art by Daniel Minter

Day One - February 14, 2018
Portsmouth, NH
Will Clarkson
(c. 1739 - 1809)
By Angela Matthews
Will Clarkson was born about 1739 in Africa and perhaps in what is now Senegal.
Captured by slave traders when he was about 16 years old, he was brought to Portsmouth and sold at auction to local white tanner, James Clarkson who gave Will his English name.  Will was also enslaved in the home of Peirse Long when Colonel Long purchased both the Clarkson house and Will from the estate of James Clarkson, Jr.
Clarkson fought for the freedom of the colonies in the Revolutionary War, though he returned to enslavement after the war.  A leader in the Black Portsmouth community, Will Clarkson was elected annually to the position of viceroy in the Negro Court on Negro election days, and in November of 1789 was elected king of court.  Due to ill health, he stepped down in January of 1790.  In 1779 he was a signer of the Petition to the New Hampshire Government to end enslavement in New Hampshire.  Colonel Long kept his promise and in his final testament in 1789 made Will a free man. He and his first wife Abby, who died in April of 1794, had two children, Naby and William.  In 1802 Will remarried Matilda, Jack Odiorne's widow.  South Church records show that Will died on April 17, 1809 at age 70, having sustained himself on odd jobs, since gaining freedom, whenever and wherever he could. 

Collect for Will Clarkson

Lord of freedom and life, we raise up today Will Clarkson who fought for the freedom of this country even while enslaved: grant that his service to our country and to the state of New Hampshire may inspire us not to rest until all racism is erased and that true community among all is made a reality; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.