When Black History Month arrives some are”passive celebrators” as if we think we are not connected to this portion of shared history. New Hampshire has been home to Africans and African-Americans for more than 350 years. The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire’s web site states that “the first known black person in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, came from the west coast of Africa in 1645…” [you can read the details at the Black Heritage Trail web site].
As historians and history aficionados we need to be thinking in terms of understanding “human history” and working to include stories of those who have been purposefully or inadvertently out of our history books whether it be due to skin color, ethnicity, gender, religion, or other factors. It is overdue for us to right the wrongs of history, and to pay specific attention to these excluded people.
As I stated in last year’s article on Black History Month, “at some point in our near or distant past, we all hail back to Africa.” In my own case, my Ancestry.com ethnicity report shows 1% Cameroon, Congo & Western Bantu Peoples. 1% is a pretty low number, but IF ACCURATE it would indicate that seven generations back, one of my 5th great-grandparents was African.
If this was found only in my own ethnicity results I might have written it off as too low to be significant. But two distant cousins who along with me, hail from Richard and Alethea Sisco of Rhode Island, also connect to me with DNA, and have exactly the same African ethnicity. And guess what, Richard and Alethea Sisco are my 5th great-grandparents.
There has been a great deal of research performed on this family, and I give full credit to David Ellis’s research of the Sisco Family. He, however, disconnects the black-skinned Sisco family living in Rhode Island from the white-skinned line. Though I cannot prove it with primary evidence, I believe that either Richard or his wife Alethea was African. Perhaps some day a talented genealogist will find Y-DNA or mt-DNA descendants of either lines to connect the dots. There is a FaceBook Sisco/Cisco Descendants group, which states that “A family descended from two Sischo brothers who lived in Rhode Island in the early 1700’s. Different branches of this family spell the name Siscoe or Sisco. They have a J2a1b1 Y chromosome haplotype.”
I now realize my connection to Africa is much closer than I thought.
–Celebrating New Hampshire’s Black History–
Last year I posted a detailed story listing and linking to stories of some of New Hampshire’s black citizens. One of the comments mentioned that I had left out Ona Judge Staines. I do apologize, for she certainly is deserving of mention. I tend not to write about people who have been extensively researched and written about, as she has, but I will now remediate my error of omission.
In 1796, Ona Judge, an enslaved woman from the family of President George Washington landed on the ship, Nancy, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, fleeing slavery. She served Martha Washington for most of her life, but fled the household when she learned she was to be gifted away. Throughout their lives, the Washingtons never gave up trying to capture her. The Portsmouth NH Heritage Trail offers a tour of sites in Portsmouth connected with her search for freedom.
Kudos to Stan Garrity, a Manchester NH historian whose mission is to reveal the hidden black history of that city. Ink Link details Stan’s work, and the first of hopefully many kiosks has been unveiled to honor Ann Bamford who maintained an Underground Railroad stop on Manchester Street from 1842-1858. Lets hope Stan is able to continue with this important project. Those individuals and organizations who wish to support Stan in this work should contact him.
I also want to acknowledge a friend and researcher, Jane Wescomb, of Epsom NH who has collected and compiled a great deal of information on early New Hampshire black families. She is generous, and readily shares her knowledge.
I welcome comments and suggestions for future stories!
2021: Celebrating Black History Month in New Hampshire (Cow Hampshire)
Ona Judge at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
National Park Service: Black History Month
Smithsonian: Six More Women To Know During Black History Month
Divisive Concepts: Black Heritage Trail of NH Speaks Out to Educators and Communities
That’s fascinating, Janice—I hope you can find a definitive answer to your African ancestry. I don’t usually think of New Hampshire as being a place where many Black people lived or live now, so thank you for this important post.
LOVE your work!
I heard Glenn Knoblock speak last Spring about his book ““Strong and Brave Fellows”
New Hampshire’s Black Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution, 1775–1784″…finally got a copy from Gibson’s and am looking forward to reading it. I have started reviewing the New Hampshire 1st Regiment ‘Size Roll’ to find other black patriots that may have been missed…there were many more black soldiers from NH who fought in the Revolution than I suspect most people realize!
Heidi, thank you for your kind words.
I am a fan of Glenn Knoblock too. I purchased a copy of his “Strong and Brave Fellows” but may have to purchase a 2nd one after passing my original one along to the Merrimack Historical Society (as one of their Revolutionary War heroes is mentioned in Glenn’s book). I agree with you, the number of black soldiers from NH during the American Revolution, was quite surprising to me also. I suspect there are more surprises to come. Best wishes! J