African-American Soprano and “Queen of Song”: Dover New Hampshire’s Nellie (Brown) Mitchell (1845-1924)

Print of Nellie E. Brown, circa 1878, James > Trotter, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books, NYPL Digital Library

Print of Nellie E. Brown, circa 1878, James Trotter, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books, NYPL Digital Library

She was born, Nellie Brown, the daughter of Charles & Martha (Runnels) Brown. Her father was a shoemaker turned barber/hairdresser. In the 1850 census, Nellie along with her parents and siblings, are listed as mulatto, which would indicate that both of her parents were from bi-racial backgrounds.

Through both direct research and secondary evidence, I believe that Nellie’s great-grandfather probably was Peleg Runnels, a soldier of the American Revolution, and a member of the famed 1st Rhode Island Regiment.

Two online sources have already well-documented Nellie’s career–the Dover Public Library (quoting the book, African American Concert Singers before 1950 by Darryl Glenn Nettles), and “Let Freedom Ring! Four African-American Concert Singers in Nineteenth-Century America,” by Sonya R. Gable-Wilson. For the most part I won’t repeat their research.

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2016 Black History Month in New Hampshire

Ferry Landing PortsmouthToday 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. Continue reading

Photographer Charles Henry Shaw of Manchester, New Hampshire (1864-1932)

Shaws Studio bannerFrom 1897 to 1927, a span of thirty years, Charles Henry Shaw photographed the people of Manchester.  His studio for most of that time was at 895 Elm Street, though briefly it was also located at 68 Opera Block. Charles and his wife Ida (Doughty) Shaw lived in the city and raised their children while they lived on 510 Maple and 73 Malvern Streets.  When their children grew and moved away, they spent the rest of their lives at 219 Walnut Street.  Continue reading

New Hampshire’s Leading Suffragist, Human Rights Proponent and Philanthropist: Armenia S. (Aldrich) White (1817-1916)

Armenia S. (Aldrich) White of Boscawen and Concord NH

Armenia S. (Aldrich) White of Boscawen and Concord NH

Armenia Smith Aldrich, daughter of John & Harriet (Smith) Aldrich, was born 1 November 1817 in Mendon, Worcester Co., Massachusetts. In 1830 she moved with her parents to Boscawen NH, where she lived until her marriage.  She married a then stagecoach operator named Nathaniel White, who later became extremely wealthly, often crediting his wife Armenia for his success.

She was an “ardent friend and leading spirit of the anti-slavery cause,” and their home welcomed fugitive slaves as freely as others. She also supported the temperance cause, and women’s suffrage.

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