Setting it right by setting folks free

Governor Maggie Hassan at the signing of SB 187

A couple of Fridays back, I attended the signing of Senate Bill 187, which took up the 1779 petition signed by 20 enslaved African-Americans requesting their freedom.  These 20 black men had served their “masters” and new country by fighting against the British in the War for Independence, but three years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, they were petitioning for their own liberty. 

The New Hampshire Gazette posted the following news item on July 15, 1780:  Here is a copy of the petition of a number of the Negroes now detained in slavery at Portsmouth, &c. lately presented the General Assembly of this State, who accordingly granted them a hearing; but, we hear, the further consideration thereof is postponed . . .

Postponed until June 7, 2013, 233 years later.  Governor Maggie Hassan came to Portsmouth to sign the bill, passed unanimously in both the State House and Senate, to posthumously grant freedom to 14 of the original petitioners who had not since obtained their independence.  I close with the last section of the 1779 petition, to honor those men (and women and children) who lived and worked and worshipped in the early days of our fine city.

Therefore, your humble slaves most devoutly pray, for the sake of insured liberty, for the sake of justice, humanity, and the rights of mankind; for the honor of religion, and by all that is dear, that your honors would graciously interpose in our behalf, and enact such laws and regulations as in your wisdom … we may regain our liberty and be rank’d in the class of free agents, and that the name of SLAVE may no more be heard in a land gloriously contending for the sweets of freedom; and your humble slaves as in duty bound will ever pray.