Shedding light on the forgotten story of a local Underground Railroad conductor

After around two years of work, Garrity, a member of the Manchester Heritage Commission, saw the plaque installed on February 2 on Elm Street during Black History Month.

It details, he said, the story of Ann Bamford, a white Irish immigrant who played an important role in anti-slavery work from 1842 to 1858. The plaque is located at 860 Elm St., in down the street from Bamford’s former residence on Manchester Street, which is now a car park, he said.

Garrity, who is white, said he heard about Bamford from a newspaper article published October 28, 1902 in the Manchester Mirror and American. The article quoted a question from a reader in Washington, DC, who “was anxious on behalf of African society to learn something about Ann Bamford”.

Bamford helped 42 people, who were enslaved, escape to Canada, according to the article, using a house on Manchester Street to hide them. The article said that “former acquaintances were surprised by the story of his connection to the Underground Railroad”.

“I don’t think for a moment that Ann Bamford was the only [abolitionist]”, Garrity said. “But it’s the one that we were able to prove, you know, was there.”

From his research, Garrity explained, he learned that Bamford was born in Ireland and moved from Canada to Manchester with her husband to find work. After her husband’s death, Garrity said, she raised the children and remained in Manchester.

Bamford died in 1863 and is buried in Piscataquog Cemetery in Manchester, according to a photograph posted to Garrity’s Black History of Manchester Facebook page.

Daniel Peters, archivist at the Manchester Historic Association, wrote a letter supporting Garrity’s project. “I hope Stan’s work shines a light on the importance of telling all the stories in the community and inspires others to do the same in the future,” he wrote.

In trying to get the plaque approved, Garrity said he encountered “a few obstacles.” In total, he said, the plaque cost about $1,000 in private donations.

“A lot of people said, ‘Why do we need this? ‘” Garrity said. “But in the end, I pushed hard, and I made it pass to the college of mayor and aldermen.”

Ronelle Tshiela, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Manchester, said projects like Garrity’s are important because in New Hampshire much of the history taught is whitewashed so people don’t even know not what is the black history of the city.

“When we think of black history, we think of it in terms of what happened in other parts of the country,” Tshiela said. “And I think it’s important to understand that we don’t have to look very far to find black history and it’s all around us.”

JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of New Hampshire’s Black Heritage Trail, warned that stories like Bamford’s “carry on a certain narrative that people are really happy to talk about and ignore another.”

“[Garrity] may have done this research, but it tells a story from the perspective of the mainstream culture, you know, knowing that New Hampshire is an abolitionist state and part of the Underground Railroad,” she said. . “This is the story of the white saviour.”

“As individuals, we have to do our best not to perpetuate stereotypical images,” Boggis said. “Nowadays, if we want to create any form of change, if we want to create any form of understanding, we have to work towards that goal.”

Garrity hopes the plaque commemorating Bamford will be the first of many. Then, he says, he will tell the story of Cornelius Thornton, a young slave who was brought to Manchester by two Civil War soldiers and enrolled in school. After Thornton, he hopes to tell the story of Samantha Plantin, the first black woman to own property in Manchester.

Eventually, he said, he wants to have several more plaques, creating something like a historic black trail in Manchester.

“We have Irish history; we have Polish history; we have the history of France; we have German history – but nobody takes the time to do black history,” Garrity said. “So while I was doing that, I said, you know, ‘I have to let people know that. People don’t know that about our town, and it’s important to know that now.’ »

Matt Yan can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @matt_yan12.

Bonny J. Streater