoor was his cousin and a farmer, who had a farm in Windham which sat high on a hill overlooking Cobbett’s Pond, who was better known for his poetry, for which he gained nothing but the joy of being able to beautifully describe and celebrate the human condition. The following is an exchange with his son William, who had hired himself out as a laborer to a wealthy man in Massachusetts:
…Mr. Gardner’s sickness and death gave me some trouble as the two of us, Mr. Dow and I had to sit and tend him in his sickness. He was not aware that he was dying. This should teach us, (I think a Good lesson,) that a deathbed is an uncertain place for us to prepare to leave the world. I am afraid that Mr. Gardner trusted too much in his moral honesty. He believed if he was honest and industrious, he would pass for a good man, thinking when a man left the world that was to be the last of him…What good can be found in being very anxious? We have been striving to complete this road this summer to make a rich man richer. It is worthy of notice that the first carriage that came across the bridge, came to Mr. Gardner’s Funeral!” William Dinsmoor, September 12, 1807
All of the charges for the work of Jeffrey and Pompey, two African American slaves, are meticulously recorded in entries of John Dinsmoor’s log-book. One of them stood out to me because it shows that African American hands were involved with other members of the community in the construction of our Windham town hall. The hall was built for government functions and to house the Presbyterian church. The following is from Dinsmoor’s logbook:
“May, 1799 Town of Windham D–
To one day provisioning Stuff for the M.H. (Meeting House) Pompey.
For one day S–ing Boards and S—-ing.. Pompey
To one day after S—- from A Wilson finding Clapboards
To going after nails.
To one day examining the work and cleaning the Meetinghouse——–
The role of African Americans in New England just prior to and after the American Revolution is a history that has been hidden and which only recently has been uncovered by many historians and interested groups. It’s a compelling story. Hundreds of African Americans fought in the American Revolution among the patriots of that time. Many of them used the wages they received in the army to buy their freedom. Some such as Nicholas Vicksham fought as a free black man with other Windham men. Because of their bravery and service in the cause, New Englanders changed their outlook on slavery and many families joined the abolitionist movement and were supporters of the Underground Railroad in the area.
I have been really moved by the group of people who have joined the effort to remember the slaves and free-men who were once part of the town of Windham. We’ve dubbed out ourselves the “African American Memorial Committee” and we have been working to find a way to remember our former black towns people who were in a very real sense forgotten. This group has freely contributed their time and efforts to see that the names and lives of the early African American residents of Windham will be remembered though the erection of a memorial and inclusion in the Black Heritage Trail. Its only common decency that we remember them, as all the other old Windham residents have been remembered, on the Cemetery on the Hill.
We will be providing more information in the near future on ways the community can participate in this effort through donations and in joining us in a dedication ceremony in the Spring of 2022. Again, the committee wants to thank all of the individuals and organizations who are participating in this effort.
Brad Dinsmore, Chairman
The African American Memorial Committee