Collect Day #6 DINAH GIBSON

O God, you open your hand and feed us richly from your creation: we remember today your free servant Dinah Gibson whose culinary skills and grace fed many even while she was enslaved; may we in her memory feed each other with the truth of how much our lives and freedoms depended upon those we have overlooked or forgotten so that no one is left behind; this we ask in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ whose table was open to all. Amen.

Am I not a Woman and a Sister?

Day #6, February 20, 2018

(c.1742 – 1825)
Valerie Cunningham

“My first recollections of Kittery were associated with Dinah. My Grandfather Rice bought her when she was eighteen years old & she remained faithful & devoted to the family until her death in 1825 or 6.” Sarah Parker Rice Goodwin wrote this in her memoirs titled Pleasants Memories.

Dinah’s life is a reminder that the story of Black people in Kittery is one and the same as their story in Portsmouth, dating back as far and involving the many people who moved back and forth across the river. These known stories omit significant details of daily life. And Dinah’s first recollections of Kittery surely were not one and the same as Sarah’s.

This we know: Dinah, formerly enslaved by the Rice family of Kittery, worked in Portsmouth, making a living from her culinary knowledge. She catered events at the Assembly House ballroom where Whipple slaves also appeared, Prince as the major-domo and Cuffee as violinist. Sarah Goodwin described how Dinah’s “sandwiches of tongue and ham, with thin biscuit, were handed round on large waiters, in turn with sangaree, lemonade, and chocolate…” and Dinah would explain “…how long they boiled the chocolate, which had spice in it.”

Advertisements in The New Hampshire Gazette inform us that enslaved women working in the mansions of Portsmouth’s seaport merchants had access to a world of imported delicacies, enabling them to reinvent African cookery, seasoning foods with subtlety and complexity not indigenous to Anglo-American foodways. People like Dinah were gaining their freedom in post-revolutionary Portsmouth, and some newly emancipated slaves could continue to live in the town if they were able to find work-for-wages within a designated time. The city was regaining prosperity after the war and it remained the leader of fashion in the region with many scenes of banquets, balls, and festive occasions to fill the new function halls on Congress Street.

No description has been found of Dinah’s wedding day, other than the North Church minister  recording the marriage of John Gibson to Dinah on August 20, 1804. Both John and Dinah eluded the compilers of the first city directory in 1821.  But this we know about Dinah, that she was living in the area until February 1825, because her funeral was recorded in North Church records: “Dinah Gibson found dead on ice near her home, fell in the night, Froze.”

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