Quick Description: Prince Whipple was an African American slave who accompanied his owner, General William Whipple of the New Hampshire militia, during the American Revolutionary War.
Prince Whipple was a slave in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He fought in the American Revolution and was one of twenty slaves from Portsmouth who petitioned the state legislature for freedom in 1779. His owner, Brigadier General William Whipple, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Prince Whipple is representative of the blacks of Portsmouth at the time of the American Revolution. Three stories reflect his bravery, intelligence and popularity. At the time of the Revolution General Whipple was preparing to join the colonial forces at Saratoga and to take Prince with him as his servant. According to historian Charles Brewster, Prince looked dejected, and when asked why, replied that his owner was going to fight for his own freedom but he had none to fight for. The General then promised him his freedom if he did his duty. Actually, Prince was not freed until 1784, the year before General Whipple died. However, he did serve at the Battle of Saratoga where he is listed on General Whipple’s Staff Roll as, "negro servant of General Whipple." Prince also served at the Battle of Trenton and is portrayed in both Thomas Sully’s and Emmanuel Leutze’s paintings of "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
The second story involves the famous Petition of Twenty Slaves of Portsmouth to the General Assembly dated November 12, 1779. In this petition the slaves put forth a cogent argument, based on the philosophy of the day, asking to be freed. This was three years after the Declaration of Independence proclaimed to the world that "all men are created equal" - a document that had been signed by Prince’s owner. Prince must have heard the Declaration discussed by General Whipple and his friends. The 'Petition' indicates these twenty slaves were very aware of the events and philosophy of the day including clauses in the proposed New Hampshire Constitution of 1779 (not adopted) and could clearly articulate these beliefs.
The third story involves Prince’s civic work including membership on the "Negro Court" of Portsmouth. Many communities had "Negro Courts" which handled minor offenses and other civic responsibilities, the details of which are not clear. However, members were elected and the court leaders performed an important function of keeping the black community aware of local issues and events. Also, Prince, according to research done by Valerie Cunningham, Director of the African American Resource Center in Portsmouth, was called the "Caleb Quotem" of social events. Her research suggests this refers to a jack-of-all-trades, a type of master of ceremonies for assemblies (dances), weddings, and other social events in both the black and white communities of Portsmouth. Writing in 1846, an acquaintance recalled that "Nothing could go right without Prince."
In an early history of blacks in America by W.C. Nell, he reports that Prince and another slave in the Whipple household, Cuffee, were born in Africa. He reports that Prince’s father was wealthy and possibly a ruler who sent his son and Cuffee to be educated in the British colonies. Instead they were sold into slavery in Baltimore and were brought to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They lived and worked on the Moffat-Ladd property on Market Street, but we do not know such matters as where Prince lived on the property before he was married, what education he received, and what jobs he did at the house.
Prince was married to Dinah Chase on February 22, 1781, and the ceremony was performed by the minister of the North Church. Dinah had been freed by her owner, Rev. Chase of Newcastle, when she was 21. Cuffee was married in 1786 and the two couples lived in a small house at the rear of the Moffatt-Ladd house. Dinah taught school there for a number of years. She and Prince had several children. The Black Heritage Trail is trying to establish the exact genealogy of the family but records of blacks in Portsmouth are not easy to locate.
Prince died in1796 and was buried in the North Cemetery in Portsmouth. In Dinah’s obituary in 1846, the source mentioned above, Prince, who had been dead for 50 years, was described as, "a large, well proportioned, and fine looking man, and of gentlemanly manners and deportment."