Monadnock Moments No. 80: Slavery in Cheshire County
When we think of slavery in the United States, we often think of the plantations of the deep south and of the Civil War which divided the Union. Most people are surprised to learn that Cheshire County was the home of eighteen slaves at the time of the first census in 1790.
Eleven of the county’s eighteen slaves resided with families in Hinsdale, Keene, Stoddard, Walpole, Westmoreland and Winchester; the remaining seven lived in towns that are now part of Sullivan County. Slave labor did not fit well into New Hampshire’s economy of subsistence farming. Most slaves acted as servants in the homes of well-to-do families.
Although the names of the county’s slave owners of 1790 have been preserved, most of these people have been otherwise forgotten. General James Reed is probably the best remembered of the group. He was one of the first settlers of Fitzwilliam and did much to aid the growth of that town. He attained the rank of brigadier general during the Revolutionary War while serving under General Washington. By 1790, when he was recorded as owning a slave, he was blind and quite elderly.
The social and economic conditions in Cheshire County did not support the development of slavery and it did not last long in the county or the state. There were 158 slaves in all of New Hampshire in 1790, only eight by 1800, and by 1820 there were none.