Black History 365 – First known African American to be elected to public office

1768 - First known African American to be elected to public office: Wentworth Cheswell, town constable in Newmarket, New Hampshire.

1768 – First known African American to be elected to public office: Wentworth Cheswell, town constable in Newmarket, New Hampshire. (There were no actual portraits found in a search so I used this one about his riding out to warn his New Hampshire countrymen about the British coming during the Revolutionary War.)

 

In 2016 for my Black History 365 series, I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African-American_firsts

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

If you have any other sources or additional information for this topic, please share in the comments. I also welcome any and all comments and discussion. Thanks for reading!

From African American Registry:

1746-04-11  Wentworth Cheswell
From Newmarket, NH Cheswell was the only child of Hopestill and Catherine Keniston Cheswell. There is virtually no information about Catherine Keniston in Newmarket town records. However, the various local historians and genealogists generally accept that she came from a local Newmarket/Durham family, and that she was white. Like his father before him, Wentworth Cheswell was born to a white mother.

Young Cheswell was a key figure in New Hampshire politics and the son of Hopestill Cheswell, a well known pre-Revolutionary house builder. The elder Cheswell, a mulatto, was an independent Black man who held an important business position during slavery. The younger Cheswell too excelled in local politics. Named for Royal Governor Benning Wentworth, he attended Dummer Academy. He was a justice of the peace and yeoman landowner, and like Paul Revere, Cheswell, made a midnight ride on horseback to warn New Hampshire residents of coming of British soldiers.

In Newmarket, NH he served as town assessor, selectman and coroner. He preserved important town records and helped start the first private library in Newmarket. From 1768, when he was elected constable until his death in 1817, Cheswell held a succession of town or local government positions. Besides serving as assessor, town auditor and coroner, he was also voted a selectman. From his appointment in 1805 onwards, Wentworth Cheswell exercised the authority of Rockingham County’s Justice of the Peace.

His life was used in public debated during the 1820 Missouri Compromise as an example of how Blacks were able to be equals in society with whites. His grave site is currently being researched and restored by Richard Alperin who lives nearby on the site of the former Cheswell home. Cheswell died on March 8, 1817 at aged 71.

Reference:
“A PEOPLE OF COLOR”:
A Study of Race and Racial Identification in New Hampshire, 1750-1825
by Erik R. Tuveson, B.A.,
Colgate University, 1992

References listed on the Wall Builders article about him:
William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, With Sketches of Several Distinguished Colored Persons: To Which is Added a Brief Survey of the Conditions and Prospects of Colored Americans (Boston: Robert F. Wallcut, 1855), pp. 120-121.

Sidney and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, Revised Edition (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1989), pp. 200-202.

Thomas Truxtun Moebs, Black Soldiers-Black Sailors-Black Ink: Research Guide on African-Americans in U.S. Military History, 1526-1900 (Chesapeake Bay: Moebs Publishing Company, 1994), pp. 226, 259, 280.

From the Wikipedia article about him:

References

  1. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Rachel Grace Toussaint, “Legacy of Newmarket founding father revealed”, seacoastonline.com, 22 December 2002, hosted at Newmarket, New Hampshire Historical Society
  2. Jump up^ http://hnn.us/article/51808 (see also: African-American officeholders in the United States, 1789–1866)
  3. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage, (2004), pp. 32-33, accessed 27 July 2009
  4. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Mario de Valdes y Cocom, “Cheswell”, The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families, PBS Frontline, 1996
  5. ^ Jump up to:a b c Rev. Steve Williams, “Wentworth Cheswell”, America’s Founding Fathers website, 2009
  6. Jump up^ W. Dennis Chesley and Mary B. Mcallister, “Pioneers in New Hampshire Archaeology: Wentworth Cheswell Esquire”, The New Hampshire Archaeologist, Vol. 22 (1), 1981
  7. Jump up^ Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage, (2004), p. 124, accessed 27 July 2009
  8. Jump up^ Sammons and Cunningham (2004), p. 124
  9. ^ Jump up to:a b Peg Warner, “Graveyard to get TLC”, seacoastonline.com, 28 April 2006, hosted at Newmarket, New Hampshire Historical Society

Further reading

  • Fitts, James Hill. History of Newfields, NH, Volumes 1 and 2 (1912).
  • George, Nellie Palmer. Old Newmarket (1932).
  • Getchell, Sylvia (Fitts). The Tide Turns on the Lamprey: A History of Newmarket, NH. (1984).
  • Harvey, Joseph. An Unchartered Town: Newmarket on the Lamprey-Historical Notes and Personal Sketches.
  • The Granite Monthly. Volume XL, Nos. 2 and 3. New Series, Volume 3, Nos. 2 and 3 (February and March, 1908).
  • Knoblock, Glenn A. “Strong and Brave Fellows”, New Hampshire’s Black Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution, 1775-1784 (2003).
  • Tuveson, Erik R. A People of Color: A Study of Race and Racial Identification in New Hampshire, 1750-1825. Thesis for M.A. in History (May 1995). Available at library of the University of New Hampshire.

External links

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9 thoughts on “Black History 365 – First known African American to be elected to public office

  1. There are several errors in your posted article! I would love to discuss this with you. You can reach me at 603-686-3642. This is the same phone number listed on the Wentworth Cheswell Wikipedia page!

      • 1) I have never been able to locate any proof that Wentworth was named for Governor Benning Wentwoth. If anyone should make that statement ,it would simply be an assumption.
        2) I have never found proof that Wentworth made a midnight ride “Like Paul Revere” to warn NH residents that the British were coming. I have “read”, and listened to people who claimed that Wentworth was in Boston on the same night as Paul Revere, and rode north to NH, at the same time Revere rode west to Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts. After extensive research I have yet to find proof of this. However, I “do” have proof as to a similar situation which was attributed to Cheswell, which after more than 100 years “became” the story as we know it today. I have included a link to “Google Books”. Specifically to an article in a NH magazine called “The Granite Monthly” Vol XL New SeriesVolume III Nos 2 and 3.
        https://books.google.com/books?id=p2ASAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA33&dq=%22Granite+Monthly%22+Vol+XL+New+series+Vol+3+Nos+2+and+3&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiR2sexgKLRAhVqxoMKHfhaCBQQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=%22Granite%20Monthly%22%20Vol%20XL%20New%20series%20Vol%203%20Nos%202%20and%203&f=false

        This entire 131 page edition is primarily about the town of Newmarket,NH. Please consider pages 48 and 49. After the colonists from Newmarket and Durham had successfully raided Fort William and Mary in Newcastle,NH, and removed the stockpiles of gunpowder (later used at the battle of Bunker Hill) the British Sloop of War “Canseau” arrived in Portsmouth with several companies of soldiers. Portsmouth cried out for help from the local communities. The Newmarket Safety Committee voted to send 30 men to Portsmouth , and chose Wentworth Cheswell to ride to “Exeter” NH (which at that time was the provincial capital of NH), to report the proceedings of the meeting. At this point, the author of the article in the magazine attempts to conjure up a vision in the mind of the reader, as to what it must have been like on that ride which Wentworth Cheswell made to report to the Provincial Committee at Exeter. You will notice that the author uses the words “Like the immortal Revere”! Hence you have a story handed down for more than 100 years which has turned into “He rode on the same night as Paul Revere”! I remember playing a game in kindergarten called “telephone”. The teacher would whisper something into the ear of the first student,and by the time it got to the last student not much of what the teacher said remained. This would be a simplistic explanation as to why people now say he rode with Revere from Boston to NH, that the British were coming!
        I was responsible for the NH State Highway Historical Marker (at his gravesite) and the short biography it contains. Believe me, If I had proof that he rode from Boston to NH with or without Revere, I’d have included it on this Historical Marker.

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