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Digital archive chronicles centuries of Black history in southwestern New Hampshire

The project relies on historical records, such as this 1790 U.S. Census document showing Jube Savage as the head of his household living with two other people of color in Temple. According to BIPOC Monadnock researchers, "the census recorded only one other free Black family in Temple that year."
Michelle Stahl
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BIPOC Monadnock digital archive
The project relies on historical records, such as this 1790 U.S. Census document showing Jube Savage as the head of his household living with two other people of color in Temple. According to BIPOC Monadnock researchers, "the census recorded only one other free Black family in Temple that year."

A citizen research effort to document the lives of Black residents and other people of color from the last three centuries in the Monadnock Region is now available online.

For the last five years, the Historical Society of Cheshire County and Monadnock Center for History and Culture worked with volunteers to collect primary sources, like photos, publications and artifacts.

About 50 citizen archivists sorted through sources dating back to 1730 — including census records and town histories — to uncover stories of Black residents and other people of color in southwest New Hampshire.

That included stories of families moving into town and establishing businesses, like George Cooper, who came to Keene in the 1890s and opened his own bakery café and muffin delivery service. 

The website showcases biographies, genealogical information and bibliographic sources. It can be sorted by subject, century, town and alphabetical order.

Michelle Stahl, director of the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, said she was excited to illuminate the "longevity and complexity of Black history in our region."

"It's not just a story of enslavement and coming out of that era, but we're also telling 20th century stories and showing the influence that families of color had in our region and helping shape who we are today as the Monadnock region,” Stahl said. “And I think that's what's exciting.”

Stahl encourages those who visit the site to share their feedback, especially if they happen to be descendants.

Jennifer Carroll, director of education of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, said the group has been able to make few connections so far and hope to make more as they continue their research.

“It's exciting to see that maybe we'll be able to also get some artifacts or collections, items that really help illustrate the story in a way that we hadn't been able to do before,” she said.

Carroll also said that she hopes with making this information more easily accessible to the public, it will help to learn more about slavery in New England and New Hampshire through this project.

“Unfortunately, that's where we're having the hardest time, the most anonymity and names comes from that era,” Carroll said. “We're hoping to be able to put names where we know there were enslaved members of a household.”

The group found that evidence enslaved people lived in at least 13 of Cheshire County’s 23 towns.

Updates will be made to the site weekly. Stahl, Carroll and the citizen archivists plan on figuring out the social networks that are beginning to emerge from the research.

Sadaf Tokhi is a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she is studying journalism and sociology. She's written for the school's newspaper, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, and has reported for the campus radio station, WMUA 91.1.