​New Hampshire Slaves Granted Freedom, 230 Years Late​​

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan answered to a petition from fourteen slaves by granting their freedom during the Revolutionary War, even though it was 230 years late.

A group of 20 people who had fought in the war submitted a petition to the New Hampshire General Assembly on Nov. 12, 1779, while the war was still being fought. They argued that the freedom being sought by colonists should be extended to them, as well, and maintained that “public tyranny and slavery are alike detestable to minds conscious of the equal dignity of human nature … Their plea fell on deaf ears,” Gov Maggie Hassan said before signing the bill emancipating the 14, who were never freed.

“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 truly is an inherent right not to be surrendered.”

The original petition was found in state archives nearly 30 years ago, but supporters pushed lawmakers to pass the bill this year in part to bring attention to an African-American burial ground in downtown Portsmouth, where the city is raising money to build a memorial park to commemorate the site. The remains of six African slaves were discovered at the site several years ago during routine street improvements.

Excerpts from the 1779 petition will be etched in stone and be part of the park. Together with the park and the nearby Seacoast African American Cultural Center, the bill signed Friday is part of a lengthy journey to ensure that today’s children and future generations understand the region’s history, said Portsmouth Mayor Eric Spear.

“When you think about slavery as ‘down there’ or ‘over there,’ it has a distance that doesn’t make it as real,” he said. “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.”

Tom Watson, president of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, said the bill signing was important for several reasons, including the simple act of righting a wrong. It also serves a reminder of contributions that African-Americans have made to the state.