Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Portsmouth African Burial Memorial

In 2003 on Chestnut Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, between State and Court Streets, city workers uncovered a burial ground with an estimated 200 bodies. These were the bodies of free blacks and African slaves buried between 1705 and the 1790s. Slavery existed in Portsmouth between 1645 and 1800. Five more bodies in wooden coffins were discovered at a dig in 2008.

A marker on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail
for the site of the "Negro Burying Ground"

I’ve been following this story ever since, and visited the site in person last year. Portsmouth is a city with some carefully preserved ancient burial grounds, but this “Negro Burying Ground” was sadly neglected, paved over and houses were built on top. It is a shameful fact that this burial ground was neglected on purpose.

In the proposed site, the bodies will be re-interred with dignity in an underground vault. Life sized sculptures will represent the adults and children buried there. There will be an information kiosk and other historical markers, as well as symbolic African art. Several previous proposals were rejected by the African Burial Committee. The project is estimated to cost $1.2 million, and on Monday night, 20 December 2010, the Portsmouth city council pledged $100K in grant money towards the project titled “We Stand in Honor of Those Forgotten”.

Currently there is a Black Heritage Trail in Portsmouth, which gives visitors an overview of African history in the seacoast region. It is a self guided walking tour of twenty four locations around downtown Portsmouth. More information can be found at a website sponsored by the Greater Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, Inc, a nonprofit organization preserving the African American culture of this part of New Hampshire.

For more information: link to the Boston Globe article, 21 December 2010 about the grant money the link to the Portsmouth Community Development Department website, with a video showing a visual of the proposed memorial project and other renderings.

The Greater Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, Inc, 143 Pleasant St., Portsmouth, NH, email at

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I found this so interesting....thank you for your post. So sad when something like this occurs. Sounds like the city of Portsmouth is working to correct a deplorable mistake.

  2. Have you read Sammons, Mark.
    Title : Black Portsmouth : three centuries of African-American heritage / Mark J. Sammons and Valerie Cunningham.
    Published : Durham : University of New Hampshire Press, c2004?

    You should.