Who is Wentworth Cheswell?

http://www.aaregistry.org/aareg_files/event_images/wentworthcheswellbus.gifMost Americans, I’d wager, have never heard of Wentwoth Cheswell. I believe he’s worth knowing.

Wentworth Cheswell is said to be the first African-American to be elected to office in America.  He was one quarter Black and three quarters White.  He was elected as town constable of Newmarket, New Hampshire, in 1768 and served in some government position thereafter until his death – well, to be precise, every year but one.

Wentworth’s grandfather is thought to be the first African-American to own land in New Hampshire after gaining his freedom. The date on the deed is 1717. Wentworth’s grandmother was a free white woman. Her son, Hopestill was born free because she was free.  (The law said that children took on the status of their mother.)   Hopestill was a builder and carpenter and married Katherine Keniston, who also was white.  Hopestill was prosperous enough to by 100 acres of land to farm, several other pieces of property and to give Wentworth a good education from the Governor Dummer Academy in Massachusetts.  This was an impressive thing for anyone at the time.

After completing his education, Wentworth went back to New Hampshire and was a school master himself.  He went on to hold office as town selectman, auditor, assessor and others.  He served in the Continental Army.  He married Mary Davis and they had thirteen children.

But how does Wentworth Cheswell fit in to our story of April 19th, 1775?  Well, Wentworth was elected to the Committee of Safety  which was part of the line of communication between his community and the Provincial Committee of Exeter, New Hampshire.  On the night of April 18th, when Paul Revere and William Dawes were riding to Lexington, Wentworth Cheswell was also tasked with riding.  He took the message north.  Up to one third of the Militia fighters who took on the retreating Redcoat Army were men alerted by Wentworth Cheswell.  Now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.