The Bulletin Board

Wentworth Cheswill portrait: Commemorating Black history in the State House

By: - February 22, 2022 11:35 am
A historical marker for Wentworth Cheswill

Wentworth Cheswill is believed to be the first African American elected official in the country. (Courtesy of John Herman)

A new portrait commemorating Wentworth Cheswill – said to be the first African American elected official in the country – would be hung in the State House if a bill passed by the House on a voice vote last week becomes law.

Cheswill (sometimes spelled “Cheswell”), born in Newmarket in 1746, fought in the Revolutionary War and rode alongside Paul Revere, in addition to serving the town as a constable, teacher, assessor, justice of the peace, and selectman. He also founded the first free library in the town of Newmarket and granted public access to his personal collection of books after he died in 1817. According to the New England Historical Society, he is considered New Hampshire’s first archeologist.

Cheswill’s grandfather was an enslaved person who became the first Black person to own land in Newmarket in 1717. The Wentworth Cheswill Appreciation Society is now working to build a monument to him in the town.

The prime sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Charlotte DiLorenzo, a Newmarket Democrat, called him a hidden figure and spoke in favor of honoring his contributions, which had been largely forgotten through most of the 20th century. DiLorenzo said it was possible that Cheswill’s portrait would be the first of a person of color to hang in the State House, barring the possibility of other “hidden figures” who may have kept their racial identity private among the portraits already in the building.

The Grand Lodge of New Hampshire Freemasons offered to fund the portrait and work with an artist on creating a likeness of Cheswill that could hang in the State House.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.