Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail
HOW TO USE THIS MAP AND SITE INFO
The listings are arranged in chronological order so the arm-chair reader can follow Portsmouth’s Black history through the centuries. As a result, the corresponding numbers on the map do not follow a convenient walking route. Readers are encouraged either to visit a selection of sites clustered near one another, or to walk one of the topical trails listed below, each of which follows the shortest route between its sites.
2. Stoodley’s Tavern, Hancock St.
3. Sherburne House, Strawbery Banke
4. Pitt Tavern, Strawbery Banke, Court St.
5. Gazette Printing Office site, Pleasant St.
6. Warner House, Daniel St.
7. St. John’s Church, Chapel St.
8. North Church, Market Square
9. Previous site of Town Pump, beside North Church
10. African Burying Ground Memorial, Chestnut St.
11. Moffatt-Ladd House, 154 Market St.
12. Site of Whipple House, 127 High St.
13. Penhallow House, Washington St.
14. Langdon House, 143 Pleasant St.
15. Waterfront, Ceres St.
16. Site of The Temple, Chestnut St.
17. South Church, 292 State St.
18. South Ward Room, Marcy St.
19. Pearl Street Church, Pearl St.
20. 14-16 Market Square
21. Navy Yard (viewed from Peirce Island) *
22. Cooper Home, 171 Washington St.
23. Rockingham Hotel, 401 State St.
24. St. John’s Parish Hall, Chapel St.
25. Langdon Slave Burial Ground, 1035 Lafayette Rd. *
26. Portsmouth Plains, Middle Rd.*
27. New Hope Baptist Church, 263 Peverly Hill Rd. ** Located outside historic downtown Portsmouth
1, 21, 3, 22, 5, 14, 15, 12
19, 10, 8, 17, 18, 24, 27
19, 23, 10, 20, 24, 18, 26
1, 3, 18, 5, 2, 4, 6, 16, 25
12, 22, 21
The Wharf at Prescott Park
Enslavement of Africans was part of Portsmouth life by 1645. Portsmouth merchants were involved in the slave trade by the 1680s. Captives arrived in Portsmouth by ship at piers like Long Wharf, which stood here in colonial times. Mostly male children and adolescents, they were advertised in terms like those quoted above. They were auctioned, or sometimes sold directly from shipboard or dockside. In Portsmouth the enslaved were made to work as house servants, craftsmen, seamen, dock workers, and farm hands. As diverse West African languages were augmented by a new shared language, community building began. A 1775 census reported 656 enslaved Africans in New Hampshire, mostly in Portsmouth and adjacent towns. There were also a small number of free black residents. Since colonial times Portsmouth’s population has remained 2% – 4% black. [[Top]]
Stoodley’s Tavern, Hancock Street at Strawbery Banke
James Stoodley’s Tavern, built in 1761, was a gathering place of Revolutionary patriots and a destination of Paul Revere’s visit in 1774. It was also a site of colonial auctions of bulk goods, and sometimes enslaved people-specifically a man, a girl of 17, and another man who was advertised as having “been with the English 2 years.” Stoodley owned two enslaved people, whom he called Frank and Flora. He also owned an expensive pew in North Church plus additional seating for Frank and Flora in the upper gallery. Sometime after the Revolution, Flora appears to have attained her freedom. She married Cyrus Bruce, a freed slave in the employ of Governor John Langdon. [[Top]]
The Sherburne House at Strawbery Banke
The white Sherburnes built this steep roofed house in two phases c. 1695 and c. 1702, when this neighborhood was new. Its owner, Joseph, was a mariner, merchant and farmer. He lived here with his family and two slaves who are listed in a 1744 estate inventory as “one Negro man [pounds] 200, one ditto woman [pounds] 50.” The man probably worked for Joseph at sea, on the dock, in his store, and on Joseph’s outlying farmland. The woman probably worked for Joseph’s wife Mary at food preparation, cleaning, textile production, and gardening. White Yankees typically assigned their enslaved people to sleeping space in attics, cellars, and back ells. The black Sherburnes probably slept in the attic of this cellar-less house. [[Top]]
William Pitt Tavern on Court Street at Strawbery Banke
This three-story tavern, built in 1766, is most remembered as the scene of Revolutionary turmoil and visits of famous patriots. Enslaved people were a recurrent part of tavern-owner John Stavers’ life. In earlier years Stavers was charged with beating someone else’s black servant. He also auctioned people imported from the West Indies, advertised for his run-away 16-year-old slave named Fortune, and charged a fee to view a 9-year-old albino African boy.
On Wednesday, January 29, 1777, mark Noble, suspicious of John Stavers’ patriotism, began chopping down the tavern sign, Stavers sent James, his enslaved man, out to stop him. James knocked Noble unconscious. Stavers was arrested and tried for suspected disloyalty. James was reportedly found hiding in cistern in the basement, afraid of retribution. James was neither arrested nor charged with assault. Later, when two neighboring women forced James to steal food from the tavern for them, they not James, were charged with theft. Unlike in West African law, which was founded in family and community obligation, James was invisible in American law; his status, identity, and actions were absorbed into his master’s. [[Top]]
NH Gazette Printing Office, corner Pleasant & Howard Streets
NH Gazette Office Primus was one of a group of skilled slaves who worked in colonial Portsmouth. He was enslaved in the household of Daniel Fowle, owner of the New Hampshire Gazette, founded in 1756 in a small wooden house that stood on this site. The household also included two enslaved women and the printer’s wife. Primus operated the printing press for 50 years. At his master’s death, Primus was permanently stooped, and “grieved by roguish boys” who probably teased him for his posture, color and age. He died in May of 1791. In his 90’s, he was well known in the town; and a memorial poem in the newspaper described him as “a hearty friend” with a “grateful mind though borne down with pain.” [[Top]]
Macphaedris – Warner House, corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets
Among the white colonial occupants of this 1716 brick house were its builder Archibald Macphaedris, royal governor Benning Wentworth and merchant Jonathan Warner. But it was also home to at least eight slaves. Macphaedris enslaved a girl and three men, Prince, Nero and Quamino. Jonathan Warner’s slaves were said to have lived in a small wooden house which stood behind the brick house. Two, Cato and Peter, were among 20 African men who signed a petition to the legislature in 1779 to abolish slavery. A third, John Jack, married a woman named Phyllis. In 1792 she purchased land in Greenland NH, and in 1796, at their new home there, John and Phyllis harbored Ona Judge Staines, a fugitive woman who had escaped enslavement in the Philadelphia household of George and Martha Washington. [[Top]]
St. John’s Church on Chapel Street
Church records identify many black people in early Portsmouth. The terse entries tantalize. An example is an 1807 entry in the St. John’s records: “Contribution Xmas day, Venus – a Black — $1.” This was a Christmas gift from the church to Venus.
What can we reasonably surmise from so brief an entry? Venus’ name, neither African nor Christian, is characteristic of those often given by whites to separate the enslaved from both their African heritage and from white society. The charitable gift tells us Venus was no longer in the care of a white slave owner. She was now free and poor. Her lack of a last name suggests she was single, not married. Her association with St. John’s strongly suggests her former owner was a member here. Since slave importation to Portsmouth ended with the Revolution, she was probably no younger than forty, possibly elderly. A simple phrase in a church record provides many clues to Venus’ identity. [[Top]]
North Church, Market Square
In the colonial era some white people objected to the Christianization of enslaved Africans and didn’t take their slaves to church. Pious whites catechized their enslaved people and took them to church. Many slaves later became active church members. Isolated in balcony “Negro Pews” in most churches, some were bored by didactic sermons and played quiet games or smacked. North Church appointed Overseers of the Negro Pews to minimize such activity. Many others adapted and became church members. Blacks associated with North Church include: Frank and Flora Stoodley; Prince and Dinah Chase Whipple; Peter Warner and Dinah Pern, who were married by the North Church minister; and many others.
At the end of the 18th century, when many were freed from enslavement and an American-born generation reached adulthood, the number of black churchgoers in Portsmouth rose. Because evangelical worship style was parallel to West African spiritual tradition, 18th century Portsmouth’s black Christians were drawn toward evangelical Baptist churches, two of which were founded here in the colonial period. Later, Portsmouth’s major black church also was Baptist. [[Top]]
Town Pump and Stocks, Market Square
In colonial Portsmouth, as throughout the Americas, a coronation or election of black leaders was held each June. Based loosely on celebrations such as the spring Odwira festival of the Ashanti people of Ghana, in which society was purified, leader and community were sanctified, and ancestors honored, America’s black coronations were conducted in west African style. People in bright clothing, accompanied by lively music and boisterous gunfire, assembled and went in procession to a broad open space (locally to Portsmouth Plains). After the elections, all went to the leader’s home for food, drink, music, dance, and games.
In Portsmouth, Nero Brewster was repeatedly elected king. Jock Odiorne was sheriff and Willie Clarkson viceroy. The festivities presumably occurred at Nero’s master’s home, the Bell Tavern on Congress Street. In colonial times this event honored an autonomous leadership class, enabled the transmission of African cultural values to a new generation, helped forge Africans from disparate tribes into a single Afro-American community, and trained leaders.
The officers were highly regarded. When the enslaved Prince Jackson was charged with stealing an axe, Jock seized him, Nero tried and convicted him, and Willie whipped him at the town pump beside North Church. King Nero died in 1786. Coronations in New England disappeared in the early 1800s as the African-born generation passed away and black Americans’ struggled for liberty, education, and justice. [[Top]]
In colonial Portsmouth, segregation applied in death as in life. By 1705 the Portsmouth government had created a separate “Negro burial ground” outside the riverfront town. Records show deaths among Portsmouth blacks were from unhealthy living conditions, malnutrition, and hazardous work. Smallpox deaths are absent because black Americans practiced inoculation, a procedure they had brought from western Africa. Inoculation spread gradually among white Yankees after Boston minister Cotton Mather learned about it from his enslaved Coromantee man in 1721 and told his doctor, Zabdiel Boylston.
West African funerals included processions winding through the village, graveside offerings, music and dance to honor and delight the deceased. This style recurred in Boston and Salem, and likely did in early Portsmouth too.
Underneath Chestnut Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire lies what is the only known African Burying Ground in New England. This burying ground was actively used in the 1700s when Chestnut Street was part of the undeveloped outskirts of Portsmouth. As Portsmouth flourished and developed in the late 1700s and 1800s, eventually the burying ground was paved over and became what Chestnut Street is today. The burying ground was eventually forgotten and those underneath it left without honor. Now a memorial stands here to honor those forgotten. [[Top]]
Moffatt-Ladd House, 154 Market Street
The Moffatt-Ladd mansion is remembered as the home of Declaration of Independence signer and Revolutionary War general William Whipple, and his wife. It was also the home of their slaves. Among them was Prince, who joined 19 other African-born Portsmouth men in making their own bid for independence. On November 12, 1779 they submitted a petition to the New Hampshire State Legislature describing how they had been kidnapped from Africa as children. Invoking rationalist philosophy and Christian theology they pled for abolition. Bostonian slaves submitted three such petitions to their government. All were undoubtedly aware of a 1722 legal case in Britain that condemned the enslavement of baptized Christians, which was written up in New England newspapers and ignored by white Americans. The New Hampshire legislature agreed to consider the petition, but tabled it instead, and never abolished slavery. Owners made individual decisions about emancipation and many slaves were freed by 1800. A few remained enslaved in New Hampshire as late as 1840. [[Top]]
The Whipple Home (private residence)Ground, High Street & North Burial, Woodbury Ave
In the mid 1700s, two African boys were sent by their wealthy royal family from Amabou on the Gold Coast of West Africa to be educated abroad. A deceitful sea captain brought them into American slavery. They were enslaved by William Whipple who raised them in his Portsmouth home, the Moffatt-Ladd mansion. The older boy was re-named Prince. Cuffee [or Kofi] kept his African name. In 1777, the NH legislature made William Whipple a brigadier general and sent him to drive General Burgoyne out of Vermont. Prince was reluctant to assist in fighting for freedom he himself would never enjoy. The general promised Prince manumission in exchange for service, so Prince accompanied him through the Revolution. Though most states (including NH) had statutory prohibitions against black militiamen, Prince was among many black men who served. Prince was said to be with George Washington at his Christmas Eve crossing of the Delaware River in 1776. Whipple freed Prince seven years later, in February 1784.
In 1781 Prince married Dinah Chase, emancipated by New Castle minister Reverend Chase. In 1786, Cuffee married Rebecca Daverson. Like many newly freed people, they chose to stay in the area that was familiar. General Whipple’s widow loaned them a lot at the back corner of her garden. They moved a small house onto it and raised their families there. Prince worked as the chief steward at assemblies, balls and weddings. Cuffee played fiddle at many of these events. Dinah did cash work for North Church and conducted a school for black children sponsored by the Ladies Charitable African Society. In 1796, after enjoying freedom for only twelve years, Prince died, leaving Dinah and several children. Cuffee died in 1816, Rebecca in 1829. In 1832 the white Whipples’ successors moved Dinah to a property on Pleasant Street where she lived out her life in near poverty. Esther Whipple Mullineaux, one of Prince and Dinah’s children, died in 1868 and is buried near her father and her daughter. Dinah’s burial site is believed to be nearby. [[Top]]
Samuel Penhallow House on Washington Street, Strawbery Banke Museum
There were a few free black people in colonial Portsmouth, and increasing numbers were freed after the Revolution. To certify their status and prove their exemption from slave curfew laws, free black people secured freedom papers from their former owners. Some also registered with the town clerk or a justice of the peace, such as Samuel Penhallow who lived in this house.
Black people attained freedom in varied ways: through the will of a deceased owner; by living owners, sometimes in recognition of service in the Revolution; by buying their own freedom; and self-emancipation by running away. Status at birth followed status of the mother. Lesha Webb, a free black woman, married an enslaved man named Caesar and eventually recorded with the town that she and her eight children were free persons. In 1778, when North Church minister Ezra Stiles freed his enslaved man Newport, they registered the emancipation with the town clerk and with Justice Penhallow. Newport chose the surname Freeman. Post-Revolutionary emancipations created the first significant free black populations in America.
Free black Yankees in Portsmouth made homes where white convention allowed: as live-in paid help in white households, as boarders in tiny waterfront lanes, in their own households at the outer edges of the compact part of town, or in scattered rural clusters. [[Top]]
Langdon House, 143 Pleasant Street
Cyrus Bruce was emancipated by John Langdon, after which he worked for him as a paid servant. This arrangement was underway by 1783, when Langdon was building this mansion on Pleasant Street. Cyrus received part of his pay in cash, part in goods, and by 1797 part in housing. Cyrus and his wife, the former Flora Stoodley, lived behind the mansion in one of two houses Governor Langdon owned on Washington Street. Cyrus served as Langdon’s valet and butler. His impressive costume of dark broadcloth coat, ruffles, silk stockings, silver buckled shoes, and gold chain with seals preserved Cyrus’ memory in his own right. Cyrus was no doubt present when George Washington had dinner at the Langdon’s in November 1789. Flora left her former master’s North Church for St. John’s Episcopal Church. On January 21, 1798, after being instructed and examined by the Reverend Willard, Flora was baptized. [[Top]]
Waterfront, Ceres Street
Enslaved marines were part of the Portsmouth scene by 1727. They worked mostly in the Atlantic coastal and West Indies trades, and some sailed in the Revolution. In freedom, black Yankees continued working at this dangerous and undesirable occupation in numbers disproportionate to their portion of the total population. Most black people in Portsmouth lived within a few blocks of the river. Jobs as mariners, stevedores and truckmen were available in places like Ceres Street, which is little changed since 1805. At sea, the need to cooperate for safety in severe conditions and for mutual support against harsh captains fostered inter-racial egalitarianism and friendships. Black Jacks Employers gave equal pay and rank to qualified black mariners; some became officers on New England’s dangerous whaling ships. The reasonable pay enabled them to purchase modest homes, raise families, start businesses, or move to more promising towns. Mid-century brought change. Responsibility for hiring crews shifted from owners or captains to shipping masters, who hired white mariners over black. By 1850, black men at sea were limited to the roles of cook, steward, or cabin servant. By the 1860s black mariners were remembered as a feature of Portsmouth’s past; a long tradition had ended. [[Top]]
Site of the Temple (now The Music Hall), Chestnut Street
Black abolitionists were the driving force through 90 years that culminated in the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865. Several spoke at a 1,000-seat public lecture hall called the Temple, which opened in 1844 at the corner of Chestnut and Porter Streets.
William Wells Brown escaped from enslavement in Kentucky and lived in Buffalo, then Boston. He was in the first wave of abolitionists to define slavery as a sin that endangered the nation. He was an accomplished author and international orator. Brown spoke here on Sunday, October 12, 1862, just when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Brown spoke on “the effects of emancipation on the blacks of the South and the white laborers of the North.” In subsequent letters to the editor, Portsmouth racists bristle at the prospect of equal status for black Americans.
Charles Lenox Remond, born free in Salem, Massachusetts, promoted a practical approach to bettering the condition of black Americans. He encouraged white abolitionists to employ black people in non-menial jobs and he urged his state legislature to integrate public transport. He encouraged free states to enact black voting right and he promoted racially integrated abolition societies. He chastised black businessmen whose fear of alienating customers kept them from publicly advocating abolition. He urged black youths to join the movement. In February 1854 Remond spoke at the Temple. Newspapers reported that he exposed the “undeniable features of an odious system…upheld by prejudice and fashion, cowardice and avarice. His lecture was favorably received and frequently applauded.”
Frederick Douglass escaped in 1838 from enslavement in Maryland, and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He began public speaking in 1841. He emphasized that so long as slavery existed in America, he was not a fugitive from slavery, but still a fugitive slave. He demanded the abolition or slavery in Washington, DC, criticized the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, scorned the admission of Texas as a slave state, and condemned the extension of slavery into the western territories. Douglass addressed the Portsmouth Female Anti-Slavery Society in December 1844, and returned as a famous orator in March 15, 1862. His topic was “The Black Man’s Future in the Southern States.” The Civil War was in progress, most white Northerners had joined the abolitionist cause, and emancipation seemed imminent. [[Top]]
South Church, 292 State Street
The earliest recorded black family in Portsmouth appears in the South Church records of baptism in 1717. One-hundred fifty years later, South Church’s Unitarian women are reputed to have been part of the pre-Civil War “Underground Railroad,” violating federal law by helping fugitive slaves out of the country. After the Civil War, they founded, funded and operated schools for newly freed black Americans in the South, in which as many as 100 students, ranging from infants to elderly, were instructed together. In the 20th century, South Church ministers have been guest preachers at Portsmouth’s black People’s Baptist Church, and among the organizers of the local civil rights movement. [[Top]]
South Ward Room, Marcy Street
This 1866 Victorian election hall was the site of two major 19th-century institutions in the lives of Portsmouth’s black citizens. Starting on New Year’s Day in 1881, many annual celebrations of the Emancipation Proclamation were held here. The first was attended by “most of the colored people of the city” and over 100 invited white guests. The celebrations included speeches, a catered supper and music, and recurred for eighty years.
This building was also home to New Hampshire’s first black church. It began when a multi-denominational Bible-study class outgrew the capacity of James F. Slaughter’s living room, and moved here in 1890 as People’s Mission. In 1892, it reorganized as the People’s Baptist Church with Reverend James Randolph as its first pastor. It was an auxiliary of the Middle Street Baptist Church. Racially separate churches in this county allowed and provided not only a center for social and political activities, but relief from the segregated seating and other limitations imposed by white religious institutions. [[Top]]
People’s Baptist Church, (now The Pearl) 45 Pearl Street
In 1908 the black People’s Baptist Church became independent from Middle Street Baptist Church, and in 1915, under the leadership of the Reverend John L. Davis, purchased this former Free Will Baptist church built in 1851. For fifty years People’s Baptist Church welcomed pulpit exchanges with neighboring churches and Baha’is. Guest preachers included the Rev. Martin Luther King in 1952, then a doctoral student at Boston University. Church activities included care of the sick, charitable work, fund raising dinners, and on at least on occasion an elderly parishioner’s reminiscences of “slavery days.” As the only black church in town, its congregation was multidenominational. It was also home to many black social and political activities. People’s Baptist Church disbanded in the 1970s. Several former members were founders New Hope Baptist Church, which flourishes today on Peverly Hill Road. [[Top]]
14-16 Market Street (private offices)
In the early 20th century, several of Portsmouth’s black social clubs met in second floor meeting rooms on the corner of Pleasant and Daniel Streets. In 1919, Our Boys Comfort Club (soon re-named the Lincoln American Community Club) offered social evenings for “colored enlisted men, Phillipinos, Porto Ricans [sic] and other darker racial groups of the service” stationed in the area, as well as “Civilian Colored people.” In 1920 a fraternal lodge, the colored Knights of Pythias, also met here. Other black social groups in Portsmouth included the Colored Citizens League, which promoted unified action for civil rights. The Octagon Club was Portsmouth’s black Masonic organization, affiliated with the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Boston. Such organizations were important for mutual support during the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which was active locally, and de facto segregation, which lasted until the 1960s. [[Top]]
Navy Yard, viewed from Prescott Park
Though excluded from the Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, and accepted only in limited numbers by the Army and Navy, black Americans comprised 16% of the World War II ear armed forces when they were 10% of the nation’s population. They were banned from becoming officers and assigned to menial tasks. Late in the war they were finally allowed into combat; 4,500 served heroically in segregated units in Europe. Black Portsmouth citizens who served in World War II included Owen Finnigan Cooper, Eugene Reid, John Ramsay, and Emerson Reed. Doris Moore and Anna Jones served in the segregated units of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs).
On the “Homefront Battlefield” many black civilians took jobs in war industries after a proposed civil rights march on Washington in 1941 spurred a ban on racial discrimination in industries with government war contracts. Many black people worked at the shipyard, including Thomas Cobbs, Rosary Cooper, and Anna Jones who worked as electrician, crane operator, and draftsman, respectively. Other civilians provided recreation for off-duty servicemen. Portsmouth’s USO hosted “colored night” dances for black soldiers and sailors. Local black families invited them to People’s Baptist Church, to Sunday dinner, and introduced them to the local black community. Some stayed after the war ended. [[Top]]
Rosary’s Beauty Shop, 171 Washington Street
Rosary Broxay Cooper came to Portsmouth from Florida as a children’s nurse to the Merrill family who owned a hotel in Ogunquit. In 1938 she married Portsmouth native Owen Finnegan Cooper. In World War II he served as a master sergeant in the 509th, Quartermaster Division, in Europe. Rosary operated a 20-ton crane at Portsmouth naval Shipyard. After the war, they returned to a segregated world. Finnegan worked as a messenger at city hall. Rosary became Portsmouth’s first licensed black beautician and hairdresser. She operated her shop and a boarding house for black people here in their sixteen-room home. Retired and widowed, Mrs. Cooper volunteered on behalf of the NH Soldiers’ Home and the VFW Orphans’ Home until her death in 1997.[[Top]]
Rockingham House, 401 State Street
In 1948 New Hampshire resident Louis DeRochemont, famous for his March of Time newsreels, made a controversial film in the Seacoast area, Lost Boundaries. It was loosely based on the biography of black physician Albert C. Johnston. The film’s protagonist is a young light-skinned doctor who accepts a temporary position in a small New Hampshire town without revealing his racial heritage, with unsettling results for family and villages alike. The plot’s complexities were paralleled by problems in filming arising from contemporary local racism. DeRochemont arranged to have his headquarters at the Rockingham Hotel. Proprietor James Barker Smith accepted the business, then balked at having black people attend meetings here. Under threat of losing all DeRochemont’s business, he changed his policy; one local barrier was overcome. To his credit, Smith later welcomed the NAACP for its local and regional meetings here.
In 1958 Thomas Cobbs, owner of an electrical repair shop on Deer Street, helped mobilize local black and white citizens to found a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). By the early 1960s they had moved their meetings from the People’s Baptist Church to the more neutral public room at the Rockingham Hotel. NAACP members began a series of small scale but effective public actions to convince local hotels, barber shops and restaurants to comply with new federal public accommodation laws. Through bold, brave, dignified and united actions of dozens of ordinary black and white people with extraordinary convictions, local institutions, businesses, employers, landlords and realtors were pressured to comply with the new laws. [[Top]]
St. John’s Parish Hall, Chapel Street
Local people, alarmed by news and television images of violent racial confrontations, gathered in 1963 at St. John’s to discuss and educate themselves on matters of race and religion. Their group quickly grew and diversified to include black and white citizens of many religious affiliations. In September 1964, they invited expanded membership, adopted the name Seacoast Council on Race and Religion (SCORR), committed themselves to addressing “a deeply complex disease of society” and went into action. They attended the Martin Luther King March on Boston in April 1965, and raised funds for his work; set up a local speakers bureau; attended conferences on racism; raised money to help the NAACP’s voter registration drive in Mississippi; canvassed the local community on the status of civil rights here; met with seacoast chapters of the League of Women Voters; sponsored youth education programs; publicly condemned local minstrel shows; collected money and supplies for the 1968 Poor Peoples’ March on Washington; and made many other efforts. Before the organization disbanded in 1972, SCORR provided a powerful moral voice, education and practical action. [[Top]]
Langdon Slave Burial Ground
Adjacent to Christ Episcopal Church Rectory, 1035 Lafyayette Rd., (Rt. 1)
Rural families often established family burial grounds on their property rather than using centrally-located town burial grounds. When such households included enslaved Black people, segregation was customary. According to oral tradition, this burial ground on one of the Langdon family’s farms was their slave burial ground. The plain, uninscribed local boulders used as markers indicate low status, supporting this oral tradition. This contrasts with the engraved marble monuments in a nearby burial ground for the white Langdons. Those buried here may include Hannah, Pomp, Nanne Violet, Scipio, and others enslaved by the Langdons. Among them appear to have been workers essential to the rural economy: a tanner, wheelwright, and teamsters. They likely moved seasonally from the Landons’ in-town residence to the outlying farms, as their labor was needed. They represent a number of enslaved farm workers who were part of the colonial New Hampshire population. [[Top]]
Nero Brewster, Jock Odiorne, Willie Clarkson
Portsmouth Plains, Intersection of Islington Street and Middle Road
In colonial Portsmouth, as throughout the Americas, a coronation or election of Black leaders was held each June. America’s Black coronations were conducted in West African style, based loosely on such celebrations as the spring Odwira festival of the Ashanti people of Ghana, in which society was purified, leaders were recognized, community was sanctified, and ancestors honored. Black people assembled in bright clothing and, accompanied by lively music and boisterous gunfire, went in procession to a broad open space. In Portsmouth they gathered here at the “Plains.” After the elections all enjoyed food, drink, music, dance, and games.
In Portsmouth Nero Brewster was repeatedly elected king. Jock Odiorne was sheriff and Willie Clarkson viceroy. The festivities presumably occurred at Nero’s master’s home, the Bell Tavern on Congress Street. In colonial times this event enabled the transmission of African cultural values to a new generation, helped forge Africans from disparate tribes into a single Afro-American community, and honored and trained autonomous Black leaders. King Nero died in 1786. Coronations in New England disappeared in the early 1800s as the African-born population passed away and Black Americans struggled for liberty, education, and justice. [[Top]]
New Hope Baptist Church
263 Peverly Hill Rd.
Because American evangelical workshop style was in some ways parallel to Western African spiritual tradition, 19th-century Portsmouth’s Black Christians were drawn toward evangelical Baptist churches. Two white Baptist churches had been founded here in the colonial period. Later, Portsmouth’s first Black church was also Baptist. Several former members of People’s Baptist Church were among the founders of New Hope Baptist Church. The new church grew in response to ongoing spiritual needs, serving a population that diversified in response to the changing local military and later technological economies. New Hope continues to flourish, providing an important spiritual resource and social center to many in the Seacoast’s community. Its pastor and congregates were among the founders of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail. [[Top]]