New Hampshire

Standing in Honor of Those Forgotten

When you go searching for strange and spooky things, sometimes you find something sad and beautiful instead.

While wandering around Portsmouth NH, Lucinda and I found a statue that led us to something we never have expected to see on an urban downtown street.

Portsmouth_BlackMemorial_Statue_LG

Between a hair salon and a marketing company there stands a memorial to the dead and long forgotten. This stop on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail is the site of a long ignored “Negro Burying Ground.”

The plaque says in part: “In Colonial Portsmouth, segregation applied in death as in life.” City officials approved a burying ground for African-Americans at the edge of town. “By 1831, houses were built over the site.”

Portsmouth_BlackMemorial_Spot_LG

In 2003, during a building project, contractors unearthed crumbling wooden coffins full of human remains. There may be as many as 200 graves.

The building project stopped and a new project was started in its place – a memorial to those too long forgotten.

“This is not black history,” the plaque says. “This is our shared history.”

Portsmouth_BlackMemorial_Bench

The memorial includes sculptures, historical information, and art tiles designed by Portsmouth schoolchildren. Inscribed on the figures are the words of a poem by Jerome Meadows:

“I stand for the Ancestors Here and Beyond
I stand for those who feel anger
I stand for those who were taken from their loved ones
I stand for those who suffered the middle passage
I stand for those who survived upon these shores
I stand for those who pay homage to this ground
I stand for those who find dignity in these bones.”

Jerome Meadows, artist and sculptor

For more on the history, planning and preservation of the site visit the Portsmouth African Burying Ground website.

New Hampshire

Adrift on the Ruins of History in New Castle

The ruins of history lie all around us. Sometimes we build over them, sometimes we forget them, and sometimes we don’t.

On the island of New Castle, New Hampshire, the ruins of a colonial fort guard the Pisquatua River at its outlet to the Atlantic Ocean. Across the river, through the mist, you can see the coast of Maine.

Originally called “Fort William and Mary” or simply “The Castle,” it was renamed “Constitution” after the Revolutionary war. It stayed in active duty until after World War II.

Now its ruins are guarded by a chain link fence and an overgrown tangle of foliage. In sympathy with the dying structure, the grass remains brown and autumnal even in the height of summer.

Following the fence, we found a gate and a sign. The gate was open, the sign told us to stay on the blue line, all other areas were off-limits. There was a good reason for this. The fort cuts right through the middle of an active Coast Guard base, effectively splitting the present in two.

Walking the line brought us to a forbidding gate with portcullis raised. We walked through it into the heart of the fort.

To our left was a sentry room. Once it was certainly the resting place of soldiers, now darkness and spiders are its only tenants.

Following the wall we found a stairway. Nature is slowly reclaiming it, sending up battalions of weeds to recapture land  stolen by human hands and stacked into unlikely towers.

At the top, we found a ghostly view and a room with a platform that might once have supported a large gun of some sort. What battles were fought here?

Downstairs again, Lucinda explored a passage through the wall. Its sharp corners were probably meant to slow invading forces, allowing the defenders to pick them off one by one as they emerged to the level of the ground.

Everywhere we looked history rose like mist from the stones of the place, making us wonder if ghosts still stand sentry duty along her tumbling walls.


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