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[ME] History details Maine's Blacks

History details Maine's blacks

By Roxanne Moore Saucier

Monday, September 04, 2006 - Bangor Daily News

Three hundred years ago, there were, indeed, slaves in Maine and free blacks in Maine. William Black, formerly known as Black Will, had been both, having been granted his freedom by John Shapleigh in 1701.

By then, William had already been a landowner of some 100 acres in Kittery for five years.

It's an interesting tidbit in the "Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire" that family researchers hold dear, and now it's part of a fascinating new book, "Maine's Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People," by H.H. Price and Gerald E. Talbot.

This marvelous book includes a wonderful article on "Researching Black Genealogy" by Douglas A. Hall.

Hall's points include the fact that through intermarriage and assimilation, a family "could move from B to M to W [black to mulatto to white] in three decades in the eyes of census enumerators."

As we know, censuses have been taken every 10 years since 1790. Census records taken up to 1930 (except for 1890, when the census was burned) are available publicly at the University of Maine, for example, on microfilm. For 1790-1840, only the head of household is listed by name, but after that everyone in the residence is named.

How accurate are the census records when it comes to race? Good question.

"It is not entirely clear if census enumerators asked the participants of the census their race or just jotted down their visual impressions," Hall wrote.

Nowadays, people are asked to self-identify their backgrounds for the census. Am I English, Scots, Irish or German? It depends on what I was raised to identify with.

Back to the book. Appendices include lists of some Black Revolutionary War veterans and Civil War veterans.

And in the section on settlers, a listing of "Maine Towns Listing Blacks 1820-1870" demonstrates that more communities, including small towns, had Black residents in the 19th century than most people might realize.

The range of pieces in the volume includes Talbot's "The Attic at 24 Carroll Street," including several of the photographs he found in the family home in Bangor.

Talbot is a Bangor native who represented Portland in the Maine Legislature - the first African American to serve in that body.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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