Bill To Protect African American Graves Failed

The Black Heritage Trail website provides information about the African Burial Ground Memorial. It is located on Chestnut Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The cemetery was actively used into the late 1700s, when the area west of Chestnut Street was part of the undeveloped outskirts of Portsmouth. 

As the town flourished and developed into the early 1800s, burial sites disappeared from memory and were built over. According to The Black Heritage Trail website, the “negro burying ground” eventually was forgotten. A small memorial park offers a place for remembrance. The park has silhouettes of eight people who were buried in the cemetery that has since been paved over.

In March of 2022, the New Hampshire Senate passed bipartisan Senate Bill 258. It was titled: “Relative to the graves of African Americans alive during the period of American enslavement”. Senator David Waters, (Democrat) was the primary sponsor of the bill.

Foster’s Daily Democrat reported that the bill was to establish protections and procedures for handling African American graves from the time period of American enslavement. The New Hampshire Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 256 on February 16, 2022.

According to Foster’s Daily Democrat, The bill recognizes the importance of preserving African American grave sites, markers, and associated archeological items like grave offerings and decorations. It emphasizes the need for efforts to document and preserve these sites and to support efforts to identify document and preserve these sites and to support efforts to identify descendants and descendant communities, like the Black Heritage Trail organization in New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, the Concord Monitor reported that the New Hampshire House sent Senate Bill 258 to interim study in a 180-146 vote without discussion. 

The Black Heritage Trail website states that the Langdon Slave Burial Ground was a segregated burial ground on the Landon family’s property. The graves had plain, uninscribed stones as markers of low status. The enslaved Africans buried there may include Hannah, Pomp, Nanne Violet, Scipio, and others owned by the Langdons.

The Old North Cemetery has grave markers of some early African Americans including Prince Whipple, Esther Mullenaux and Elizabeth Smith, Pomp and Candace Spring, and unmarked graves inclining the “Unidentified” remains recently found at the stonewall. There is no marker for Dinah Whipple. The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail believes her surviving friends and family would have insisted she be laid to rest next to her husband Prince Whipple.

Fosters Daily Democrat mentioned Ona Judge, who died in Greenland, New Hampshire, was a an escaped house slave in the home of George and Martha Washington. Sampson Battis of Canterbury won his freedom for action he saw in the Revolutionary war. Harriet E. Wilson was the first African American novelist in North America.

The failure of the New Hampshire House to pass Senate Bill 258 might make it harder for genealogists to find out information about the location of their relatives and ancestors. This is especially true for those who had unmarked graves, and whose names were not recorded.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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