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October 2003
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Lost Black Cemetery Discovered?

Coffins Discovered

SEE MORE PHOTOS at bottom of page
READ MORE: The Coffins Under the Street

The exact location of the Portsmouth "Negro Burial Ground"
has long been a source of speculation
  among local historians. Reportedly the cemetery was moved to make way for the expanding city sometime between 1790 and 1815, but legends indicated it may have been partially moved or merely covered over.  Now workers installing a sewer main have discovered what appears to be two deteriorated wooden coffins exactly at the propsed burial site.

Historian Valerie Cunningham placed the location of the missing cemetery at the corner of Chestnut and Court Streets, precisely where the remains were discovered. This has been stop #10 on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail that points out locations important to African American history in Portsmouth. Instituted in 1705, the separate cemetery location was assigned to blacks who were not allowed to be buried in white cemeteries. It now appears possible that the burial grounds were simply paved over and not moved as rumors have long indicated.

The location of the cemetery is hinted at in a 19th century history of Portsmouth by Charles Brewster. In a chapter about the sale of the downtown church or "glebe" land in 1705, Brewster refers to the burial ground. He even published a map of the area that helped place it on the Black Heritage Trail.

Portsmouth has a number of historic cemeteries long listed in local guidebooks -- including the North Cemetery, South Cemetery and Point of Graves. Those sites are each surrounded by stone walls and maintained either privately or by the city.

Stay tuned for further details.

See Black Heritage Trail MAP for location of graves (#10)

Photo courtesy of Steve Fowle of the NH Gazette

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More Photos of Grave Discovery
Pictures by Jeremy Clough

Spectators at Grave

Black cemetery

Black Cemetery

Black Cemetery

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