Community Remembrance project: Black Exeter NH

Who writes history?

It is time to re-examine traditional narratives and do some inclusive re-writes.

For example, I would have bet money that my very “white” NH town had always been so. But I fell down a rabbit hole while looking for a white rabbit, and found also that Exeter had the highest percentage of blacks in the entire state directly after the Revolutionary War. It is unclear why. The NH blacks who fought in the war earned their freedom, pensions and then settled in my town buying homes, opening businesses and starting families.

My town was the Revolutionary War capital of NH then and home to various white military officers and their funding. Perhaps they made promises to the black soldiers? Perhaps those promises are why blacks made up 4.7% of the citizenry in 1790? It is unclear. Why is it unclear? Because those writing the town’s grand (mostly white and male) history back then did not include it. Or perhaps it was purposely excluded? Perhaps it was lost? I don’t know. But what I do know it that it is time to re-examine and redress – by including.

My town is all the poorer for not letting that community flourish. I can only imagine the interesting contributions those ladies and gentlemen would have made here. In the four or so generations that the community existed (mainly near the west bank of the Squamscott River) there were many blacks that influenced the culture of this town. For example, the following small report contains the exploits and achievements of one family as they began their uphill climb from slavery.

james-monroe-whitfield-oval
James Monroe Whitfield, b.April 1822 in Exeter, NH

Down in that rabbit hole I met James Monroe Whitfield, a black abolitionist poet who was born in 1822 on Whitfield’s Lane, later renamed to Elliot Street. His 1853 book America and other poems was held in the Library of Congress, but curiously, was not in any of our libraries. His name was virtually unknown in our town. But I invite you now to join me in saying… “Welcome home James”!

Below is link to the Whitfield family report, perhaps you can use it to re-write some history yourself.

black exeter nh community remembrance project 2019

ps. Gratitude to the Exeter Historical Society for assistance on this “Community Remembrance Project.”

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