About Prince Whipple, Black Patriot of the American Revolution
Note: At the time of Prince Whipple's birth, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast of Africa.
Born in Anomabu (present-day Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast), Prince Whipple was enslaved and brought to America at a young age with his younger brother or cousin Cuffee ("Kofi") in 1766. At the age of 10 (according to stories; however, if he was 46 at time of his death in 1796, he would have been 16), he was purchased in Baltimore by William Whipple of New Hampshire, who gave him his English name. (Prince Whipple's original name is unknown.) As the servant of William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a general in the New Hampshire militia, Prince Whipple served in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), and has been recognized by the DAR and SAR, among other organizations, as an American patriot. He did not, however, fight as a soldier, as is often asserted.
In 1779, Prince Whipple was one of 19 Portsmouth slaves who petitioned the New Hampshire legislature for the abolition of slavery in New Hampshire. (Unfortunately, nothing came of their petition, and slavery remained legal in New Hampshire until 1857. However, a program of gradual abolition of slavery in New Hampshire was begun in 1783, and by 1800, the number of slaves in the state was 8 and continued to decrease in subsequent years.) According to a story, General Whipple promised Prince Whipple freedom in return for Prince Whipple's service during the war. On Feb. 22, 1781, Prince Whipple's wedding day, General Whipple granted Prince Whipple the rights of a freeman. His bride, 21-year-old Dinah Chase of New Castle and Hampton, New Hampshire, was a black slave who was legally manumitted by her owner on the same day. Prince Whipple was legally manumitted by Gen. William Whipple on Feb. 26, 1784.
Prince Whipple died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Nov. 18, 1796. In an article announcing his death, published on Nov. 19, 1796, the New Hampshire Gazzette described him as "a sober honest black man". He was buried in North Burial Ground in Portsmouth on Nov. 21, 1796. Following a local African-American custom, his grave was marked by two rough stones. In 1908, 125 years after the end of the Revolutionary War, the Grand Army of Portsmouth, New Hampshire replaced the stones with with a memorial stone with the inscription:
Prince Whipple Cont'l Troops Rev. War
Highly esteemed by both the black and white population of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Prince Whipple became a prominent member of the African-American community in Portsmouth. On the 50th anniversary of Prince Whipple's death, a commemorative article was published in the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, describing him as "a large, well proportioned, and fine looking man, and of gentlemanly manners and deportment” (Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, 22 Feb. 1846). He was one of the few black patriots of the American Revolution to have been recognized before the Civil Rights era for his service to his country.
Prince Whipple and Dinah Whipple had 7 children, all born into freedom. At the time of his death, they ranged in age from 3 months to 12 years.
There is a great deal of misinformation about Prince Whipple on the web, in textbooks, in the media, and even on Portsmouth, NH's Black Heritage Trail. Much of this information has been simply copied (sometimes with embellishments) from other publications. Almost all of it ultimately derives from stories in William C. Nell's 1855 Colored Patriots of the American Revolution.
Prince Whipple is depicted in the painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware"
Prince Whipple has been falsely identified as the black oarsman in the famous 1851 painting by Emmanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware. There is simply no evidence to support this. At the time of the crossing, Prince Whipple would have been 135 miles away with his master William Whipple at the Continental Congress, then convened in Baltimore. Also, it is unlikely that Leutze, a German immigrant to the US who was living in Europe when he created the painting, would have even heard of Prince Whipple. Although he was well-known in the small Portsmouth community, in 1851 Prince Whipple was not nationally -- let alone internationally -- famous. Finally, it is important to remember that Leutze was working entirely from his imagination, since he had no pictorial sources. He had no way of knowing who might have been in the boat with Washington and, apart from Washington and James Monroe (holding the flag in the painting, but who did not actually cross in the same boat as Washington), probably did not intend to represent any specific personages in the painting, which has many inaccurate details. More likely, the black oarsman was intended to symbolize the contribution of all black patriots in the Revolutionary War.
Note: A copy of this famous painting has been attached for reference in the Media section.
Prince Whipple was sent to America for an education but sold into slavery instead
This story, which originates in the 1851 book Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, by the nineteenth-century African-American author and abolitionist, William C. Nell, is clearly preposterous, yet it is often repeated unquestioningly, even in textbooks. First off, the colonies were considered an educational backwater at the time, and no one sent their children here to be educated. (Alexander Hamilton was an exception, but he was given a scholarship to study in New York only because it was closer to the West Indies -- and therefore less costly -- than Europe. Also, Hamilton was simply traveling from one British colonyh to another.) Why send a 10-year-old child, along with his 8-year-old cousin (or brother), on a perilous transatlantic journey when better educational centers were closer to home? More to the point, Prince Whipple was born in Anomabu, Ghana, the epicenter of the African slave trade. His parents would certainly been acutely aware of the transatlantic slave trade, and would never have entrusted their young children to an unknown foreign sea captain.
Prince Whipple was of noble birth
There is no evidence for this myth, which is also found in Nell's story. The fact that he was called "Prince" is in itself insignificant. Names like "Prince", "King", "Duke", "Queen" were commonly given to slaves, and are still widely used among African-Americans. If Prince Whipple had been from a noble, affluent family, he would almost certainly been ransomed by his family. Nell may woven this into his story to drive home the injustice of slavery (bad enough to enslave a person of common birth, but how much more unjust to enslave members of the nobility) and to dispel the pro-slavery argument that blacks were inferior to white Americans.
Prince Whipple knew George Washington personally
There is no basis for this myth, which appears to be based on the myth that Prince Whipple accompanied Washington in the boat crossing the Delaware.
Prince Whipple was also known as Caleb Quotem in his lifetime
Caleb Quotem was a 19th-century term for a jack-of-all-trades, but the expression was not known in the US during Prince Whipple's lifetime. The expression was popularized in England only in 1797, with the publication of an eponymous ballad.
Prince Whipple, Black Patriot of the American Revolution's Timeline
Anomabu, Central Region, Ghana
- February 1784
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States