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At New Home In Portsmouth, Black Heritage Trail Reflects On N.H.’s Slave Trade History

Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Retired Rev. Robert Thompson, Sandra Caddy and Rev. Jeffrey McIlwain, of Portsmouth’s North Star AME Zion Church, participate in a blessing at the Heritage Trail’s new offices Wednesday. ";s:

The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire has a new home in Portsmouth, and plans to expand statewide.

Dozens of people packed into the two-year-old nonprofit's new offices, in a historic downtown house near Strawbery Banke, for a blessing ceremony Wednesday.

Inside, retired Rev. Robert Thompson and other clergy led songs and dedications in front of shelves of books and cultural artifacts about African-American history. 

"Teach us to teach all who come into this building that history is a sacred thing, that our lives have power and potential beyond what we can imagine,” Thompson said during his dedication.

The building, which the nonprofit bought last year with the help of state funding and tax credits, honors the story of two enslaved African men named Pompey and Jesse.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
The Black Heritage Trail’s new offices are in a historic house in downtown Portsmouth that once housed two enslaved men and the family that owned them.

They were owned by the prominent local minister and his family who first lived in the house in the mid-1700s, during the Atlantic slave trades.

"It's a blessing to be able to carry their story and their work on,” says Sandra Caddy, who participated in Wednesday’s blessing.

Caddy runs the Seacoast African-American Cultural Center and attends North Star AME Zion Church, both nearby. She says the Heritage Trail's new home is a reminder that enslaved people shipped to New Hampshire landed first in Portsmouth.

"People will say ‘Oh, the past is the past,’” Caddy says. “But we can't forget the past, in order to correct the future."

Heritage Trail executive director JerriAnne Boggis hopes their new building and upcoming exhibits will illuminate more hidden stories, like Pompey and Jesse’s, that illustrate Black history in New Hampshire. 

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
African-American books and artifacts are on display at the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire’s new headquarters.

“The trail is a tool that informs us how we got to where we are,” Boggis says. “And it can be a roadmap to how we move forward towards a more inclusive, just society.”

Her organization is now working with partners in Milford, Warner and other towns to set up more stops on the Black Heritage Trail. The first exhibits outside the Seacoast are set for completion later this fall. 

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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