Sounding the alarm with Paul Revere
When most Americans think of Paul Revere, their thoughts turn to his famous ride on April 18, 1775 after seeing the two lanterns in the bell tower of Old North Church. Joined by William Dawes, the two patriots took off from Charlestown to Lexington in order to warn their fellow countrymen in the surrounding area to prepare for what was to come. What they do not know is that this was his second such ride, not his first.
One year earlier, on December 13, 1774, Paul Revere rode out to warn the citizens of Portsmith of approaching British warships. On this ride, he was accompanied by a gentleman named Wentworth Cheswell.
Wentworth Cheswell was born on April 11, 1745 in Newmarket, New Hampshire. The first census to show his name indicated Wentworth to be white, though in reality he was mulatto. His father, Hopestill Cheswell, was a free-born black man and his mother, Catherine (Keniston) Cheswell was Caucasian.
As a child, Wentworth was enrolled in Dummer Academy, located in Byfield, Massachusetts. Here he receive a well-rounded education with Harvard graduate William Moody. His training included Greek, Latin, swimming and horsemanship; along with the standard reading, writing and arithmetic. Once his studies were completed, he returned to Newmarket and became a teacher.
In 1765, Wentworth purchased a parcel of land from his father. Hopestill, had received the land from his father, Richard Cheswell, who is believed to be the first black resident of New Hampshire to own land. Two years later, Wentworth was an established landowner with more than 30 acres to his name, along with his own pew in the meetinghouse. On September 13, 1767, he married Mary Davis and in time, the couple became the parents of 13 children.
Throughout his life, Wentworth proved to be a jack-of-all-trades. He entered public service in 1768 when he was elected to be town constable of Newmarket. He would go on to serve as a public official for all but one year (1788) until he died. In addition to town constable, Wentworth also served as assessor, auditor and town selectman, along with various other positions.
Following the start of the American Revolution, Wentworth became the town’s messenger with the Committee of Safety. In this capacity, he was provided safe passage as he would travel through the front lines in order to carry news to and from Exeter’s Provincial Committee. On December 13, 1774 he teamed with Paul Revere in order to get word to the citizens of Portsmouth the fact two British warships were approaching.
Wentworth was kept busy throughout the course of the Revolution. In April 1776, he joined with other men in his area and signed the Association Test. This document stated:
WE, the Subscribers, do hereby solemnly engage, and promise, that we will, to the utmost of our Power, at the Risque of our Lives and Fortunes, with ARMS, oppose the Hostile Proceedings of the British Fleets, and Armies, against the United American COLONIES.
He also helped to construct rafts which were used to protect Portsmouth Harbor. On September 29, 1777, he enlisted in the Continental Army and became part of the Light Horse Volunteers, under the command of Colonel John Langdon.
Following the end of the American Revolution, Wentworth returned home and began teaching in the local school. During his free time from the classroom, he could be found managing the store next door.
In the three-volume collection History of New Hampshire, written by Jeremy Belknap, Wentworth is listed as the area’s first archaeologist. His fieldwork, findings and reports of the New Market area earned him the title.
In 1801, with his name now in the history book, it would stand to reason Wentworth would help co-found the Newmarket Social Library. Following that, he still had one more occupation to add to his growing list of accomplishments – Justice of the Peace. He held this position until he died.
Wentworth Cheswell died at the age of 70 on March 8, 1817 after contracting typhus fever. Prior to his death, he left instructions with his family for them to create a memorial grave site on his property. The gravesite continues to be cared for by his descendants today.