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Slaves in the Warner House

MacPhaedris Warner House /

It was once studied largely as architecture. Now the historic brick Warner House in Portsmouth is home to tales of African Americans too. This overview offers just a glimpse of the lives, black and white, within these sturdy walls.This is one in a series of articles exploring black heritage in colonial homes of Portsmouth, NH.  



READ: Langdon House Slaves 

Those who know architecture agree that the Warner House is among the most important preserved buildings in New Hampshire. Built about 1718, it is one of the finest examples of early brick structures in New England. Bricks for the 18-inch thick walls were imported all the way from Holland. Its owners were white, wealthy and powerful. A tumble-down wooden shack stood in the back yard, just a short distance from the aristocratic Queen's Chapel on the hill, the hub of society in pre-Revolutionary Portsmouth. The shack was home to the Warner House domestics -- black, impoverished and enslaved.

These contrasting cultural lifestyles had never been explored until Val Cunningham created the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail. For 30 years she has been telling historic tales of the "invisible" African-American population that was not welcomed at the front doors of historic Portsmouth. This report is a portion of that unique series. Since its first publication, Valerie and co-author Mark Sammons have published Black Portsmouth, a detailed study of black history in New Hampshire’s only seaport. This work has also inspired a children’s book based on the life of the Warner House slaves entitled Child Out of Place. – JDR

SEE ALSO:  The Warner House Book   


By Valerie Cunningham

The Warner House

The brick house on the northeast corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets was built in 1716-1718 and during the remainder of the colonial period was occupied successively by the households of merchant Archibald MacPhaedris, royal governor Benning Wentworth, and Jonathan Warner.

Archibald MacPhaedris' Slaves

As part of his impressive establishment, Archibald MacPhaedris owned slaves. In 1726 he purchased two males from Captain Samuel Moore. One was named Prince, the other Quamino (mistakenly remembered as Namino in a newspaper account 150 years later). Later in the same year MacPhaedris received a boy named Nero from the West Indies. An inventory of 1729 lists "2 Negro boys and 1 Negro girl" without giving their names. It was probably these three; New Englanders preferred to acquire young slaves and train them to their liking. Quamino was probably an Akan name; but it is certainly from West Africa in what today is Ghana. The name means a male child born on Saturday. Quamino's African name was a rare survivor in a culture which usually re-named slaves. Prince was a recurrent name among New England slaves. It may have been given in sentiment or mockery, or it may signal actual royal status in Africa. According to oral tradition the latter was indeed the case with another Portsmouth slave named Prince, Prince Whipple who lived at the Moffatt-Ladd site in the late 18th-century. It is unknown where MacPhaedris' slaves worked. MacPhaedris owned two houses and large tracts of land in New Hampshire.

Governor Benning Wentworth's Slaves

No documentation has revealed slaves in the household during Benning Wentworth’a occupancy of the Warner House. Modern oral tradition speaks of slaves in Wentworth's later household at Little Harbor but (to date) no documentation has come to light on slaves in the household of Benning Wentworth. Other documents show him employing local white farm women.

Jonathan Warner's Slaves

Later in the 18th century Jonathan Warner lived here. He too owned slaves. One was Cato, who signed a petition to the legislature in 1779 requesting an end to slavery. Another was Peter who also signed the petition, and who afterwards married Dinah Pearn on July 6, 1786 at North Church. The third was John Jack. At an unknown date John Jack married a free woman named Phillis, who in 1792 bought land -- apparently with a house on it -- in Greenland. They had three children; although a son died, two daughters continued to live there until they sold the property in 1845. In 1796 John Jack & Phillis harbored Ona (Oney) Judge (Jud), a fugitive slave woman who had run away from George and Martha Washington.

Warner's slaves are said to have lived in a wooden house which stood just behind the brick house. Later, when slaves were no longer a part of the household, the wooden house was moved to make room for a new kitchen wing. The slave house was moved one block to the corner of Sheafe and Chapel Streets to a lot cleared by the fire of 1813. This reputed slave house survived long enough to be photographed. The old photograph provides a rare if atypical glimpse of the housing of early Portsmouth slaves. The house was demolished in the 1890s.

Housing slaves separately from their owners was not common in New England. The characteristically small number of slaves per household usually lived in the owner's house, in attics, basements, or back ells. In this instance the ownership of adjacent buildings enabled separation.

OUTSIDE LINK: Official Warner House web site

From The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail
Copyright (a) 2006 by Valerie Cunningham. This article first appeared here in 1999. Compiled with assistance by Mark Sammons. Edited by J. Dennis Robinson. Published online exclusively by

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