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Slavery and the Langdon Family

Agricultural Slavery in Portsmouth  (continued)

The enslaved boys, men and women mentioned above likely lived and worked on the Langdon farm, or they may have been moved back and forth seasonally from farm to in-town house, according to where their labor was wanted (NB: John Langdon Jr did not build his mansion on Pleasant Street until after the Revolution; he grew up here on his father's farm). Slaves inherited by John Sr. from Tobias may have been trained wheelwrights like their former master. This skill would have been invaluable on a farm.

In 1755 John Langdon, Sr. rented his slave Pomp and six oxen to a Mr. Clarkson, for two days at £14, two more days at £20, one day for £12, one more day for £12, then rented Pomp alone (without the oxen) for 2 days for "a holang of dong" for £24 . If this is the same Pomp purchased in 1742/3 he would have been about 25 years of age at this time. Neither the specific tasks nor months of Pomp's "rental" were specified. Since he was rented with oxen, Pomp Langdon was likely a trained teamster. If Mr. Clarkson was the owner of Will Clarkson, the two Africans may have hauled dung and plowed together. Will Clarkson was sometimes deputy to Portsmouth's African king Nero Brewster, and was a signer of a 1799 petition to the legislature asking for an end to slavery.

Regular tasks of the New England farm in that day included: cutting and hauling timber, hauling stones from fields, or plowing fields in spring and autumn. If a teamster, Pomp directed the oxen by the traditional oral commands "gee" "haw" "come up" and "ho." Pomp grew up with the family, so he likely trained the teams himself. Perhaps Pomp is one of those buried in the Langdon's rural Slave Burial Ground.

Women slaves like Mary Langdon's Violet probably worked beside their mistresses at the tasks characteristically assigned to farm women in that time. These included producing linen and woolen textiles, dairying, gardening, preserving, preparing, and serving food, doing endless household chores, and perhaps taking surplus garden produce by broad canoe or cart to sell at the market house on Spring Hill (near the present tug-boat dock).

Other Examples of Agricultural Slavery in Portsmouth

Scattered newspaper advertisements imply other Portsmouth cases of slaves applied to agricultural work.

- An August 19, 1757 James Dwyer advertised in the New Hampshire Gazette for a run-away slave, described as a "Negro man servant named Scipio, about thirty five Years old, about Five Feet Eight Inches high, well set, and of a yellowish complexion; had on one of his Hands a Scar. Said Negro was born and brought up among the English; he understands Husbandry, mows well, and affects to be thought a Man of Sense".

- On January 21, 1757 the same paper advertised "To be sold a strong healthy Negro Boy about eleven years old. In country 2 ½ years, can be well recommended to a Gentleman's Family, a farmer or tradesman. Any good master, who desires to purchase, and will pay cash, may enquire of the printer...".

- In 1776 a 25-year-old slave was advertised for sale because his employer didn't have work enough to make owning and maintaining him worth the expense. His advertisement noted that the slave "understands farming business well".

- Scipio's understanding of husbandry (livestock management) and skill at mowing (cutting field hay or salt-marsh hay with a scythe) suggests a lifetime of agricultural work.

The advertisement for the 11-year-old assumed a market for agricultural work. Just as Langdon bought Pomp when young, this youngster was offered for sale in a culture which preferred training boys to their own standards for a valuable long-term investment.

There is no doubt that slaves worked on farms in Portsmouth. Many of colonial Portsmouth's wealthiest families owned both city houses and country farms. Too little evidence is available to say whether slaves were moved seasonally or who worked solely on farms.

Excerpted from From The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail resource guide by Valerie Cunningham with Mark Sammons, all rights reserved. Copyright © 1999 Valerie Cunningham. Published online exclusively by Edited and by J. Dennis Robinson 2006. First published online hre in 199.

For more information see the book BLACK PORTSMOUTH

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