Ona Marie Judge, enslaved in the household of Martha and George Washington, liberated herself by escaping to the Black community of Portsmouth in 1796. There, she gained shelter if not manumission, evading efforts by Washington to persuade or force her to return to his household.
In an interview given to an abolitionist newspaper in 1845, she said, “Whilst they were packing up to go to Virginia, I was packing to go, I didn’t know where; for I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty. I had friends among the colored people of Philadelphia, had my things carried there beforehand, and left Washington’s house while they were eating dinner.”
In 1796, President Washington instructed Oliver Wolcott, the Secretary of the Treasury, to pursue Judge’s re-capture. Wolcott in turn appealed to Joseph Whipple, Portsmouth’s collector of customs. After interviewing Judge, Whipple wrote to Washington that she had fled based on “a thirst for compleat freedom” and would not return voluntarily without at least a pledge that she would be emancipated upon the death of George and Martha. Whipple also noted the presence of a significant number of self-liberated former slaves living in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where “the popular opinion here in favor of universal freedom has rendered it difficult to get them back to their masters.”
Judge married Jack Staines, a free Black sailor, in Portsmouth in 1797. After Staines was lost at sea, the widowed Ona Marie Judge Staines lived with a free Black family in Greenland, where she died and was buried in 1848.
To learn more, read Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (37 Ink, 2017).
Born in Milford, New Hampshire, in 1825, Harriet E. Adams Wilson is known as the first person of African descent to publish a novel in the United States. Wilson’s book, Our Nig; or Sketches From the Life of A Free Black, published in 1859, is believed to be closely based on her harsh experience in near-slavery in a northern New England household.
After years of obscurity, Wilson’s story and that of her novel were recovered by scholars and the Milford-based Harriet Wilson Project, which was formed in 2003.
As the Harriet Wilson Project describes,
“The novel unfolds with the six-year-old mulatto protagonist, Frado, being abandoned by her white mother and placed into indentured servitude. While in service to the Bellmont family, Frado is cruelly abused by Mrs. Bellmont and her daughter, Mary. Not even the sympathetic members of the family intervene on her behalf. Frado endures this harsh abuse for 12 years until she reaches her majority and earns her freedom at age eighteen.”
Interestingly, Milford itself was considered a hotbed of abolitionist activity, which included at least one massive rally during the time Wilson was indentured.
According to the Harriet Wilson Project, Wilson wrote Our Nig in the 1850s while working as a seamstress, house servant, and vendor of hair products in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She started a business, “Mrs. H.E. Wilson’s Hair Dressing,” based in Manchester and later moved to the Boston area, where she was active in spiritualist circles.
The Harriet Wilson Project now promotes historic walking tours of Milford and provides other information on Wilson and her historic novel. A statue of Harriet Wilson with her son George Mason Wilson, created by the late Fern Cunningham, now sits in Bicentennial Park in Milford.
Residents of Concord from 1840 until their deaths in 1898, Parker and Sarah Pillsbury were key figures in the local anti-slavery movement. As an “agent” of the abolition movement, Parker traveled widely and steadily for years as one of the major lecturers for the wing of the abolition movement associated with William Lloyd Garrison.
Born in Hamilton MA in 1809, Parker moved with his family in 1814 to Henniker, where he grew up accustomed to the life of a rural farmer. In 1829, he moved to Lynn, MA, where he fell in with radical abolitionists. After attending seminaries in Gilmanton, NH, and Andover, MA, Parker accepted a position at a church in Loudon, NH, where he met Sarah Sargent. They wed in 1840, the same year Parker and the Loudon Congregational Church parted ways due to his radical views.
Sarah was born in Loudon, daughter of Sarah Wilkins and John Sargent, a physician. As a member of the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society, Sarah was active in fundraising activities. Moreover, as Stacey Robertson recounts in her biography of Parker, “Sarah became a popular host for these abolitionists who visited and spoke in Concord, including such luminaries as Antoinette Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, and Lucy Stone. While Parker boarded in homes of abolitionists across the North, Sarah offered to house, feed, and entertain dozens of antislavery guests, in an informal extension of her reform efforts… Many abolitionists commented on h Sarah’s kindness and hospitality, and she became well known in antislavery circles.”
As a writer and speaker, Parker traveled extensively and directed much of his outrage at the complicity of Christianity with slavery. “While many abolitionists stayed within the church,” writes Stacey Robertson, “the radicals insisted that as long as Northern churches continued their fellowship with Southern slaveholders and remained opposed to immediate emancipation, membership in such institutions constituted support for slavery.” For that reason, Parker was known as a “come outer,” a biblical phrase which implied true Christians must leave churches that were complicit with slavery.
Like others in the Garrisonian wing of the movement, Parker called for immediate abolition with no compensation to slaveholders, scorned voting in a system whose Constitution upheld slavery, and advocated social and legal equality between the races. “I am not an American citizen, for the reason that I would not be voluntarily recognized as properly associated with a crew of pirates,” he said on a lecture tour in England.
Initially associated with “non-resistance,” a pacifist ideology common among radicals of his day, Parker’s commitment to nonviolence slipped with John Brown’s raid and the outbreak of a war which promised to end slavery.
In the period after the Civil War, Parker became actively involved in the movement for women’s suffrage, working alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the Equal Rights Association.
In addition to the lecture circuit, Parker was a prolific writer, placing articles in many abolitionist publications of the day and at times serving as an editor. His book, “Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles,” serves as a memoir but also describes the lives and roles of comrades such as Stephen Symonds Foster.
Parker and Sarah died within four months of each other in 1898. They are buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery in Concord.
For more information, read Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist, by Stacey Robertson (Cornell University Press, 2000).
Stephen Symonds Foster was born in Canterbury, NH on November 17, 1809. The ninth child of Asa and Sarah Foster, Stephen would grow up to be a leader in the radical wing of the anti-slavery movement, for which he traveled and lectured extensively throughout the northeastern states in the decades before the Civil War. Foster would focus much of his outrage on Christian institutions, which he accused of being insufficiently committed (or not at all) to the cause of ending slavery.
Foster was a “Come Outer,” a term taken from a passage in II Corinthians 6:17 (“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,”). As a Come-Outer, Foster advocated separating from churches that would not expel parishioners who refused to endorse immediate emancipation.
On September 17, 1841, as his wife’s biographer describes, Foster entered First Congregational Church in Concord for its Sunday service. “Taking a seat with others of the congregation, he waited until the minister was about to begin his sermon. Then he rose to announce in a mild, friendly voice that as a man and a Christian he wished to speak against slavery. The astonished minister ordered him to sit down. When he continued to speak, three stalwart parishioners dragged him down the aisle and pushed him outdoors.”
Foster would repeat his distinct form of ministry at other churches, including South Congregational in Concord, from which he was ejected twice on a single Sunday (June 12, 1842). Several times he was roughed up or jailed. In a letter published in 1842 in Herald of Freedom, an anti-slavery journal published in Concord, Foster recalled, “Within the last fifteen months four times have they opened their dismal cells for my reception. Twenty-four times have my countrymen dragged me from their temples of worship, and twice have they thrown me with great violence from the second story of their buildings, careless of consequences …Twice have they punished me with fines for preaching the gospel; and once in a mob of two thousand people have they deliberately attempted to murder me, and were only foiled in their designs after inflicting some twenty blows on my head, face and neck, by the heroism of a brave and noble woman.”
“Still, I will not complain,” Foster wrote, “though death should be found close on my track. My lot is easy compared with those for whom I labor,” i.e., those who were enslaved.
His close friend, Parker Pillsbury, who accompanied Foster on lecture tours and shared his “Come Outer” ideology, would later write, “Mob violence was ever my aversion and dread, till deep in the midst of it. Brave old military heroes have often told me that they trembled at the outset, and till after the first few shots had been exchanged. Then there was no more fear. I could well understand them. But not so my friend Foster. He seemed ever cool and serene, before and through the fiercest encounters. Nor did any one ever see him exultant, in his most brilliant successes.”
Not as prolific a writer as Pillsbury, Foster contributed numerous articles to anti-slavery publications such as Herald of Freedom and published a book, The Brotherhood of Thieves; Or a True Picture of the American Church and Clergy, in which he enumerated his grievances with what he saw as Christian hypocrisy.
In 1845, Stephen Symonds Foster married Abby Kelley, another anti-slavery radical from Massachusetts, and moved with her to Worcester. For the rest of their lives, Stephen and Abby were something of a power couple among New England radicals, advocating for an immediate end to slavery, full equality for people of African descent, and full equality for women. Both of them were speakers at the founding convention of the NH Women’s Suffrage Association in Concord in 1868. He died in Worcester on September 13, 1881. She died six years later.
Born in Plymouth in 1794, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers abandoned a successful legal career for a position as editor of a radical anti-slavery newspaper, Herald of Freedom, which he ran until he lost his position in a factional dispute with other abolitionists. During his time at the helm of the paper, Herald of Freedom was a leading voice for the abolition of slavery and establishment of full equality.
After exposure to the ideas of William Lloyd Garrison in the early 1830s, Rogers threw himself into the abolition movement. He formed the Plymouth Anti Slavery Society in 1833 and was among the founders of the NH Anti Slavery Society the next year. His wife, Mary, headed the Plymouth Female Anti Slavery Society; their home in Plymouth was a stopover for traveling abolitionist lecturers like Garrison, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, and British activist George Thompson. It is also known to have been a “safe house” on the Underground Railroad. Rogers was a trustee at Noyes Academy during its short existence and wrote articles for Herald of Freedom.
In 1838, the Rogers family moved to Concord, where he took over Herald of Freedom. It was not only a farewell to a lucrative career for one with little prospect of financial success, it was also a position with considerable risk. Radical abolitionists of the 1830s knew they could come under violent attack, and the editors of abolitionist newspapers were among the most visible and vulnerable. The story of Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist publisher who was murdered in Illinois in 1837, was well known, as were assaults suffered and survived by Garrison.
Known for his uncompromising views, Rogers joined comrades like Stephen Symonds Foster and Parker Pillsbury in scathing criticism of the Christian church for waffling on slavery. Like other Garrisonians, he advocated the immediate and unconditional abolition of slavery and establishment of full rights for African Americans. Also like other radicals of his day, he believed in equality between men and women. In Pillsbury’s words, “Woman, to him, was in all rights, privileges and prerogatives, the full equal of man.”
An advocate of “non-resistance” and “moral suasion” as opposed to violence or political engagement, Rogers traveled alongside anti-slavery agitators like Pillsbury, Foster, Garrison, and Frederick Douglass, using his paper and his sharply worded articles to advance the cause. “He and his associates of the Garrison school of abolitionists relied solely on the power of moral and spiritual truth to rescue the slave as well as to redeem and save the world,” Pillsbury later wrote.
Rogers “annoyed his more conservative New Hampshire colleagues with his hard-hitting attacks on the church, his support for women’s rights, and his condemnation of ‘color-phobia,’” says Stacey Robertson, Pillsbury’s biographer.
He was also known as a “no organization” man. As Dorothy Sterling puts it in her biography of Abby Kelley, “At meetings he objected to the preparation of an agenda or the election of officers and insisted that anyone could speak on any topic at any time.”
Holding that any degree of coercion was a form of violence, “Rogers distrusted anyone in a position of authority, including ministers and priests, politicians and bureaucrats,” says Robertson. It was that principle which got him in trouble when his views began to depart from those of other leading abolitionists, also prone to factional infighting. When the NH Anti Slavery Society voted in 1844 that Herald of Freedom was the Society’s organ, not that of Rogers, Rogers took the Society’s name off the paper’s masthead and substituted that of John R French, who was serving as publisher and was engaged to Rogers’ daughter. When the Society’s board insisted on ownership, Pillsbury was installed as editor.
Rogers instead tried to start a new paper, The Herald of Freedom, but it was short-lived. Two years later he was dead, perhaps an after-effect of abdominal injuries he suffered playing football in his days at Dartmouth.
The office of Herald of Freedom was in The Stickney Block on North Main Street in Concord, an office building that no longer exists.
Nathaniel Peabody Rogers is buried in the Old North Cemetery in Concord.
A historic plaque can be seen at the Silver Cultural Arts Center at Plymouth State University, which sits where the Rogers home once stood.
Three years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, twenty enslaved African-born men, all captured “when but children” and then living in Portsmouth, submitted their own petition for liberation from tyranny. Signed in Portsmouth on November 12, 1779 and formally submitted to the New Hampshire state legislature then meeting in Exeter on April 25, 1780, the petition from “natives of Africa, now forcibly detained in slavery” states “that Freedom is an inherent right of the human species not to be surrendered, but by consent.” Adapting the revolutionary ideology of the times to the cause of their own emancipation, the statement goes on to argue the case against chattel slavery, harnessing both logic and irony to the moment at hand.
“From what authority they [the slave owners] assume the power to dispose of our lives, freedom, and liberty we wish to know,” they stated. Did their authority stem from “the sacred volumes of Christianity?” “From the volumes of the law?” “From the volumes of nature?” The petitioners could find no such authority for slavery in those places, leaving “custom” as the sole remaining source. “If so,” they said, “let that custom be abolished which is not founded in nature, reason, nor religion.”
Reviewing the names of the 20 signatories, historians Mark Sammons and Valerie Cunningham speculate that the petition was drafted by members of the “Negro Court,” a community institution which chose its own leaders and was responsible for a degree of self-governance within the Black community.
The petition was accepted by the NH House of Representatives and its text published in the New Hampshire Gazette, a local paper, on July 15, 1780. But the legislators tabled any hearing on the petition. It wasn’t until 1857 that the state legislature implicitly abolished slavery by declaring, “No person, because of decent (sic), should be disqualified from becoming a citizen of the state.” The state explicitly endorsed an end to slavery by ratifying the 13th Amendment on July 1, 1865.
The 1779 petition for liberation returned to the public eye more than a century later when Senator Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth filed SB187, “posthumously emancipating 20 African-American New Hampshire slaves.” This time, the petition met favor in both Senate and House and was signed into law by Governor Maggie Hassan on July 11, 2013. No mention was made of the hundreds of African Americans who had remained enslaved across the state of New Hampshire for 86 more years after the original writing of this petition.
For more information, read Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage by Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham (UNH Press, 2004) and visit the Black Heritage Trail of NH.
Noyes Academy, a short-lived experiment in inter-racial coeducation, operated for several months in 1835 in Canaan NH until it was forced to close by local racists.
The founders included Canaan residents, other New Hampshire abolitionists, and abolitionists from Boston, Portland, and New York. George Kimball, a Canaan attorney who was among the founders and housed students in his home, wrote, “It is unhappily true, that the colored portion of our fellow citizens, even in the free States, while their toil and blood have contributed to establish, and their taxes equally with those of whites to maintain our free system of Education, have practically been excluded from the benefits of it. This institution proposes to restore, so far as it can, to this neglected and injured class, the privileges of literary, moral and religious instruction.”
“We regard with approbation the plan of establishing schools that will not, either by form of law or of prejudice oftentimes stronger than law, exclude colored youth from a participation in their benefits; and the proposed Academy in Canaan in this state, with reference to the principle, meets our views, and is recommended to the countenance and support of the friends of the people of color,” offered the just-formed NH Anti-Slavery Society. The school was promoted in William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper, The Liberator.
When Noyes Academy opened in March 1835, it enrolled 28 white and 17 Black students, both boys and girls, including several who had attended the African Free School in New York. Students lived in the homes of teachers. Their courses of study were to focus either on English or Classics. The white students were mostly local, while Black students came from as far away as Philadelphia and had to endure degrading segregated travel to reach Canaan.
When the NH Anti-Slavery Society held its first annual meeting in Concord that June, Thomas Paul, Jr., a Noyes Academy student from Boston with New Hampshire family ties, was an official member of the Canaan delegation. Alexander Crummell, Henry Highland Garnet, and Thomas Sidney, all graduates of the African Free School who attended Noyes, also gave impressive speeches to the NH Anti-Slavery Society at an 1835 meeting in Plymouth.
The school sparked resistance right away, including unfavorable coverage in The Concord Patriot, which took offense at white workers serving a racially mixed group of students at Kimball’s home. “Since the establishment of the school, it has been no uncommon spectacle to witness colored gentlemen walking arm in arm with what ought to be respectable white females. And that respectable people opposed to the school, as well as others, have been invited to parties where the colored portion of the school were also invited guests,” complained the Patriot. By the end of July, the Town had voted for the school to be closed.
The experiment came to a violent end on August 10, when a mob of hundreds approached the school. Garnet picked up a rifle and fired shots at rioters who approached the Kimball home, where he was living. But enraged men from the surrounding area had brought 90 or more teams of oxen, which they hitched to the school building and dragged it off its foundation. An article from the Concord Patriot, reprinted by Garrison in The Liberator, notes that the lawless mob included “many of the most wealthy and respected farmers of this and the adjacent towns.” A month later they moved it again. Later it was torched.
As for the students, the Black students were quietly evacuated from Canaan the night of the attack. But it is important to note that Crummell, Garnet, Sidney, and Paul all went on to prominent roles in the abolition movement, as did Julia Williams, one of the two Black female students. Garnet and Williams later married.
The story of Noyes Academy reminds us of the profound beliefs held by the radical abolitionists, who believed in equality and access to education across lines of both race and gender. It also stands as a disturbing reminder that New Hampshire’s history includes vicious racists as well as revolutionary democrats.
A roadside plaque now marks the site where Noyes Academy once stood.
The Canaan Historical Society has a Noyes Academy Study Group, which has published its findings online.