New Hampshire Slaves Granted Freedom 234 Years Later

Fourteen New Hampshire slaves were granted freedom 234 after their deaths during the Revolutionary War. They petitioned the New Hampshire Legislature for their freedom, but it was never granted.

A group of 20 slaves filed the petition on November 12, 1779 after fighting in the war. They argued that the freedom colonists were seeking should be extended to them. They maintained that “public tyranny and slavery are alike and detestable to minds conscious of the equal dignity of human nature.”

But the New Hampshire General Assembly never responded to the petition. Governor Maggie Hassan signed the bill to emancipate the remaining 14 New Hampshire slaves on Friday.

While the bill was largely symbolic, supporters hope it will encourage future generations to pursue social justice — something the slaves never received in their lifetimes.

Before signing the bill to emancipate the slaves, Hassan stated:

“Their plea fell on deaf ears. It is a source of deep shame that our predecessors didn’t honor this request. But today, more than 230 years too late for their petition, we say that freedom is truly an inherent right not to be surrendered.”

The original petition filed 234 years ago was discovered 30 years ago in the state’s archives. However, it wasn’t until this year when supporters pushed lawmakers to pass the bill. It was done in part to bring attention to an African-American burial ground in Portsmouth, where the city is raising money to build a memorial park to commemorate the location.

Excerpts from the New Hampshire slaves’ petition will be etched in stone as part of the memorial park. Portsmouth Mayor Eric Spear stated of the signed bill:

“When you think about slavery as ‘down there’ or ‘over there,’ it has a distance that doesn’t make it as real. All the future residents are going to know a little bit more about their own history, their own land and how slavery was a part of that.”

Valeric Cunningham, who wrote a book about the history of slavery in Portsmouth, noted that the New Hampshire slaves emancipated on Friday were not asking for money or just their own freedom. Rather, they were asking the state to completely abolish slavery.

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