Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail
William Pitt Tavern
on Court Street
at Strawbery Banke
This three-story tavern, built in 1766, is most remembered as the scene of Revolutionary turmoil and visits of famous patriots. Enslaved people were a recurrent part of tavern-owner John Stavers' life. In earlier years Stavers was charged with beating someone else's black servant. He also auctioned people imported from the West Indies, advertised for his run-away 16-year-old slave named Fortune, and charged a fee to view a 9-year-old albino African boy.
On Wednesday, January 29, 1777, mark Noble, suspicious of John Stavers' patriotism, began chopping down the tavern sign, Stavers sent James, his enslaved man, out to stop him. James knocked Noble unconscious. Stavers was arrested and tried for suspected disloyalty. James was reportedly found hiding in cistern in the basement, afraid of retribution. James was neither arrested nor charged with assault. Later, when two neighboring women forced James to steal food from the tavern for them, they not James, were charged with theft. Unlike in West African law, which was founded in family and community obligation, James was invisible in American law; his status, identity, and actions were absorbed into his master's.
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