art by Daniel Minter

DAY #25, March 14, 2018                                                                           Portsmouth
Cyrus /Siras DeBruce
Angela Matthews
Siras DeBruce escaped from Matthias Williamson, Jr. believing that his deceased owner, Isaac Levy, the father of Matthias' wife Henrietta Levy Williamson, had released him from enslavement upon his death in 1777.
Bruce sought refuge with British troops in New York where he remained until he came into employment with Gov. John Langdon of Portsmouth. It is unclear where and when Bruce and Langdon met but it is clear that Langdon was impressed. Bruce entered into a voluntary agreement Sept. 17, 1783, to work for Langdon for one year, for $6 a month, doing "any sort of business the said Langdon may require." Bruce signed the contract with an X and was compensated in food, shelter and clothing as well as the monthly stipend.
According to oral tradition and an account of Brewster's Rambles (1856) in the Portsmouth Freeman's Journal, "There could scarcely be found in Portsmouth, not excepting the Governor himself, one who dressed more elegantly or exhibited a more gentlemanly appearance. His heavy gold chain and seals, his fine black or blue broadcloth coat and small clothes, his silk stocking and silver-buckled shoes, his ruffles and carefully plaited linen, are well remembered by many." When George Washington visited Portsmouth on his tour of the country following his inauguration in 1789, Bruce would have been elegant in appearance and manners when he greeted the new country's first President at the door of John Langdon's mansion.
On May 4, 1785, Siras married Flora, an African woman formerly enslaved to tavern owner, James Stoodley, and valued in his estate at 100 pounds. Flora and Siras lived in a small brick building directly behind the Langdon house. Bruce continued as Langdon's trusted employee for 14 years and may have been among those servants designated to receive bequests ranging from $50-$200 upon Langdon's death. This generosity by Langdon might have been an act of conscience by this abolitionist for his family accumulating wealth through the Colonial-era slavery.

O God who clothes the lilies, we give you thanks for the life of Sirus DeBruce. We have learned that he was a man of bravery, who spent his life working for other men. We give special thanks for his sense of style and his elegant appearance, even as a servant. We thank you for his courage to stand out. We thank you for his pride and individuality. We pray that all of us may have the conviction to let our light shine and not hide in the shadows. We ask this in the name of our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sanctifier. Amen.