Today New Hampshire’s population is 93% white with African-Americans making up about 1.4% of residents (the rest being Hispanic and Asian). In the early years of the New Hampshire colony, and throughout our State’s history, the number of non-Caucasian residents has always been low.
An ancient document notes that slaves existed in New Hampshire as early as 1645. In colonial times, Portsmouth was a busy, thriving, international port that was a focal point for both FREE and ENSLAVED people of color. It is not a surprise, then, that there are places and events of importance in our seacoast towns for those studying New Hampshire’s black history. The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail is an amazing resource for those wishing to learn more, along with the re-discovered African Burying Ground.
Numerous stories have been written about black New Hampshirites–the famed Prince and Dinah Whipple (patriots) , Wentworth Cheswell (civic leader, historian), Hattie E. Adams Wilson (writer), Richard Potter (magician), Oney Judge (George Washington’s runaway slave), Flora Stewart (former slave, ancient person), James Monroe Whitfield (poet), and Nellie Brown Mitchell (opera singer).
Oney Judge was not the only runaway slave, and from 1757 to 1773 there were several other runaways in New Hampshire including–Scipio, Toney, Stephen Hall, Neptune, Primas, Adam, Cato, and Prince. There were also a handful of black men who fought in the American Revolution at the behest of their owners. It is wonderful that these amazing people have been researched and written about. But all of these individuals lived over 100 years ago. Are we ignoring current black history?
Contemporary Black History Month Heroes of New Hampshire
Although I am sure there are many African-Americans in New Hampshire who should be named here, I have chosen only four–two women and two men. Two are alive, and two are now sadly deceased. They honor all of us by their past or present service to our history, to our shared heritage, and to community service.
- Vanessa Leah Washington-Johnson-Bloemen. I first wrote about her last year when I learned of her passing. She died in 2011 at the age of 57. She was a champion of the under-served, and dedicated to solving problems of young and old in the greater Manchester community.
- Valerie Cunningham. She was one of five black graduates in the Portsmouth High School Class of 1959. For more than thirty years she researched black history on New Hampshire’s seacoast. She is the founder of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail.
- Henry Boyd Richardson. He was born 6 April 1917 in South Carolina, the son of Thomas & Elvira (Jones) Richardson. He served in the U.S. army, retiring as a major. He died on 2 April 1981 at the veteran’s hospital in Manchester. He was the first black state representative in New Hampshire. In addition he volunteered on several town committees in his adopted home town of Greenville, NH (40 year resident).
- James Lawrence: Hudson NH business man and first African-American candidate to run for Congress in New Hampshire [2nd Congressional District in 2014] but was defeated by Marilinda Garcia. He was formerly elected to the NH House of Representatives (2002–2008).
- Eddie Andrews: In 2018 Republican and former police chief and an African American, ran for Congress against Chris Pappas, and lost to him in the 1st Congressional District.
The Black Heritage Trail is celebrating this year’s Black History Month with a series of “Tea Talk” lectures, on a variety of topics. If you can think of more of New Hampshire’s African-American citizens who should be acknowledged here, please leave a comment below or contact me by email.