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First Blacks of Portsmouth, Part 2


Prince Whipple was prominent among the slave petitioners. He was one of the few slaves whose name is known by those familiar with Portsmouth history. This recognition was not gained for his courage in petitioning for the end of slavery. Rather, his fame was based upon an earlier event, an agreement Prince is said to have made with his master, William Whipple: to fight in the revolution for the liberty of white colonists in exchange for his own emancipation. According to a much-quoted vignette (first appearing in Rambles About Portsmouth), Prince struck the bargain with Gen. Whipple and won his freedom immediately after the war. Yet, the harsh reality for Prince was that he gained his freedom seven years after the war for independence.

Prince and another slave, Cuffee, were young children when they arrived in Portsmouth with some other slaves from Guinea about 1760. As the two boys reached maturity in the Whipple household, they became familiar with the customs and habits of Portsmouth's white gentry and visiting dignitaries. Prince served as chief steward for the most important social events in the town; Cuffee played violin for cotillions at the State House. In his position as the general's body servant, Prince would have been privy to conversations between the leading military and political thinkers of colonial America. Undoubtedly Prince knew about white fears of slave revolts in this country and in the West Indies; certainly, he learned from other blacks as he traveled that abolitionist activities were increasing in the major cities of the North. Prince probably was sophisticated enough to understand what was possible for blacks in Portsmouth which, in turn, undoubtedly earned him respect-and a leadership role -- among slaves.

The wives of both Prince and Cuffee also had been slaves in families of comparable affluence, and, as a result, the women had acquired special skills which they used to enrich their family life and the community. Dinah, born a slave in the household of the Rev. Chase of New Castle, served the family until her emancipation at age 21. She married Prince and they had several children, one of whom was Ester Whipple Molluneaux. Ester, like her parents, was a member of North Church and a lifelong resident of Portsmouth. 74 Cuffee's wife, Rebecca Daverson, and their children shared a house with Prince and Dinah. From their home, the women taught black children of the town as part of the work of the Ladies Charitable African Society. These combined families used their skills and the respect they had earned among whites to benefit Portsmouth's black people.


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