History
4:03 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

234 Years Later, Committee Passes Bill To Emancipate 14 Slaves

Credit Broadside quoting Marquis de Lafayette, issued 1800-1899 / Rare Books Collection, Boston Public Library, Flickr Creative Commons

Back in 1779, 20 slaves made the case for their freedom before the New Hampshire General Court.  After noting it wasn’t the right time, the body postponed the decision “to a more convenient opportunity.” 

Lawmakers never took that opportunity, and 14 of the petitioners died as slaves. 

But on Wednesday, a Senate committee unanimously passed the bill.  

Portsmouth Senator Martha Fuller-Clarke sponsored the bill in committee to posthumously emancipate 14 slaves, some of whom fought in the Revolutionary War.  Historian Valerie Cunningham was at the committee hearing.  She’s active in documenting and promoting black history on the Seacoast.  Cunningham says the bill is a symbolic gesture.

“It’s not going to change the history.  The hurt will have still been there, all those years.  But it means something.  It means something," Cunningham says.  "That’s what it’s about.  It’s acknowledging that this did happen, and we don’t like that it happened, and this is what we’re going to do now to express that.”

The African Burying Ground Committee of Portsmouth originally brought the issue to Fuller-Clark’s attention.  Now it’s due for consideration by the Senate.