New Hampshire

Wentworth Cheswell, the Black Man Who Rode With Revere

Wentworth Cheswell is considered New Hampshire’s first archaeologist and the first African-American elected to public office in the United States. He also rode north when Paul Revere rode west to warn colonists that the redcoats were coming.

He was born on April 11, 1746, to a biracial father, Hopestill Wentworth, and Katherine Keniston, who was white. Hopestill was the son of a white woman and an enslaved black man, Richard Cheswell. Under the laws of the day, Hopestill’s status followed his mother, so he was free.

Eventually Hopestill's father bought his freedom. and in 1717 purchased 20 acres of land in Newmarket, N.H. Richard’s land purchase is considered the first by an African-American in New Hampshire.

John Paul Jones House

John Paul Jones House

Hopestill, a housewright and carpenter, built the John Paul Jones House in Portsmouth, N.H., as well as the Samuel Langdon House (now in Sturbridge Village) and the Bell Tavern (since burned in the Portsmouth fire of 1867).

Wentworth Cheswell, Town Leader

Hopestill earned enough money to send Wentworth to Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Mass. Wentworth took advantage of his unusual educational privilege and became a schoolmaster in Newmarket. By the time he reached 21 he owned more than 30 acres and a pew in the meetinghouse.

At 21 he married 17-year-old Mary Davis of Durham, N.H. They had 13 children. Their descendants identified as white, and the census listed Cheswell as white. Records of comments by his contemporaries suggest they viewed him as biracial.

In 1768, 22-year-old Wentworth Cheswell won election as town constable. George Mason University determined that made him the first African-American elected to public office. Cheswell beat out Vermont’s Alexander Twilight for the honor. For all but one year of his life, Cheswell held public office including town selectman, assessor, scrivener, justice of the peace and auditor.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Grant Wood

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Grant Wood

Riding With Revere

He also won election as town messenger for the Committee of Safety, which meant he had to carry news to and from Exeter, N.H. On Dec. 13, 1774, he and Paul Revere rode in different directions to warn Portsmouth citizens of the approach of two British warships. The British intended to retake gunpowder and weapons stolen by the colonists from Fort William and Mary.

When the American Revolution broke out, Wentworth Cheswell enlisted in Col. John Langdon’s Company of Light Horse Volunteers and fought at the Battle of Saratoga. When he finished his military service he returned to Newmarket, where he ran a store next to his schoolhouse. He also did fieldwork and wrote reports on the town’s artifacts. For that he is considered New Hampshire’s first archaeologist.

Cheswell and other men also founded the Newmarket Social Library, to which he bequeathed his books.

Wentworth Cheswell died at age 70 of typhus on March 8, 1817. He and his descendants were buried on his farm.

This story about Wentworth Cheswell was updated in 2018.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jamara A Newell

    January 3, 2017 at 12:27 am

    Great post. I will be researching even more about the brotha!

  2. Pingback: Wentworth Cheswell Timeline Project – Steel High Grade 9 English

  3. Pingback: John Langdon: New Hampshire’s Early Revolutionary - New England Historical Society

  4. Joseph Wade

    September 9, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    …this information should be provided to all schools in the country

    • Rebecca Jordan

      January 11, 2018 at 6:44 pm

      Amen!

  5. Richard Alperin

    November 26, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    Much of this post is inaccurate! Many typographical errors here! Please refer to the Wentworth Cheswell Wikipedia page which I personally assembled! I restored his family graveyard in Newmarket, NH, where I still reside and lobbied the state for a highway historical marker at the graveyard! The main bragging point her was that he rode with Paul Revere on the famous midnight ride! There simply is no proof of this claim(although I wish there were)! I do believe however I have uncovered the literary writings which have contributed to this incorrect belief! Unless someone has added to or changed the Wikipedia page in any way I have proof of all claims to my statements of fact! If you would like this proof please feel free to contact me at the phone number I’ve left on the Wikipedia page.

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