What do Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman have in common? As far as we know, none of them have ever set foot in Exeter, NH. Yet, every February during Black History month, we study them in our schools, sing their favorite hymns in our churches, and recognize them on the televisions in our living rooms.
But what about some historic Black people that were born and raised in Exeter? History happened here too, though many current residents may not know it unless they are fans of the Exeter Historical Society. I ask you: Why don’t we study our own Black History this month?
There is information, sometimes scant, on some very interesting citizens. Folks Jude Hall and Charles Tash, both well-respected soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Or how about a literary star like the abolitionist poet James Monroe Whitfield, whose book is still in print? Or perhaps business is more your speed. How about two men who were in the top-tier of income earners in town: John Garrison Cutler and George Harris.
What about the women? A couple notables were Catherine Merrill, who left a fund for the poor in her will, and Rebecca (Barbadoes) Walker, a Robinson Female Seminary alum who was married at fourteen, had six children, and divorced her husband (drunkenness/abandonment) at thirty-seven. All the Walkers (except the husband – go figure) are buried together in one plot in our Exeter Cemetery, but they were so poor there is only one stone – and that one was issued by the military for the youngest son, Phillip.
Rebecca Walker, single mother of six. One of whom was blind. Let’s bring herstory back: let’s say her name.
Do we speak their names in our schools and churches? Do their names adorn downtown buildings? Do you live in a house once owned by a person of color and is there a historical marker saying such? Why not? Why don’t we ask why the large Black community that existed in Exeter for 100 years in the 1800s is all but vanished?
Let’s change the narrative and step into a better future together.
It is time to acknowledge these people who played a part in the growth of our town. How? It’s easy! Check out the Exeter Historical Society’s “History Minute” videos. Search Jude Hall, James Monroe Whitfield and John Garrison Cutler, who are recently up on Wikipedia. The Cutler shop at 127 Water Street will be sporting a new historical marker soon. Jubal Martin has a road named after him. Rebecca Walker is finally getting her name on a stone at the cemetery.
As you know, these people and more are mentioned in my trilogy of quirky historical-fiction mysteries at Water Street bookstore and Amazon/Kindle.
You are invited to an exciting event with me. Join me for a Zoom presentation on Feb 19th at 7pm via Exeter TV (YouTube/Facebook) discussing a proposal to create a small pocket-park quite near to what was once a Black enclave by the river, near the former location of the Baptist Church. (send email to GreenXNH@yahoo.com for Zoom link.)
This Black History Month let’s go local: say their names.