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In Search of Black Yankee Imagery

Elizabeth Virgil CollecitonHISTORY MATTERS

Revisionist history has proven that Black Yankees have lived in New England for ove three centuries. In NH’s only seaport, we now know their stories, but we have never seen their faces. The search for pictures of African Americans in early Portsmouth teaches us just how much blacks were marginalized in the North as well as in the South. (Read the article and see pictures)



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This city has never been the same since historian Valerie Cunningham and friends turned 30 years of research into the highly visible Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail. Two dozen bold, brass markers placed strategically around the city remind visitors and locals that African Americans have been here almost as long as whites. Documented tales of enslaved blacks in Portsmouth homes put the lie to the Yankee myth that slavery was absent or somehow "better" in the North than down South. We now know that local white merchants bought and sold African adults and children, built fast ships that transported slaves, and made their fortunes in the infamous "Triangle Trade".

Valerie Cunningham /

We now know a little about the lives of black Portsmouth individuals, both freed and enslaved. We have come to know Prince and Cuffee Whipple, Primus Fowle, Flora Stoodley, James Stavers. Cato and Peter Warner, Ona Judge Staines. But we will never see them. Unlike the grand portraits that still decorate the walls of Portsmouth’s historic mansions, no paintings of local African American survive. One Concord, NH family portrait (painted around 1830) shows an enslaved girl named Sarah all but invisible in the background holding the child of a wealthy white couple. It appears on the cover of the groundbreaking book Black Portsmouth by Cunningham and co-author Mark Sammons.

CONTINUE Black Imagery

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Friday, February 23, 2018 
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