Goal: to create a pocket-park in downtown Exeter to honor the Black heritage of Exeter’s past, and welcome its future.
This park will link to a website that will serve as a comprehensive historical resource for researchers, students, and artists.
But in the meantime…
#1: Freedom Fighters
Fact: Exeter has the distinction of having had the largest percentage of Black residents in NH, directly after the Revolutionary War. There were 82 Blacks and 2753 whites or 4.7% . Many Black soldiers, like Jude Hall, settled in town and raised families. If the community had been allowed to flourish, there would be about 700 Black Exeter citizens today. Prior to the war, Exeter had a handful of enslaved Black persons, all of whom were freed by or after 1790*. (*See Dixon report listed in RESOURCES section at the end)
After the Revolutionary War soldiers died off, Exeter’s Black community was slowly squelched over a period of one hundred years; at times violently as the Civil War loomed. Exeter-born poet James Monroe Whitfield wrote angrily of the national injustice in his 1853 book “America and other poems.” By 1910, census indicates only three Blacks.
#3: This happened here?
After the Revolution, both Blacks and whites attended schools together, intermarried, and owned businesses and homes. As the Civil War approached, sentiments changed. Forms of discrimination and oppression included a limp abolitionist lecturer (Stephen Foster) being dragged out of the First Church on a Sunday morning, an 1827 mob tearing down the house of a Black family on Portsmouth Ave (Benjamin “Jakes” Paul), a kidnapping of an 18-year-old boy from Drinkwater Road (James Hall) who was then sold into slavery in Annapolis.
Justice was never served in these cases; nor were they reported in the newspaper.
#4: Where did they go?
Some Exeter Blacks moved away to larger cities in search of jobs and safety in a community of relations (Boston, Belfast, Buffalo). Some were sent to live or grow up in the town “poor farm” (Freeman Wallace). Some bucked the odds and owned very successful businesses in town (Rufus & John G. Cutler, George Harris all at 125/127/129 Water Street). Some became famous Baptist preachers (Rev. Thomas Paul). The history is as full of casualites as it is of triumphs.
The descendants of this community are spread far and wide today, but their ancestors are buried in the Exeter cemeteries in both marked and unmarked graves.
The Future of Exeter’s Black History…
Recently, due to efforts by the Racial Unity Team, the Exeter Historical Society and a growing mass of other Exeter genealogists, researchers and authors, Exeter citizens are beginning to piece together the full and rich history of our town.
Many pieces have been obscured for a long time, and many other pieces remain hidden. Ours is an ongoing story which must be reckoned with today.
The creation of Exeter’s Black Heritage pocket-park will serve as a bridge from the exclusive past to an inclusive future.
What can I do??
Examine your own bias via books like “White Privilege and Me”. View the videos of the new Exeter Police Stakeholders Committee, or the Racial Unity Team.
Got skills? Click on any of the links above or below to find out more about the history. Then embark upon your own research; chase down a lead, a deed, or a family tree – and report back to us. Or create some art!
Together, let’s step into the future of Exeter.
Maybe the above suggestions just don’t work for you right now, or you would prefer something a little lighter. You can still participate in the fundraiser for the pocket-park by buying a trilogy of historical-fiction mysteries set in Exeter which feature some of the people mentioned above.
If you love it, host a Zoom book group with the author!
All profits donated to the park project.
More info to come, post-Covid…
Thanks!!! ~ RM Allen
Let’s build something great together.
Here are some resources I used to write the mysteries. I only touched on a few of the many people. So many questions remain. Have a look..
- David T. Dixon scholarly report 2015
- Corydon (Phillips), died 1818
- Census tree by Ed Wall, is at Exeter Historical society
- Maps: Black enclave 1845, Whitfield’s Lane 1832
- Exeter Newsletter 1879 Black enclave remembrances: 1, 2, 3
- Exeter Historical Society: Jude Hall , Rhoda & family
- Jude Hall: military pay page w sig., memorial stone, Drinkwater sign
- James Monroe Whitfield: home, family lineage report 2018
- John Garrison Cutler: hotel, restaurant, obit,
- Jubal Martin, farmer
- Kate Holland Fund aka Catherine Merrill
- Abolitionist era timeline (notes for Ioka book)
- Abolitionists in Exeter vs the Rev. Stephen S. Foster incident recap
- Betsy Clifford: diary, petition, May 1851 deed to Rufus Cutler
- Ethel Walker, Robinson’s Female Seminary alum
- Rebecca Walker grave research 2021
- William Robinson: Cotton, wife, school
- Suffragette Timeline in Exeter, apprx 20 Black people still in town in 1903
- Is there anything YOU can add? What about Manjoy? Tash? Dinah? Hannah Blossom?