Great Caesar’s Ghost in NH
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Written by Vicky Avery

Image representing Caesar Brackett / SeacoastNH.com

SEACOAST BLACK HISTORY

His grave was lost to history, until an amateur Seacoast historian tracked the history of one enslaved NH farm worker. Now Caesar Brackett can rest easy. Following is a detailed summary of the historic research and the creation of a new memorial marker in Greenland, NH.

 

 

 

The Caesar Brackett Black History
Burial Site in Greenland, NH

"I can’t walk away from him," Vicky Avery told the local newspaper last year while researchers rolled ground-penetrating radar equipment over the suspected site of an ancient slave burial ground in Greeland, NH. And she didn’t. Today a modern granite marker memorializes the once-forgotten grave.

Avery, a member of the local heritage commission, gathered enough scientific information to confirm that the burial site belonged to an enslaved man named Caesar who once worked at the Bracket Farm. Caesar was enslaved to Thomas Brackett who drowned on the Squamscott River in 1785. Caesar died the same year and was buried just outside the white family cemetery, but his grave marker was missing.

Caesar Brackett, Enslaved Negro Black History Memorial in Greenland, NH / SeacoastNH.com photo by Vivky Avery

A piece of an old tombstone in the collection of the Stratham Historical Society inspired Avery to look for Caesar’s grave. Local historians mistakenly believed that the marker belonged to Caesar Wood, a Stratham slave who served in the Revolutionary War. The marker found its way into the historical society after being sold at an antiques auction, but Avery traced its origin back to the Bracket / Robinson homestead in nearby Avery raised funds to create a new marker for Caesar Brackett and the memorial was dedicated in 2005.

A 1966 history of Stratham offers the popular Yankee myth that slavery in New England was somehow less egregious an institution than slavery in the South. Slavery in New Hampshire, the author of the town history suggests "was largely devoid of some of the more obnoxious features that marked the institution elsewhere" and was "materially idyllic" when compared to the South. This popular view -- that there are degrees of human bondage that are more acceptable than others -- is slowly being erased from popular culture. Slavery, as modern historians point out, is slavery.

Avery, a "stay-at-home mother of three" worked with local engineers, archeologists and historians to bring the story of Caesar Brackett to light. Each new black history marker, in the tradition of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, helps educates people to the existence of African slavery in this region, a history that dates back to at least 1645.

Currently we know nothing about the life of Caesar Brackett. We do not know what he looked like or where he came from or why he died at such a young age. But we now know that he lived and worked in here, and a new marker covers his grave. He is no longer one of the invisible Black residents of New Hampshire. That, at least, is a first step. – JDR

CAESAR MEMORIAL  continued


 
CAESAR BRACKETT AFRICAN BURIAL (continued) 

Caesar Brackett Negro Slave Memorial
Greenland, NH
A Report by Vicky Avery

This document summarizes the two year research project into the burial site of a slave named Caesar. The site is located at #7 Tidewater Farm Rd in Greenland, NH. It is part of a private residence owned by John and Polly Flagg. The private cemetery of the Brackett/Robinson family is also at this location.

History of the Brackett / Robinson Homestead

Settled by Joshua Brackett (1671 - 1749) around 1740 the homestead consisted of over 150 acres spanning what are now the towns of Stratham and Greenland along the bay. Joshua had three sons and upon his death the land was divided among them. The youngest, Nathaniel, inherited the family house and the surrounding land. Records indicate that upon his death in 1778, Nathaniel's son Lt. Thomas Brackett received the property along with titled to an enslaved worker named Caesar.

In April of 1785 Thomas Brackett died in an accident on the Squamscott River at Great Bay. News reports of the time indicate that Brackett, along with 'Eliph Wiggin and Samuel Kinnison (both of Stratham) drowned near George Brackett's point by up-setting a small float on April 14, 1785. They were all taken up the next morning and were buried the 16th day of April. Brackett and Wiggin were buried in one grave and Kinnison in the same burying place, namely the orchard of Lt. Brackett.

That same year, Caesar also died and was buried at the homestead outside of the family cemetery. Within two years the widow of Thomas Brackett married Shadrack Robinson, who had been a farm hand on the Brackett farm. The family cemetery on the property contains the marked graves of Joshua Brackett, Lt. Thomas Brackett (no mention of Wiggin or Kinnison), Shadrack Robinson, Martha Robinson (his wife and widow of Lt. Thomas), Miss Martha W (daughter of Shadrack and Martha), Martha Ann (daughter of George and Deborah Robinson) and Mr. Thomas Brackett (son of Thomas, who was son of John who was son of Joshua Brackett).

Documents Recording the Cemetery

In 1937 Mrs. Wendell Burt Folsom of Exeter visited the homestead to research the Robinson/Folsom family genealogy. She documented the inscriptions on each stone and also noted "a stone marking the grave of a Negro, Caesar, who had been left to Thomas by Nathaniel in his will." This is documented in the Brackett Family, pp. 477-478; Folsom Genealogy, p.125; N.H Genealogical Record, vol. 3, p. 122; Will of Nathaniel Brackett, Exeter Probate Records, vol. 24, p. 348.

In 1972 Mr. Paul Hughes, Greenland historian, visited the site to document the cemetery for the town history. He provides detailed descriptions of the stones including a drawing of the stone of family patriarch Joshua. Hughes noted a "negro graveyard" in the field a few rods north of the family cemetery. He added that there were "buried here three negros with Caesar roughly engraved on one of the three shabby fieldstones. This stone is now leaning against the old farmhouse and broken into several pieces."

Current Knowledge of the Burial Site

Don Hatch, who resides on Depot Road in Stratham, is the grandnephew of Rosalea Littlefield Hatch. (in 1851 the homestead left the Robinson family and was sold to Dudley Hatch and passed through three generations of the Hatch family). He remembers seeing the broken gravestone up by the barn. He also remembers the general area his great aunt indicated when she talked about Caesar’s grave site. This location matches the description indicated in Paul Hugh's notes.

The Stratham Historical Society also identifies this negro burying ground as the location of "Caesar's grave". Here we have a slight inaccuracy in the identity of Caesar, however. The SHS and the group documenting Stratham's history in 'The History of Stratham' in 1966 attributed the gravesite to Caesar Wood, a slave from Stratham who fought in the Revolutionary War and was granted his freedom after three years of service. Beyond that there is no official documentation of what became of Caesar Wood. It seems that oral history blended the Brackett slave of the same name with Wood. This was easy to do since the Brackett/Robinson families in Greenland married generations of Wiggins from Stratham and the families participated in activities in both communities.

In the 1980's an auction was held at the farm which was sold for residential development. The broken headstone was sold to an antique dealer. A member of the SHS visiting the dealer a bit later bought the stone believing it was the stone of Caesar Wood of Stratham. This stone was given to the SHS and remains in their possession.

In the summer of 2005 Kathy Wheeler, of Portsmouth-based Independent Archaeological Consulting, and geologist John Nelson visited the area and took ground penetrating radar readings.

Current Status of the Project

Based on John Nelson's readings, Kathy Wheeler, made another visit to the site to "ground truth" for a grave shaft. The visit produced conclusive evidence of the three grave shafts in the area described by Paul Hughes.

Roger Syphers of Syphers Monument, created a marker for the site. He feels he may be able to restore or incorporate the existing headstone into the marker. John Brackett also sent a written request to the SHS to allow the stone to be incorporated iton the new marker and returned to the gravesite. The Stratham Historical Society declined that request and the original stone still remains in their possession.

In the summer of 2006 a new granite marker was placed on the spot to commemorate the burial place of three black slaves.

FOR MORE INFO read Black Portsmouth by Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham

SEE OUR Seacoast Black History web site 

OUTSIDE LINKS:
   Slave History Interivew on NH Public Radio