Fourteen slaves who petitioned the New Hampshire Legislature for their freedom during the Revolutionary War were granted posthumous emancipation today when the governor signed a largely symbolic bill that supporters hope will encourage future generations to pursue social justice. Slaves who had fought in the war submitted a petition to the New Hampshire General Assembly on Nov. 12, 1779, while the war was still being fought. They argued that the freedom being sought by colonists should be extended to them, as well, and maintained that "public tyranny and slavery are alike detestable to minds conscious of the equal dignity of human nature."
"Their plea fell on deaf ears," Gov. Maggie Hassan said before signing the bill. "It is a source of deep shame that our predecessors didn't honor this request." The original petition was found in state archives nearly 30 years ago, but supporters pushed lawmakers to pass the bill this year in part to bring attention to an African-American burial ground in downtown Portsmouth; the city is raising money to build a memorial park to commemorate the site. The remains of six African slaves were discovered at the site several years ago during routine street improvements. Excerpts from the 1779 petition will be etched in stone and be part of the park. (Read more New Hampshire stories.)