A Brief History of African-Americans in Exeter

Written by Carol Walker Aten  

After Exeter was officially settled in 1638 by British immigrants, the Native American Indians of the area-Squamscott Indians, a sub-tribe of the southern New Hampshire Penacooks and an Algonquian people, were displaced. A second wave of immigrants followed, mostly British in origin, many who established the milling industries on the river or trades connected with the shipping industry. As some of these settlers established their own wealth, they accumulated enslaved people-fifty lived in town according to census records from 1767.

One of those slaves lived at the Ladd-Gilman House during Nicholas Gilman, Sr.'s residency. According to his probate inventory, Gilman owned "a Negro Boy nam'd Bob" who was valued at 15 pounds in 1779. This slave lived at the Ladd-Gilman House, possibly until Gilman's death in 1783. County, and one of 663 slaves By 1790 all but two slaves had been freed in Exeter, although some freed may have stayed in the service of their households longer. In 1790 the largest free African-American population in New Hampshire lived in Exeter--only twoAfrican-Americans remained enslaved, eighty-one others had been freed. They accounted for nearly 5% of the town's population. Proportionally, Exeter's African-American population was higher than any other New Hampshire town, most having on average about 2% of their population. Only Portsmouth had greater numbers of African-American residents, 102 in 1790. The African and African-American community in Exeter remained steady at about eighty individuals until the 1860s.

African-Americans in Exeter population totals by year:

1767 50sl
1775 38sl
1790 2sl 81fr
1870 54
1880 47
1900 30
1910 11

sl = slaves
fr = freed slaves

As the mills expanded they attracted the next wave of immigrants, this time mostly from Europe and Canada. By the mid 1800s, Exeter was home to people speaking French (Canadian), Chinese, German, Gaelic, Polish, Russian, Italian, and Swedish, to name but a few. Exeter's African-Americans could read and write, but could not find meaningful work locally. Since the town's mill owners usually hired immigrants over African-Americans, menial labor positions or being self-employed as barbers, bootblacks or housekeepers were the norm. Between 1880 and 1910, Exeter census records list African-Americans with professions such as laborers, janitor, barber, stonemason, house servant and laundress. Except for Rufus E. Cutler, who advertised first as a barber and later as a trader, town records do not note any 'skilled' professions or independent business owners who were African-American. Surprisingly, some of the African-Americans listed in the census records had as tenants illiterate immigrant workers in their homes; the same workers who held positions the African-American landlord could never attain.

Faced with a nationwide increasing era of prejudice and overt racism, together with the lack of meaningful work, understandably, the African-Americans of Exeter left for more economic opportunities and social acceptance found in larger cities of New England and elsewhere. In contrast, the European immigrants who came to Exeter between 1830 and 1880 had adult children born in New Hampshire who readily assimilated into the community, and whose families are here still.

Today Exeter's African-American families attribute their presence mostly to Phillips Exeter Academy's ongoing commitment to diversity (since the 19th century.) New Hampshire is not a state known for its racial and cultural diversity, just under 2% of the population is 'black/other' per the 1990 census, but clearly this has not always been the case.

African-American Population of Exeter, 1880

Joseph Barbados, janitor aged 41, divorced. Could read and write.

Hannah Davis (sp?), 'keeping house' at the home of Hartford and Sarah Stoddard. She was a 68 year old widow, born in NH. Could read, write.

Nathaniel P. Batter, age 63 and his wife Lucretia, age 30. He was a barber born in NH. She is listed as 'keeping house' born in Massachusetts. Isaac P. Varlow is listed as a boarder with the Batters, a divorced laborer aged 31 born in NY. Could read and write.

Frank Walker, age 27, was a laborer born in Virginia to slave parents. Rebecca, his wife, age 19 was listed as 'keeping house', born in MA to MA parents. Could read and write. They had two children, William F., age 4, and Florence E., age 1.

Moses U. Hall, age 45 (mulatto) was a stonemason living on Dolloff Road. He was born in NH. His English-born wife, Eliza (white) age 38, was listed as 'keeping house'. They had seven children at home, all in school except the eldest son Joseph W. age 18. Could read and write. Viola, 19 f - Allici, 11 f - Freddie A. 8 m - Emma 7 f - Annie 5 f - Lettie 4 f

Aaron C. Hall lived on Newmarket Road. A mulatto laborer age 57, born in NH. His wife, Jane Hall was born in Vermont, age 22, and was white. She is listed as 'keeping house.' Could read and write. They had two mulatto children, a daughter, Etta B. Age 4, and a son, Herbert, 1.

At the Wadleyville House (not numbered), John E. Mainjoy lived, age 50, born in NH. No occupation listed; he may have boarded with Robert Clemons & family. Could read and write.

Mary Jo Bailey lived as a 50 year old widow on Green Street 'keeping house.' She was born in NH to an African father and a NH mother. Her daughter, Dora E. age 20 is listed 'at home.' Could read and write.

Freeman Wallace, a single laborer aged 56, lived on Water Street, renting by himself. He was born in NH. Could read and write.

Sarah A. Mingo, age 56, was a widow 'keeping house' on Water Street, born in NH. Her daughter, Alby age 11 was 'at home.' Could read & write.

Charles H. Gale was 25, born in VA to VA parents. His wife, Abby F. was 21, 'keeping house' and born in NH. Could read and write. Hiram Mingo lived with them on Water Street, a single 27 male born in Massachusetts to NH parents.

Mary D. Jackson was a 60 year old widow 'keeping house' living on Water Street by herself. Born in NH. Could read and write.

Howard Cutler (mulatto) was a barber, age 28, born in NH. He lived on Water Street with his wife Sarah E. (mulatto) age 26, 'keeping house' also born in NH. Could read and write. Their children were Howard E., age 8 in school, Anna F. Age 4 months. Elsa Hiching (mulatto) was 56, single, born in NH, and boarding with them. Could read and write.

Nancy Scott (mulatto) was a 44 year old widow and head of the household. Born in NH she was listed as 'keeping house.' Her son-in-law, Granville Miller (mulatto), age 29, a barber, lived with her on Water Street with his wife (her daughter) Nellie Miller, age 24. They are all listed as NH born. Could read and write. Also at the residence is Mary Miller (mulatto daughter), age 17 (?), Charles Miller, age 2, and Florence E. Miller age 1.

Hannah Blossom, household head, was a 74 year old widow living on Academy Street. Could read and write. Listed as 'keeping house' she was born in NH. Living with her were Patrick and Kate Brodrick, an Irish laborer and his wife who were illiterate.

Joseph L. White (mulatto) a NH born man aged 80 lived on Middle Street with his NH born wife, Mary (mulatto) age 78, 'keeping house.' Could read and write.

Abby Barbados (mulatto) aged 48 was divorced 'keeping house' at Water and Center Street. She was born in NH, could read and write. Her daughters, Abby G., 12 and Hanna M., 10 are listed 'at school.'

Elizabeth Davis was a single mulatto servant, age 17, working at the house of George N. & Charlotte Julian, 6 Front Street. Julians had 5 children. Davis could read, write, was born in ME, father was ME and mother was VT.

African-American Population of Exeter, 1900

Ellen Spencer, servant (of Sawyer family) was born in NC in 1871, a housekeeper, could read and write.

Junius Jackson, barber, wife Margaret, and daughter Emma (teacher, born MA in 1879). Both born in VA (1844 & 1845). All could read, write.

Annie Harrison, servant and housekeeper, could read and write.

Annie D. Scott, laundress, born in NH in 1833, owned a house free of mortgage. Her daughter Grace Etheater was born in NH in 1881, and boarder, Frederick Brown, a hesley [?] at a shoe factory, born in MO, age 27. All could read and write.

Henry McCallum, [McCollom?] day laborer, born in TN in 1847, his wife Elenore (born in MA 1856) and daughter Abbie O., a servant, son, John H., a student. All could read and write.

Alex Clemons, prisoner and hostler, born in St.Lucia (West Indies) in 1874, staying at Robert Scott's house (white jailer and farmer.)

Viola Tuttle of 6 Myrtle Street, born in NH 1866 (mother born in England.), was stitcher at shoe factory, rented the house & had 2 sons, Charles & Herman, daughter, Myrtie. Viola & Charles could read, write.

William W. Hill of 13 Carroll Street, born in VA in 1869, was a lodger with the John Symonds family, at school, and could read and write.

Rebecca Walker of Brentwood Road, born in MA in 1860, was a housekeeper who rented a house, had three sons and three daughters (among them a gardener, dressmaker and students). All read, write.

Herbert Hall, of Water Street, was born in NH in 1878, a farm laborer, owned a house free of mortgage, lived with his father Aaron C., born in NH in 1823, also a farm laborer. Both could read and write.

Etta B. Pease, of Water Street was married to George W. Pease (white) born NH in 1875, she could read and write, had one son and one daughter.

Freeman Wallace, of Water Street, NH born 1836, was a day laborer, could read, write and rented a house.

African-American Population of Exeter, 1910

Ethel G. Walker was a mulatto single woman aged 25, lodging at 174 Upper Front Street. She was born in NH, her father in MD, mother in MA. She is listed as a laborer in a shoe shop, working on her own account. Could read and write.

Abbie McCallum, listed as the head of the house, was a 29 year old single woman born in NH. Her parents were from TN. She was listed as working in housework at the hospital, could read and write. Her brother, John H. McCallum lived with her at 24 Park Street, single age 25. He was a lineman for the car line, and could read and write.

Freeman Wallace, single and 74 is listed as a NH born laborer. Working on his own account, he could read and write. Address at Newmarket Road.

Annie D. Scott, head of the household at 277 Newmarket Road. She was 76 year old widow, born in NH. Two children, one living. No profession listed, could read and write.

Harvey Trefethen, her son-in-law was a 27 year old white male, born in NH. He is listed as a fireman at the Academy, working on his own account. His wife Grace Scott Trefethen (mulatto) was 27, with no profession listed. They could both read and write.

George A. Term was working on his own account as a laborer at the Squamscott Hotel. A 24 year old single mulatto, he was born in CT to a VA father and CT mother. He could read and write.

Junius Jackson was the head of the household at 7 Marlboro Street. He owned his own home through a mortgage. A mulatto age 66, he was born in VA to VA parents, and married 35 years to Margaret F. He was a barber in his own shop. His wife, age 65 was born in MA to VA parents. Their daughter Emma was 30, single, and not listed with an occupation. They all could read and write.

Lolta Austine is listed as a mulatto boarder at 19 Chestnut Street. Single, age 22, she immigrated to US in 1904 from Spain. She is listed under 'housework', reads, writes and speaks english. She boards with James & Mary Dobson and 5 other boarders.

TOTALS 1880 1900 1910

males 13 9 4
females 16 12 7
male -18 6 5 0
female -18 12 4 0
total 47 30 11