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Revolutionary War Soldier Enslaved in N.H.'s Upper Valley is Honored After 200 Years

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Britta Greene
/
NHPR
The grave of Derrick Oxford in Coryville Cemetery in Plainfield, NH.

Descendants of a former slave and Revolutionary War veteran buried in a small cemetery in Plainfield will gather there this weekend, alongside descendants of a family who enslaved him. Together, they'll commemorate a new headstone for the man, Derrick Oxford. 

Oxford likely died in the final years of the 18th century, buried in a grave identifiable only by a small, blank stone placed atop. Plainfield Historical Society President Jane Stephenson has been on a mission over the past year to more formally mark his final resting place.

She worked with the VA to have a headstone built — a difficult process, she said, because the VA requires a fair amount of documentation. Many of the basic facts of Oxford’s life have been lost to time.

“It’s been a lot of work, but very gratifying in the sense that this was a man who no one really knew anything about,” Stephenson said.

She reached out Oxford’s living relatives, and a group will be making the trip this weekend from Connecticut for a service at the grave site. That includes Bonita Johnson, who said she is Oxford’s great, great, great, great, great granddaughter. She didn’t know of Oxford’s existence until Stephenson got it touch, she said, but was grateful for Stephenson’s work and to learn of Oxford’s military service.

Descendants of the Gallup family, who enslaved Oxford for part of his life, will also be in attendance, Stephenson said.

The service Saturday afternoon at Coryville Cemetery will include a short non-religious address, a presentation on African Americans who served in the Revolutionary War, and a reenactment of revolutionary troops. It’s open to the public.