WENTWORTH CHESWELL

1746 - 1817

The first African/American to be elected to public office, and it was before the beginning of the Revolutionary War

Unfortunately when we think of African/American contributions to our nation's culture, we seem to begin in the 1960's with the Civil Rights Movement.  The fact is that African/Americans had a huge impact on the very founding of this nation, spiritually, economically and politically.

Slaves were first brought to Georgia in 1619, one year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.  Their political history began in a major way in 1787, with the adoption of the Constitution; but African/Americans were a part of the American business, political and religious scene far before the ratification of the Constitution.

In this article, I want to tell you the story of Wentworth Cheswell.  Cheswell's grandfather was brought to Boston, where he was bought by a businessman, because the King of England (the largest slave trder in the world) required any colonist who owned a farm or business to buy slaves.  It was the law.  Chaswell had been purchased by a Boston businessman, who, after he worked off his sale price was set free.  Business peope and farmers in the nrth bought almost as many slaves as were purchased in the south - they were required to.  But instead of viewing them as property, the northerners saw them as "indentured servants," i.e. money was paid up front to bring them to this country; and when that cost was worked off, they were free to do what they wanted to do.  Cheswell's grandfather moved northward and settled in New Hampshire, where he was able to buy a 100 acre farm.

Now let's fast-forward to the grandson - Wentworth Cheswell.  He grew up in New Hampshire, but was sent to a private academy in Massachusetts where he was the only student with dark skin.  When he returned to New Hampshire, he purchased a portion of his father's farm, taught school, built a general store next to the school, and managed it.  He was also very active in his church, serving as church recorder.  In addition, he and several of his friends established the first public library in his community.  

In 1775, he ran for, and was elected to public office.  Did you notice that date?  That was almost a hundred years before the Civil War, and just before the Revolutionary War.  Cheswell was a black man elected to public office by popular vote in an area which was 99.9% white!  To what was he elected?  He was elected as a judge, and was reelected and served in public office for some 40 years.  He is recognized as being the first African/American elected to public office in the western hemisphere.

In 1778 Cheswell was elected (again by popular vote) to represent his community at the state's Constitutional Convention, and Cheswell had an important part in drafting the first constitution for the State of New Hampshire.

Cheswell was also involved in the Revolutionary War.  When Paul Revere rode from Boston westward to warn the colonists that "The British are coming," Cheswell rode with him about half-way, before turning north toward New Hampshire to warn that "The British are coming!"

Why is it that almost everyone knows of Paul Revere; but few know anything about the African/American man who rode with him, or any of the other black people who were very much involved in the founding of this country.  It is because, back in 1911, a Democratic President took office who wrote a five volume history of the United States in which he removed all references to black people, and to religion.  President Woodrow Wilson was a racist, and a member of the KKK.  One of his first acts after being sworn in as president was to segregate the rest rooms in all federal buidings.  They had been desegregated by the Republicans immediately after the Civil War.

Most all history books written today are based on Wilson's five-volume set.  And there has been a special emphasis over the past 50-years to eradicate religion from our history.  That has hit the black community especially hard, because surveys made over the last two hundred years (even up to today) show the black community to be far more Christian than the white community.  History today is aimed at fighting injustice, zeroing in on victims and angry people; and by-passing inspiraional storeis.  There has been plenty of injustice in our past.  But to deny, and systematically eliminate religion, is to deny the history of our country.

One more note about Cheswell: In 1820, three years after Cheswell's death, Senator David Morril of New Hampshire delivered an passonate speech before the U.S. Senate, opposing allowing Missouri to come into the union as a slave state.  In that speech he used the example of many African/Americans, and their contributions to the country.  But the biggest and longest example he gave was the outline of the life of Wentworth Cheswell.  Wentworth Chsswell: a great patriot and a great American.
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