Representing Exeter’s Forgotten History

Although History forgot their faces, it’s our job to remember their names

In partnership with the town’s Racial Unity Team and the Exeter Historical Society, Exeter High School juniors Clarissa Gowing and Celia Strand created the re.present exeter mural and website for an Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) over the 2018-19 school year. The project, called re.present exeter, has two meanings: one is to represent Exeter, a diverse community which has, in some aspects, been misrepresented and, while we always strive to tell our full history, we often fall short. The second is to “re-present,” in which we re-present these stories in an accessible way for audiences to understand and absorb them.

Gowing and Strand, with guidance from their ELO adviser Adam Krauss started this project with the idea of educating the public of Exeter about the forgotten history of the town. While they did not want to shatter the public’s idea of Exeter, they also did not want the venerated image to be the only one out there. Additionally, they wished to debunk the dominant image that many people have of historical African Americans, focused around slavery and misery, which was not always true. For instance, of the three men we represented, only one was a slave. This is not to say they did not face adversity, but there were many things to be proud of in the lives of black Americans that go untold and should not be left out of the narrative any longer.

re.present exeter is a mural depicting three African American men who lived in Exeter throughout its history. The first, on the far left, is Jude Hall, a runaway slave who fought in the Revolutionary War before settling in Exeter to start a family with his wife, Rhoda Paul. In the middle, there is James Monroe Whitfield, a prolific writer focused on his experience as a black man in the nineteenth century. And finally, there is Freeman Wallace, a Civil War veteran and Exeter resident who was known as a genial, worthy man, highly esteemed by fellow veterans and other friends, according to his obituary featured in the Exeter News-Letter in 1916.

Gowing and Strand chose these three men to depict in the mural because they represent different struggles, triumphs and eras of history. Underneath each segment of the mural is a vignette giving a glimpse into what the life of each of these men might have been like. The vignettes are fictional pieces, depicting scenes that were created without specific accounts of incidences, but they were written based on information from their lives. Also, all the writing was done through the lens of current societal stances and therefore cannot be completely unbiased from our point of view, but they are as accurate and unfiltered as possible.

You may read the vignettes on their website, which contains a breakdown of the project; photos of the mural; testimonials from Gowing, Strand and their advisor, Mr. Krauss; separate profiles with resources for each of the men and links to the vignettes; and a page for students and visitors to interact with the project by writing blackout poetry with Whitfield’s poems.