The Monadnock Region is a region in the southwestern part of New Hampshire, consisting of Cheshire County and parts of Hillsborough County. The region is named after the mountain, Mount Monadnock, which, at a height of 3,165 feet, is believed to be one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. The city of Keene is located in the Monadnock Region and is part of Cheshire County. 

The indigenous inhabitants of the Monadnock region are the Abenaki people. Keene is part of the Abenaki’s homeland, or their Ndakinna (the Abenaki word for ‘our land’). Outside of the Monadnock region, their land stretches across Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and extends into parts of Canada, Massachusetts, and New York.  

The area was once known as Ashuelot (the Abenaki word for “Land between Places”). As one of the sites of the Massachusetts grants of 1733, white settlers arrived in the land known today as Keene, originally referring to it as Upper Ashuelot. Upper Ashuelot was abandoned by these settlers in the late 1740s due to conflict with the local native population. However, the area was resettled and incorporated as a town in 1753. It was named Keene after Sir Benjamin Keene, an English minister to Spain. The colonization of New Hampshire as the New England frontier displaced many, but not all, Abenaki. 

Keene’s industries developed in the 19th century. According to the 1773 Census, Keene had 645 residents. By 1820, the population in Keene was 1,895. The Boston and Maine Railroad reached Keene in the late 1840s. The first operational train in Keene arrived from Boston in 1848, which would be the start of thousands of passengers and millions of tons of freight coming in and out of the Monadnock region. The city expanded greatly due to the railroad. Between 1856 and 1859, nearly 100 buildings were built in the city.  In 1860, The population in Keene was 4,320. Keene, in 1874, became a city. At the start of the 19th century, the population in Keene was 9,165 people. 


Britannica, “Keene, New Hampshire, United States,”https://www.britannica.com/place/Keene-New-Hampshire

Marium E. Foster, Transportation, https://keenenh.gov/sites/default/files/Transportation.pdf 

Historical Society of Cheshire County, ​“Timelines,” https://hsccnh.org/education/resources/timelines/era-1/

Historical Society of Cheshire County, “Abenaki History for Kids,” https://hsccnh.org/education/resources-page/walldogs-kids/abenaki-for-kids/#:~:text=The%20Abenaki%20people%20are%20a,homeland%20for%20over%2010%2C000%20years.

Monadnock Region Rail Trail Collaborative, “Railroad History,” https://monadnockrailtrails.org/03a0b-lesson-single/

The New Hampshire state legislature abolished slavery in its state in 1857, decades after neighboring states like Massachusetts and Vermont, who abolished slavery in 1783 and 1790 respectively. New Hampshire benefited from slavery due greatly in part from the state’s participation in the Atlantic maritime system of trade.

Historians argue that only 5 percent of New Hampshire’s population was enslaved. Census records between 1769 and 1790 showed a decrease in the number of enslaved persons–from 633 to 158 for the entire state. According to the census ordered by Governor Wentworth in 1773, there were a total of 7 male and 2 female enslaved people in Cheshire County, including one enslaved male in Keene. Historian Dinah Mayo-Bobee describes that the number of enslaved persons in colonial New Hampshire is actually more inconclusive, as census and excise laws at times only required slaveholders to count those between the ages of 16 and 40. Additionally, runaway advertisements, where slaveholders would post notices of runaway slaves, are not clearly comprehensive as these were not always reported. Slavery did exist in the northern frontier of colonial America that was New Hampshire, in numbers likely larger than were recorded by governmental authorities. 

Not only were the enslaved people who ran away participating in active resistance, there were others in New Hampshire who were challenging the institution of slavery through the courts and petitions. On November 12, 1779, twenty enslaved African-born men living in Portsmouth, submitted their own petition for freedom. The petition was formally submitted to the New Hampshire state legislature that met in Exeter on April 25, 1780. Legislators never took any action on the petition in the 18th century. However, the petition for liberation posthumously emancipated the 20 men from New Hampshire, when Senator Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth filed SB187. The petition was voted through by the New Hampshire Senate and House and signed into law by the Governor, Maggie Hassan, on July 11, 2013.

Even with legal and governmental efforts to strip the freedoms of Black and also Indigenous Americans in New Hampshire, the frontier state served as a place for enslaved people from other states to escape. Networks of Black communities created pathways for enslaved individuals to gain freedom. Those traveling on the Underground Railroad towards Canada were possibly traveling through Keene. It was likely some individuals boarded the Cheshire Railroad train at Keene to get to Canada. The households of William S. White, in Watertown, and Mrs. Mary S. Brooks of Concord helped Shadrach on his journey on the Underground Railroad. Histories of the Underground Railroad largely focus on these residences, of white Quakers, abolitionists, etc. The desire to find connections to these physical sites tends to leave significant social networks of Black communities and churches out of the historical memory. This project hopes to bring to light the networks and lives of Black individuals and communities that lived in Keene, New Hampshire, even beyond the Underground Railroad. 

Despite the long legacy of slavery and oppression in New Hampshire that continued into the 19th century—both de jure and de facto—Black individuals in New Hampshire lived everyday lives. Black families and individuals shaped the fabric of various towns, cities, counties, such as Keene, and the broader Monadnock Region. 


 Dinah Mayo-Bobee, “Servile Discontents: Slavery and Resistance in Colonial New Hampshire, 1645-1785,” Slavery & Abolition 30, no. 3 (2009): 339–60. 

Isaac Weare Hammond, "Miscellaneous documents and records relating to New Hampshire at different periods. Volume X," Provincial and State Papers  (1877), 631-633,

New Hampshire Radical History, “1779 Petition for Liberation from Slavery,” https://www.nhradicalhistory.org/story/1779-petition-for-liberation-from-slavery/#:~:text=Signed%20in%20Portsmouth%20on%20November,surrendered%2C%20but%20by%20consent.%E2%80%9D.  

National Park Service, “The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts, 1783-1865,” https://www.nps.gov/npgallery/GetAsset/a3c8a57c-90f1-4d67-9081-ae90be53bdf4

Wilbur H. Siebert, “The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts,” American Antiquarian Society (1935),  https://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44806916.pdf


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