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Black History Month Tribute: From Super Rich, to Slave, to Soldier

"Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze (1851)


February is Black History Month! To do my part in providing a tribute, every Tuesday this month I will be sharing inspirational stories about an African-American who is not commonly known, in the hope that their remarkable lives will be a source of encouragement to you.

In the painting above, there is an African-American man breaking through the ice with his oar. That man, forever immortalized in both books and paintings, is Prince Whipple.

Prince was born in Ghana in 1750 to wealthy parents. When Prince was six years old, his older brother returned from America where he had been receiving an education. Their parents were so impressed with the knowledge that Prince's older brother had acquired that when Prince was ten years old they decided to send him to America for an education, too.

Prince's parents, who had given their son a very privileged upbringing, made a disastrous choice in a Captain who they entrusted to transport Prince to America. The Captain turned out to be a despicable man who kidnapped Prince, took him to Baltimore, and sold him as a slave.

General William Whipple bought Prince and took him back to his home in New Hampshire. General Whipple was a very prominent and well-known man. He signed the Declaration of Independence, was a member of the Continental Congress, and became an aid to George Washington.

Prince became a soldier during the Revolutionary War. Legend has it that he accompanied General George Washington during his crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776. This image of Prince is found in two paintings, both of which are shown here.

After the war, General Whipple emancipated Prince on his wedding day, and he became a free man. Prince chose to remain in New England with his wife and children, and he became an abolitionist. He was the leader of a petition pleading with New Hampshire to abolish slavery in the state.

Although New Hampshire didn't abolish slavery until 1857, Prince made a significant contribution to the abolitionist movement through the petition he organized, which informed people of the true horrors of slavery. Part of what was written was Prince recounting the trauma he experienced as he was stolen from his parents. 

I don't think it's possible for someone's world to be turned upside-down more than Prince's. He went from being born to wealthy parents, to being kidnapped and sold as a slave, to being a free man, a Revolutionary War veteran, and an abolitionist. (This reminded me of Joseph from the Bible, who was born into a rich family, kidnapped by his brothers and sold as a slave, and who rose to prominence in Egypt.)

I admire that Prince didn't allow childhood trauma and the abuse of slavery to stifle his spirit. Although he did not live to see slavery abolished in New Hampshire or America, Prince was one of those who planted the seeds of the inhumanity and horrors of the practice. Lasting change rarely comes quickly, but it takes time and effort, and every little progress counts.

P.S. I had never heard of Prince Whipple until Husband mentioned him to me. Thank you, Charles! 

"The Passage of the Delaware" by Thomas Sully (1819)
By: Kristia Markarian