Wentworth Cheswell was a Patriot of mixed race. Although his appearance reflected that of his slave father, his mother was a free white woman. He grew up in New Hampshire prior to the War of Independence and is considered the first black American to hold public office.
Cheswell served his community and state in a number of ways and was well thought of in both church and community. One of his more exciting experiences was a midnight ride he took on the same night of Paul Revere’s famous trek, April 18, 1775.
Young Cheswell was a designated messenger for the local Committee of Correspondence in Exeter, New Hampshire. On the day of his adventure, word had come that the British intended to come around by sea and attack nearby Portsmouth. The town must be warned. Cheswell mounted his horse and took off.
It was a ride of several miles and several hours. Riding a galloping horse is dangerous in the dark and there was the added risk of running into a British patrol. But around dawn of the 19th, as the colonists faced the British at Lexington, Massachusetts the young messenger slid, exhausted from his horse in Portsmouth. Immediately the town was awake and frantically looking to her seaward defenses.
But the attack never came. In one of the dramatic twists of history, the British had settled on a plan to attack the colonists to the west rather than to the north of their headquarters in Boston.
Wentworth Cheswell was just one of several riders that night. As Paul Revere and William Dawes rode west from Boston to warn Lexington and Concord, others picked up the urgent message and galloped off in all directions. Responding to their message, hundreds of patriot minutemen picked up their muskets and hastened to Lexington to make it hot for the British as they retreated to Boston.
Paul Revere was the one made famous by a Longfellow poem (“Billy Dawes got on his hoss…” doesn’t have quite the right ring, I guess), but let us not forget the other heroes of that fateful night and following day. Some rode, some fought. One of them, Wentworth Cheswell went on to serve honorably in the war and then establish himself and his family as pillars of an early American community. You can read more about him and others in Profiles of Valor.