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Great Caesar’s Ghost in NH


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 

   Slave History Interivew on NH Public Radio

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