Wentworth Cheswell, one of New Hampshire's finest
Wentworth Cheswell was born on this date in 1746. He was a Black businessman and politician.
From Newmarket, NH Cheswell was the only child of Hopestill and Catherine Keniston Cheswell. There is virtually no information about Catherine Keniston in Newmarket town records. However, the various local historians and genealogists generally accept that she came from a local Newmarket/Durham family, and that she was white. Like his father before him, Wentworth Cheswell was born to a white mother.
Young Cheswell was a key figure in New Hampshire politics and the son of Hopestill Cheswell, a well known pre-Revolutionary house builder. The elder Cheswell, a mulatto, was an independent Black man who held an important business position during slavery. The younger Cheswell too excelled in local politics. Named for Royal Governor Benning Wentworth, he attended Dummer Academy. He was a justice of the peace and yeoman landowner, and like Paul Revere, Cheswell, made a midnight ride on horseback to warn New Hampshire residents of coming of British soldiers.
In Newmarket, NH he served as town assessor, selectman and coroner. He preserved important town records and helped start the first private library in Newmarket. From 1768, when he was elected constable until his death in 1817, Cheswell held a succession of town or local government positions. Besides serving as assessor, town auditor and coroner, he was also voted a selectman. From his appointment in 1805 onwards, Wentworth Cheswell exercised the authority of Rockingham County's Justice of the Peace.
His life was used in public debated during the 1820 Missouri Compromise as an example of how Blacks were able to be equals in society with whites. His grave site is currently being researched and restored by Richard Alperin who lives nearby on the site of the former Cheswell home. Cheswell died on March 8, 1817 at aged 71.
"A PEOPLE OF COLOR":
A Study of Race and Racial Identification in New Hampshire, 1750-1825
by Erik R. Tuveson, B.A.,
Colgate University, 1992
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