During the 1700's, many Portsmouth residents were of African descent– some slave, some free— and were buried in a segregated cemetery. That cemetery was built over, its boundaries obscured. A public works crew rediscovered the site and now the restoration of its dignity has begun. Kelvin Edwards is working on the Portsmouth African Burying Ground Memorial.
“I think people will feel an overall sense of community and get a nice historical perspective [from the memorial],” Edwards said. “They will come away from the sight with a warm feeling, especially as a result of the way the community has responded to the discovery of this burying site.”
Edwards believes that many have misunderstood the realities of slavery in this region. “Most were shocked to hear that slavery did occur in this part of the country. Their idea was that slavery was something associated with the south and that plantations could never have happened here." But Edwards points out that slave auctions were held along the Piscataqua River on a site which is now Prescott Park.
“Early maps had shown that this area had been a burying ground,” Edwards said. ”When they found the burials, it confirmed that this was the site of the Negro burying ground.”
The African Burying Ground Trust plan to begin construction this year if funds are successfully raised on time, Edwards said, and the unidentified Africans of 200 or more will finally be commemorated. “I think it makes a statement nationally,” Edwards said. “It says, ‘Here is a city in southern New Hampshire that is acknowledging its past and is really concerned about making right the wrong that occurred many years ago.’”