The stories of Black American heroes and patriots during the founding of our country go unheard of today. Black history today rarely goes before 1964 except to show the bad and ugly aspects of early blacks. Rarely do you hear of the good except for Fredrick Douglas. However, there are thousands of stories of Black patriots compiled before the Civil War and all schoolchildren were very familiar with their stories.
One of the great American forgotten patriots was Wentworth Cheswell. His grandfather was a former slave, and he was born 30 years before the Revolutionary War. He is considered the first black freeman elected to public office in 1767 as a town constable, and was always elected for one political office or another until his death 1817.
The offices he held throughout his life were assessor, auditor, selectman and Justice of the Peace in Newmarket, New Hampshire. He also was schoolteacher. He is also the first African American to buy and own land in New Hampshire.
He was an American Revolutionary War veteran, and had a major part in the hours before Lexington and Concord. Everyone knows about the famous ride of Paul Revere, who warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock who were staying Lexington that the British were coming for both of them as they had a death warrant on them signed by King George. Some people may have heard of Richard Dawes ride, which took a southern route to warn of the coming British troops.
Probably nobody today has heard about the third rider, Wentworth Cheswell. He was a member of the Committee of Safety organized by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. He was in Boston visiting fellow patriot Paul Revere the night of the famous ride. Cheswell took the northern route to New Hampshire to warn the American patriots that hostilities were about to begin and to secure their gunpowder and be ready. Because of his ride, thousands of minutemen and volunteers mustered and arrived in the Boston area shortly after Lexington and Concord. They arrived in time to assist with the other volunteers from all the other New England states in in surrounding Boston and keeping the British army and navy of over ten-thousand men bottlenecked and trapped in Boston.
The New Hampshire volunteers were there to assist in the Battle of Bunker Hill, which actually took place on the nearby Breeds Hill. Cheswell was also at the Battle of Saratoga, the first major American victory.
He ended his military service on October 31, 1777, as his family needed him for support back home. Most military enlistments were only for a year, but he served over two years.
Cheswell was a self-appointed historian and collect notes and stories of that Jeremy Belknap used in his three volume History of New Hampshire.
He was serving as Justice until his death in 1817.
In 1820, New Hampshire Senator David L. Morril in a speech in the United States Congress used Wentworth Cheswell as a positive example of the contributions of a man of color, regarding the negative effects of discriminatory racial legislation that the newly formed Democratic majority party was beginning to pass in Congress. Cheswell’s family was forbidden to move to Missouri because of their race when the Democratic Congress passed the Missouri Compromise.