Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail
Town Pump and Stocks
In colonial Portsmouth, as throughout the Americas, a coronation or election of black leaders was held each June. Based loosely on celebrations such as the spring Odwira festival of the Ashanti people of Ghana, in which society was purified, leader and community were sanctified, and ancestors honored, America's black coronations were conducted in west African style. People in bright clothing, accompanied by lively music and boisterous gunfire, assembled and went in procession to a broad open space (locally to Portsmouth Plains). After the elections, all went to the leader's home for food, drink, music, dance, and games.
In Portsmouth, Nero Brewster was repeatedly elected king. Jock Odiorne was sheriff and Willie Clarkson viceroy. The festivities presumably occurred at Nero's master's home, the Bell Tavern on Congress Street. In colonial times this event honored an autonomous leadership class, enabled the transmission of African cultural values to a new generation, helped forge Africans from disparate tribes into a single Afro-American community, and trained leaders.
The officers were highly regarded. When the enslaved Prince Jackson was charged with stealing an axe, Jock seized him, Nero tried and convicted him, and Willie whipped him at the town pump beside North Church. King Nero died in 1786. Coronations in New England disappeared in the early 1800s as the African-born generation passed away and black Americans' struggled for liberty, education, and justice.
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Illustration by Helen Pearson
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