Slavery in New Hampshire was never legally abolished, unless Abraham Lincoln did it. The State itself has not ever pronounced any emancipation edict. During the Revolutionary War the slaves were generally emancipated by their masters. That many of the negros, who had grown gray in service, refused their freedom, and elected to spend the rest of their lives as pensioners in the families of their late owners, is a circumstance that illustrates the kindly ties which held between slave and master in the old colonial days in New England.
The institution was accidental and superficial, and never had any real root in the Granite State. If the Puritans could have found in the Scriptures any direct sanction of slavery, perhaps it would have continued awhile longer, for the Puritan carried his religion into the business affairs of life; he was not even able to keep it out of his bills of lading. I cannot close this rambling chapter more appropriately and solemnly than by quoting from one of those same pious bills of landing. It is dated June, 1726, and reads: “Shipped by the grace of God in good order and well conditioned, by Wm. Pepperills on there own acct. and risque, in and upon the good Briga called the William, whereof is master under God for this present voyage George King, now riding at anchor in the river Piscataqua and by God’s grace bound to Barbadoes.” Here follows a catalogue of the miscellaneous cargo, rounded off with: “And so God send the good Briga to her desired port in safety. Amen.”
I doubt if any New England town ever turned out so many eccentric characters as Portsmouth. From 1640 down to about 1848 there must have been something in the air of the place that generated eccentricity. In another chapter I shall explain why the conditions have not been favorable to the development of individual singularity during the latter half of the present century. It is easier to do that than fully to account for the numerous queer human types which have existed from time to time previous to that period.
In recently turning over the pages of Mr. Brewster’s entertaining collection of Portsmouth sketches, I have been struck by the number and variety of the odd men and women who appear incidentally on the scene. They are, in the author’s intention, secondary figures in the background of his landscape, but they stand very much in the foreground of one’s memory after the book is laid aside. One finds one’s self thinking quite as often of that squalid old hut-dweller up by Sagamore Creek as of General Washington, who visited the town in 1789. Conservatism and respectability have their values, certainly; but has not the unconventional its values also? If we render unto that old hut-dweller the things which are that old hut-dweller’s, we must concede him his picturesqueness. He was dirty, and he was not respectable; but he is picturesque—now that he is dead.