Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail
St. John's Church
Church records identify many black people in early Portsmouth. The terse entries tantalize. An example is an 1807 entry in the St. John's records: "Contribution Xmas day, Venus - a Black -- $1." This was a Christmas gift from the church to Venus.
What can we reasonably surmise from so brief an entry? Venus' name, neither African nor Christian, is characteristic of those often given by whites to separate the enslaved from both their African heritage and from white society. The charitable gift tells us Venus was no longer in the care of a white slave owner. She was now free and poor. Her lack of a last name suggests she was single, not married. Her association with St. John's strongly suggests her former owner was a member here. Since slave importation to Portsmouth ended with the Revolution, she was probably no younger than forty, possibly elderly. A simple phrase in a church record provides many clues to Venus' identity.
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For more on the St. John's Church today visit St. John's Church
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