Warner town administrator will address charge of manipulation

By Ray Carbone

WARNER –At the board of selectmen’s meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, Jan. 15, Jim Bingham, the town administrator, is planning to discuss recent public comments aimed at him by members of the budget committee and other residents.

Kimberley Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the selectmen’s board, said that Bingham requested the opportunity to publicly respond to the remarks, especially those made by John Leavitt, a member of the budget committee, at the Dec. 27 committee meeting. The criticisms, which have been aimed at both Bingham’s integrity and abilities, should be aired in a public forum, she said.

he slings and arrows, it takes a toll,” Brown Edelmann said of Bingham. “It needs to be done.”

‘It was brutal.’

– Kimberly Brown Edelmann, selectman, regarding criticism recently aimed Jim Bingham, the town administrator

 

The chairman does not believe the critiques are valid.

In recent weeks, Bingham has been at the center of disapproving comments aimed at the selectmen regarding its adoption of a new wage/compensation plan for town workers, particularly raises for some employees instituted before the end of last year.

In addition, when long-time town clerk, Judy Newman-Rogers, resigned her position in October, she charged that a “hostile, unpleasant and dysfunctional environment” had developed at town hall, and that the selectmen weren’t managing Bingham appropriately.

According to the unapproved minutes the Dec. 27 budget committee meeting, Leavitt said that Bingham was not always transparent when communicating important data about the new wage proposal with either the selectmen or the public.

“All the (relevant) information was going to the administrator (and) he was only telling you what he felt you should know, because he filters out what he thinks you don’t need to know,” Leavitt told John Dabuliewicz, the selectmen’s representative to the budget group. Leavitt later said that there was “plenty of room in here for interpretation and manipulation” of information that Bingham manages for the three-person board of selectmen.

At the next budget committee meeting on Jan. 3, Mike Cutting, the chairman, read an email message from Bingham. In it, the administrator said he wouldn’t attend any more of the group’s meetings until the conversational tone changed. “The history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience of attending budget committee meetings demoralizing and extremely unproductive,” the administrator wrote.

Afterwards, Brown Edelmann said Bingham doesn’t need to go to meetings where he’s treated disrespectfully. “It was brutal,” she recalled, referring to some of the comments aimed at Bingham.

Late last week, Leavitt defended his remarks. “I didn’t make any allegations of wrongdoing, just procedures,” he said. “Nothing illegal.”

Leavitt also called Bingham’s email response “ridiculous,” and said that attending budget committee meetings should be considered to be part of his job.

The agenda for this week’s meeting of the selectmen includes this item: Discuss allegations made by John Leavitt at the 12/27 Budget Committee meeting.

Brown Edelmann said the focus would primarily be on Leavitt’s claim of manipulation of data by Bingham.

Bingham was unavailable for comment.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

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Warner mulling costs of employee pay increases and fire safety measures

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town leaders are looking at two significant financial items as they prepare for the annual town meeting coming up in March.

According to Jim Bingham, town administrator, the board of selectman will be presenting voters with a long-delayed increases in town employee salaries, and the cost of installing new fire suppression systems in some municipal buildings.

The fire suppression system is the most expensive item. Bingham said recently that he was still researching how much it will cost to complete the safety requirements for the town hall, the public works garage and the transfer station.

Related: Warner wage study ignites war of words

The three-member board is particularly concerned about the public works garage, especially after fires at similar facilities in Henniker and Hopkinton caused major damage in those nearby towns. In at least one of those instances, virtually all the town’s valuable equipment stored in the structure was destroyed, Bingham noted.

In addition, because the public works facility and the transfer stations are located outside the village, they are not on the local municipal water system. “So we have to construct a holding tank, a cistern, there” the administrator said. “That could cost well over $200,000, maybe close to $1 million.”

The selectmen are reviewing those costs, as well as approximately $60,000 that would pay for fire suppression in the town hall, Bingham said.

The salary increases  would total about $50,000 but Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

The pending salary increases are related to a wage and compensation study that an outside consultant completed for the board last year. The members have been reviewing and considering the consultant’s recommendations for some months now, Bingham said, and has decided to move forward with several actions, including changing to a new system of employee steps and grades that are linked to years of service to the town as well as job-related education and training.

“This is not the first time that the town of Warner has done this,” Bingham said. “This is actually the third time we’ve had salary adjustments. The first was in the early 2000s, then we did another in 2009. And, now in 2018. So it seems like every seven to eight years we have to look at our salary structure and our job descriptions, and update them to keep them within the (local) market range.”

The town employs 28 full and part-time employees so when the current compensation package is compared to the newly approved one, the overall salary increases for the year would total about $50,000. But Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Wage study spurs war of words in Warner

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A long-delayed wage study commissioned by the board of selectmen is at the center of a dispute between the board and its administrator, Jim Bingham, on one side and several residents, including some members of the budget committee, on the other.

In recent weeks, the disagreement had led to several developments. Mike Cutting, chairman of the budget group, has discussed the idea of submitting a warrant article at the annual town meeting that would restrict the selectmen from taking certain wage-related actions in the future; Bingham, the town administrator, has told the budget committee that he will no longer attend its meetings; and John Dabuliewicz, the selectman’s representative to the budget group, has said that’s he’s not seeking reelection, partly as a result of criticism he’s received related to his board’s work on the wage study.

Related: Town mulls town raises, fire safety measures

“Are we (selectmen) perfect and have we always been open,” Dabuliewicz asked rhetorically, according to the unapproved minutes of the Dec. 27 budget meeting. “No, we haven’t… But we’ve done the best we can and we are trying to do the best we can, and I resent the fact that people only talk about you when they have criticism… And that’s one of the big reasons I’m not running again.”

At the most recent budget committee meeting in town hall last Thursday, Jan. 3, Cutting read aloud an email message from Bingham sent earlier in the day.

“After much thought, reading the minutes and listening to the recording of the (Dec. 27) meeting, I feel that a reassessment of how these meetings are conducted needs to be made immediately,” Bingham wrote. “The culture of the proceedings must change towards one of civility, respect and orderly discussion. As I have no assurance that the hostile tone of the last meeting will not continue (at the Jan. 3 meeting), I have decided not to attend tonight’s meeting.

Police chief Billy Chandler said he was told that no (wage) decisions would be made until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

“The dynamics of the budget committee meetings are too unruly and the history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience of attending budget committee meetings demoralizing and extremely unproductive,” he added. “This is a problem that has been quietly yet resentfully endured for a number of years, but for me, no longer.”

In many New Hampshire towns, the budget committee plays an important role. The members serve as a final financial “check-point” in the annual budget crafting process, reviewing the selectmen’s proposed budget. But because budget committee members are usually not as ingrained into the town’s day-to-day workings, their meetings tend to be less structured and more casual than those of other town boards.

The selectmen and Bingham say that the Warner group’s meetings have sometimes crossed the line into disrespectful behavior.

The selectmen originally commissioned the wage/compensation study from Thorton & Associates, a human resource consulting firm based in Maine, in 2017. Its goals were to clarify town job descriptions and compensations packages, as well as to evaluate the wage structures as compared to other local communities.

The selectmen began evaluating the consultant’s report in early 2018, according to Dabuliewicz’s comments at the Dec. 27 meeting, and the three-member board is still working through the final details of job descriptions. Because the project took longer than anticipated, the selectmen recently approved pay raises for several town employees based on the new plan, which took effect in December.

At the Dec. 27 budget meeting, some committee members and several other residents criticized the December raises, saying that selectmen shouldn’t have okayed the pay increases.

“The precedent (in Warner) is that anything that is going to be a long-term major expenditure goes before the town (at the annual meeting), and this did not go before the town,” said Martha Bodnarik, a member of the committee, according to the minutes. “This is an every-year increase because you have put in in (the budget annually).”

At last week’s meeting, Cutting suggested that a citizens’ warrant article could be drafted for consideration at the March town meeting that would require all future salary increases be included in the annual operating budget, and “not be paid until (the budget) is adopted by the town meeting.”

At the Dec. 27 meeting, some residents also criticized the wage study’s methodology, which they claimed didn’t provide enough input from department heads, placed too much emphasis on comparisons to other towns, and was needlessly motivated by fears about employee retention.

John Leavitt and Alfred Hanson were particularly harsh, asserting that the process of evaluating and implementing the new wage plan wasn’t sufficiently open to the public.

Bill Chandler, the town’s police chief, admitted that he was “a little disappointed” in how the process worked. According to the minutes, Chandler said he’d was told that no decisions would be made on his department’s wages until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

Leavitt said that he and others have requested sometimes information from Bingham’s office about the selectmen’s work on the wage package but haven’t received much response. “There are many situations where no data is supplied from the town,” he said.

The comment seemed to put the finger at Bingham, who was frequently the target of the criticism about the study, according to Kimberley Brown, chairman of the selectmen.

Late last week, Brown said that the meeting minutes on the town website do not accurately convey the unkind tone of some remarks aimed at the town administrator.

“It was pretty horrible, the way he was treated,” she said. “It was brutal.”

Brown added that, regardless of what’s been said, she has confidence in Bingham’s integrity and abilities.

She also said she understands his decision to not attend future budget committee meetings, if he’s treated disrespectfully. “I don’t see why he should go,” she concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, N.H., on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

A Small New Hampshire Town Discovers Its Black History

This story first appeared in Winter 2018 edition of “Around Concord (NH)” magazine, which is published by the Concord Monitor newspaper company. All photos are courtesy of Warner Historical Society; relevant captions are below.

By Ray Carbone

Across the story of America, the history of black people remains a darkened corner. We’ve failed other people – the Irish faced harsh discrimination, Native Americans are still routinely marginalized, and Japanese-Americans serving in World War II saw their families interned – but the long, sorry tale of America’s sin against its black citizens is remarkable for both its length and its scope.

Equally as is remarkable are the incredible dignity displayed and successes achieved by many slaves and their descendants.

‘Warner! Can you imagine,’ Boggis asks rhetorically. ‘When you think of this out-of-the-way place! But there was a community of colored people there. And it was not just one family, they were integrated into the community. They were part of the town.’

New Englanders can rightly claim a significant role in ending the outright slavery of black people because the abolitionist movement flourished here. But there are still shadows here. But it’s an imperfect history. For decades, most New Hampshire residents believed that there was no slavery here and that racism was never a problem simply because we lived in one of the whitest states in the country. That fallacy ended in the 1990s, when seacoast residents uncovered the little-known history of black slaves and servants who worked in and around Portsmouth during the colonial era. Today, the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail allows people to follow this rugged trek.

But JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the nonprofit organization that created the Portsmouth trail, says there’s still more that needs to be told. She’s working with historians around the state to fill in the largely hidden history of black people who lived in rural New Hampshire towns during the early days of the nation – places like Andover, Hancock, Milford, and nearby Warner.

“Warner! Can you imagine,” Boggis asks rhetorically. “When you think of this out-of-the-way place! But there was a community of colored people there. And it was not just one family, they were integrated into the community. They were part of the town.”

“The fact is that there was a community from at least 1810,” confirms Rebecca Courser, executive director of the Warner Historical Society. “But it was not until 1850 that they were listed in the census.” Before that, individuals in white families were listed by age under the head of the household, but black families were simply numbered as freed colored persons, sometimes in the margins.

Warner could become part of statewide trail. (See I. below)

 

The Warner Trail

Courser is excited about the possibility of having spots in Warner eventually listed on the new Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. That project is currently being developed in conjunction with JerriAnne and the Portsmouth-based group.

“You can drive by the William Haskell House,” Courser says referring to the former home of a black man renowned as a talented basket maker. “In Waterloo [another section of town], there’s the house where Clarence Steward lived, who was the [African-American] secretary for Nehemiah Ordway.” Ordway was a prominent politician who served as Sergeant of Arms at the U.S. House of Representative, and a governor of the Dakota Territories.

“I would run across this material – vital records and deeds, things like that – and I was curious. Who were these people? What were their lives like?

“Then there’s the Waterloo School House, the Roby School House, and the Village and Burnt Hill schools,” Rebecca continues, noting that black and white children were integrated in those institutions.

A Warner leg of the statewide trail could also commemorate the black community that lived on what’s now called Poverty Plain Road – but was once known by the racial slur N—r Plain. Or there could be a marker near the wetlands alongside old Prince Hastings’s home, nicknamed Chocolate Swamp.

Courser was serving as Warner’s assistant town clerk several years ago when she began seeing things in old town records that piqued her interest about former black residents. “I would run across this material – vital records and deeds, things like that – and I was curious,” she recalls. “Who were these people? What were their lives like?”

As others have found, resolving those questions is hard.

Most black Americans had little or no education, so there are few personal journals or other papers that have been preserved. One significant exception is Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, which was published in 1859.

In addition, what is available doesn’t provide a full picture of how most residents saw their black neighbors. “What did the silent majority of people in town think of them,” Rebecca asks. “We don’t hear about it. We don’t know.”

What exists is not heartening. In town histories written in the later 1800s, white residents frequently recalled their black neighbors as stereotypically simple-minded and naturally subservient.

America’s first black celebrity lives in the region. (See II. below)

“The stories that we see written up are usually not flattering,” Rebecca says. “Many of them are derogatory. ‘ They were stealing things,’ or ‘They’re alcoholic.’”

What Courser and other historians around the state are discovering is that most black residents were good, law-abiding citizens who paid their taxes and supported their communities. “There was at least some Afro-American men who, after the Revolutionary War, were amassing land here and there,” JerriAnne explains. “And they would donate land to the town for a school or for a library.

TonyJones1896

 

“They were doing the same thing that we think of as something the founding white fathers were doing,” she says.

A Bit of Warner’s Diverse History

Anthony Clark was a multifaceted man who made a significant impact on his community. He came to town in the early 1800s, and may have among the black men awarded their freedom for fighting in the Revolutionary War. He enlisted when he was 19-years-old and is mentioned on official papers as being “on command at the lines,” i.e., engaged in active duty.

Anthony worked as a laborer in Warner, which was a common job for freed black men, but he was also an accomplished musician and craftsman.

Anthony would start playing his fiddle to draw a crowd and his daughters would dance a jig. Soon men of all ages would ‘pitch-a-penny’ for the chance to dance with them.

In 1804, Anthony married Lucinda “Lucy” Moor of Canterbury in a Warner church. Over the years, the couple raised 10 children and, for many years, the family was prominent at social gatherings around the region.

According to one report, the Clarks would typically start out by pitching a tent at outdoor events, like musters and town celebrations. Anthony would start playing his fiddle to draw a crowd and his daughters – Sual Hall and Lydia Clark – would dance a jig. Soon men of all ages would ‘pitch-a-penny’ for the chance to dance with them. In between, the Clarks sold their homemade gingerbread.

A neighbor, known as Prince Martin, may have sometimes joined the music. “Another Negro, born in Africa, for many years lived in the Warner woods under the name of Prince Martin,” one white resident recalled in 1823. “He could sing many songs and play on the ‘bones,’ and always had a crowd of listeners round him.” The ‘bones’ were percussion instruments literally made from bones and popular in some African cultures.

MaryMoodyPlains.jpg

Between big events, Anthony traveled around the area, playing his fiddle and calling dances at both pubic and private gatherings. The trips made him a part of a network of people who kept black residents in different communities connected to one another. It was a role he shared with itinerant laborers and drovers like Caesar Lewis, who lived in nearby Sutton. The drovers would move animals – including turkeys – over land to Brighton, Massachusetts, where the animals would be slaughtered for food. “[Caesar] was a man of good abilities, good manners and unblemished integrity,” one resident recalled.

Anthony was an esteemed dance master who taught dance and its social etiquettes to both adults and children. He would sometimes rent space in a local tavern and spend the week giving lessons as the tavern owner enjoyed a boost in sales. At other times, Anthony would take the lead role at community events. “Tony Clark and his fiddle [acted] as inspector-general,” one resident recalled, referring to festivities following one muster.

Anthony was by all accounts an intelligent, gracious man who made a long-lasting impression on Warner. “[He] probably did more towards instructing the young people in the arts and graces of politeness and good manners than any other man of his day and generation,” reads one report.

An  indentured servant authored one of first novels published by a black woman in North America. (See III. below)

When Anthony died in 1856, reportedly at more than one hundred years of age, he was buried with military honors. He and wife Lucy are in the Pine Grove Cemetery, still the only black people in Warner with a headstone marking their graves.

It wasn’t long, however, before the racial prejudice of the later 19th century began infringing on Anthony’s story. An 1895 publication, A Sketch of Warner, claimed, “Anthony may have never fought [in the Revolutionary War], but carried water and distributed cartridges at Bunker Hill, and in the capacity as waiter he served [General George] Washington… He used to fiddle for the officers, and after peace was restored, he drifted to Warner where he was ready with his fiddle for 50 years.”

Within a generation, Anthony’s record had been downgraded from active service to the country to work as a server and a waiter. Even his move to Warner was described as drifting, rather than a planned move to establish a home for his family.

Anthony’s story included one more twist. His second-youngest son, Timothy Clark, changed his last name to Lyman. Timothy believed that Dr. Henry Lyman, a local white resident, had impregnated his mother.

“It’s interesting,” Rebecca says. “Was it consensual, not consensual? Was it in payment for some medical stuff? Who knows? Was she working for the household, doing housekeeping types and laundry, and taken advantage of? Maybe it was love. Was there a romantic relationship? Who knows?”

Another one of Anthony and Lucy Clark’s children, their daughter Caroline Clark, grew up to marry a black man named William Haskell. That couple’s only son, James Haskell, eventually served in the famous 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment during the Civil War. the regiment is commemorated in a famous bronze relief sculpture on the Boston Common, created by noted 19th century New Hampshire artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The family lived in a Main Street house that still stands, where William set up his workshop.

Store-GeorgeMoody

Haskell became known throughout the region for his high-quality products. Baskets were an essential household item at the time, since people used them to carry important foodstuffs and other goods as they walked from place to place. His Main Street location was also perfect for the crowds of people who flocked to the town for the annual fall fair.

In business directories published between 1885 and 1895, Haskell’s basket-making business is the only known black-owned business listed in the area. “He was written up in the newspaper for making 400 baskets in eight months,” Courser reports. “Based on his inscriptions on the handles and the baskets we have in our collection – and the newspaper story – we can see that those baskets were utilized for years. They were considered sturdy.’

James Haskell followed the path of his grandfather Anthony Clark, serving with his cousin John Haskell for the Union in the Civil War. Their names are among the five black men on Warner’s Soldiers Monument in the village.

Leaving, and some passing

Around 1810 in nearby Henniker, another black man surnamed Haskell became known for marrying a white woman. . “Because,” he claimed, “all the colored women feel themselves to be too good for me.” It’s not clear whether he was related to the Warner Haskells.

On the other side of Warner, in Sutton, another former slave married a white woman, and eventually became prominent in his community. Lot Little was owned by a tanner named Thomas Little on the seacoast. Renaming slaves with unusual or humorous names based on their white families’ surname was common. A Revolutionary War veteran, Lot followed his ex-owner’s family to Sutton where he managed properties for the family and, later, for himself.

‘[Anthony Clark] probably did more towards instructing the young people in the arts and graces of politeness and good manners than any other man of his day and generation,’ reads one report.

Town records show that Lot Little paid taxes on property and voted. Unlike other black people, his family was always listed among the white residents. Dr. Lynn Clark,, a Contoocook historian and independent researcher, speculates that he may have won an extra measure of respect due to his military service. Or, it may have been because he’d shown himself to be a responsible property owner, or, simply because he was light skinned.

Despite that, a 1890 town history recalled Lot Little in this atypical description: “[He] clung affectingly to the family in which he had been kindly reared [i.e., his former owners], and the old feeling of dependence, the natural outgrowth of the peculiar relation of master and slave, made him ready to attach himself to [their] fortunes.”

Lot Little’s decedents stayed in Sutton. Eventually all traces of their mixed race identity were lost, Clark says. “Some of them are still here but they’re not perceived as black anymore.”

It was part of a pattern of either passing for white or moving away that began in the mid-1800s when a particularly virulent wave of racism swept across the country. Especially after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1854, requiring everyone to assist in the capture and return of escaped slaves, many black residents of New Hampshire left for Canada or the West.

For those who stayed – or who’s stories remained, like Anthony Clark – many were simple “white-washed” to minimize their impact on the community.

“Most people don’t know about this,” Clark says. “The remark we hear most often is, ‘I had no idea.’”

With the help of organizations like the Historical Society and the Black Heritage Trail, we all have the opportunity to learn more about this aspect of our area’s history and celebrate the contributions of African Americans made to our society.

(More below.)

Photos captions: (1) William and Fred Sanville, the young black children in front, attended the School Street School in Warner circa 1903-04. Their parents were Wilfred and Annie Moody Sanville but they also lived for a period of time with their grandmother, Mary Moody,. William would later serve in World War I.  (2) Tony Jones was chosen to be the page boy of the Simonds Free High School Class of 1896.  His mother, a widow named Annie Jones, had moved the family north from South Carolina to work in the household of a local white family, Henry and Sarah Davis of Warner. Marion Davis, the couple’s daughter, was a graduate of the high school, which is why Tony was chosen to participate in their graduation activities. (3) Mary Moody resided on the Plains road in Warner and was head of a multi-generational household. This photograph was taken in the 1800s, when Mary was in her mid-fifties. She was paid to nurse other residents in the area and  often received monies from the town pauper fund for pay for food and clothing for her grandchildren. (4) George Moody, the son of Mary Moody, worked as a laborer. He was married to Cora Robinson when their young child Walter died in 1899 at age one. All photos are courtesy of Warner (NU) Historical Society.

I. Warner could be on statewide black history trail

In 1995, Valerie Cunningham founded the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail to commemorate the history of black people who lived in and around state’s only port city in early America. The trail developed a self-guided tour that uses public signage, as well as educational programs and community events that celebrate this little-known story. Now the all-volunteer nonprofit organization that manages the Seacoast trail is spreading out to other parts of the state with the goal of developing a statewide resource called the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.

JerriAnne Boggis, the executive director of the organization, said that research is already underway and that local historians are working with educators to create a number of resources, including a self-guided tour that would be available online, “so people can do it with their cell phones, they can find these sites,” she explains.

The project worked with two towns – Hancock and Milford – in 2018 and hopes to involve about 13 more in the next three years. JerriAnne says that, eventually, markers and other commemorative instruments can be used at sites around the state.

 

potterhstmrkr

II. America’s first black celebrity lived in Andover

Most black people who lived in America in the 19th century were slaves, captured or bought as animals in Africa or the Caribbean. That was the background of Richard Potter: he was born in 1783 in Hopkinton, Mass., the son of a black mother who was “owned” by his father, a white colonial official.

Richard grew up in the Boston area, but he had an endearing charm and quick mind that marked him as different. When he was 16 years old, he traveled to Europe with a family that employed him. It was there, among the artists and entertainers, that Richard began learning the creative skills that allowed him to become one of the first popular entertainers in America.

His skills included legerdemain (i.e., card and coin tricks), acrobatics, but it was but, principally ventriloquism that led to his notoriety. That trick was unknown in the New World at the time.

Richard learned to amaze people with his ability to make it appear that voices were coming from handbags and animals, but his charismatic, courtly character helped make audiences comfortable. He had “a constant smile seeming to illuminate his face,” said one acquaintance. To his tricky, Richard added songs, humorous speeches and dancing on eggs.

When he later married Sally Harrys in 1808, Richard occasionally added her sweet voice to his music as the “evening’s brush to sweep away care,” as he advertised his presentations.

As his reputation and repertoire grew, Richard took the act on the road, appearing all over New England and New York. Around 1820, he toured all of pre-Civil War America, giving shows in southern slave states as well as New York, Philadelphia and parts of Canada. It was likely the first time any entertainer took such a wide-ranging circuit.

In 1813, Potter purchased land to establish a farm in Andover, about 25 miles north-west of Concord. He told Nathan Hale, the famous patriot and newspaper editor:

The surest anchor, I thought, was to have some determinate object always in view, and none appeared to me more decisively powerful, than an independence that would secure me from poverty and public charity, when advanced age or youthful competitors drove me from this temporary enjoyment. Having a good wife, well acquainted with country business, I concluded that instead of carrying her about with me as an assistant, it would be better to have a home, which would be to her a congenial occupation, and to me a polar star, towards which I would always set my course. –

Richard had a gentle, courteous manner but practiced a severe personal discipline. He told Hale that he “avoided gambling, drinking and idleness,” and became a “strong temperance man.” It is ironic, then, that Sally developed into an alcoholic whose irresponsible behavior hampered the family for years.

In John A. Hodgson’s recent biography Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity, the author speculates about how much of the entertainer’s life was impacted by his skin color. In his early performing days, Potter was content , and sometimes even encouraged, people to speculate about whether he was a Hindu or from some other foreign culture. But most of his audiences apparently knew and accepted that he was, to use the terms of the day, colored.

“His manners were impeccable, his behavior decorous and polite, his bearing gracious and almost courtly. But his complexion was dark, as was his wife’s,” one friend recalled. The author did not uncover many specific incidents where the entertainer was hampered by racism, but it appeared to regularly add a tone of unpleasantness to his life. And it may have been part of the reason for an antagonism that later developed between him and his Andover neighbors.

Richards died in 1835 and his wife passed away soon afterwards. They were buried on their farm but their graves were later moved to a place near the local train station. The station – and the village – are now known as “Potter Place.” A NH Historic Marker commemorates the famous performer’s life.

 

harrietwilson

 

III. Harriet E. Wilson: Indentured Servant and Author

One of the main problems for historians researching the lives of early American black citizens in New Hampshire is the paucity of reliable source information. Since most black people – in fact, most Americans – had little or no formal education, there are few diaries, journals or other personal papers available. A major exception is Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, a autobiographical novel written by Harriet “Hattie” E. Wilson.

Wilson was born in Milford in 1825 to a black father and a white mother, and was still a young child when her impoverished mother abandoned her to a local family. Hattie lived the family as an indentured servant until she was a teenager.

Our Nig is considered a fictionalized version of Wilson’s life under the oppressive yoke of the family. Originally published in 1859, it’s one of the first novels published by a black woman in North America.

Despite its sympathetic view of the lives of black people, the book was unpopular even among people like abolitionists in the North. Some historians say that was because it showed that freed black people in the northern states sometimes faced the same harsh treatment as many slaves in the southern slaves.

The memorial monument to novelist Harriet Wilson is in Milford, where she spent most of her early life. The statute was commissioned by the Harriet Wilson Project, a local organization that’s working to have Wilson’s historical book, “Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black,” and other aspects of New Hampshire’s black history incorporated into the state’s history.

Around Concord” magazine is available at Gibson’s Bookstore (S. Main St., Concord), the Concord Food Co-op (S. Main St., Concord), Books-A-Million in the Fort Eddy Plaza in Concord) and at the Cracker Barrel Store in Hopkinton. Subscriptions are available at 603/369-3212.

Small print leading to better cell phone service for small NH town

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – When about 50 residents gathered at the elementary school to discuss the town’s future this summer, there was thing that concerned people who were interested in developing the town’s tax base.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford, unless we have a cell tower,” said one person, as others nodded in agreement.

Walter Royal, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, knows about the problem.

“There’s no signal in town,” he said last week. “There’s a couple of places where you can get a signal and you can make phone calls, but most people find that you can’t. You may be able to text something but not make a call.”

As a result, many residents still have a landline even though that service may not work for emergency services during a local power outage.

Now town leaders are cautiously optimistic that a long-delayed solution could be near.

Several weeks ago, Walter Royal (Bradford’s building inspector/code enforcement officer) was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

Royal said he’s recently spoken with a representative of Verizon, the telecommunications company, and was told that the company hopes to provide improved cell service to the community before the end of the winter.

A new cell antennae is slated to be attached to a tower that’s located on a hill behind the local office of the local school bus company, Student Transportation of America (Valley Fire Equipment), on Route 114 near the intersection with Route 103, said Karen Hambleton, the town’s administrator.

The cell tower was originally erected five years ago by the Structure Consulting Group, a real estate advisory firm based in Arlington, Mass. that services the telecommunications industry. At the time the consulting firm told town leaders that it was working under a contract with Verizon, and that cell service typically follows within a few months of construction.

“But there’s been no activity,” explained Hambleton last week. Several public safety organizations are already using the tower, she added, which is “one of the reasons we’re cranky.”

In the spring, Verizon submitted its antennae application, but the town heard nothing more from the company in months.

Several weeks ago, Hambleton tried to connect with the consulting firm. When she was unsuccessful, she asked Royal to look into the issue.

Royal said that the original contact number associated with the project was no longer in service, so he reached out to someone at a Verizon facility in Fryburg, Maine.

When that proved unprofitable, he went back and looked at the application and found a contact name and phone number – but in tiny print.

“The plans were shrunk down, so they’d fit on an 8½ ”-by-11” page. So, I had to blow it up, I had to enlarge it,” he said. “And, when I did, there it was!”

Several weeks ago, Royal was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

“He said he’d expedite it to have the base equipment put in this winter and the antennae up (soon afterwards.),” Royal related. “He said he’d told his higher-ups at Verizon that I was really (angry) at them. I think he was getting a little upset, probably because he thought the project was much further along.

“But no one could see his name on the plans.,” the town employee laughed. “Now I know his name… And I know where he lives!”

The above photograph of the Student Transportation of America/Valley Fire Equipment building on Route 114 in Bradford, was taken b y and is the property of Carbone Productions, LLC. This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 18. 

Ex-Wilmot employee looks to discrimination claim

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – One of the four employees who recently resigned from the town’s employ said that she planned to file a complaint with the NH Commission on Human Rights Commission over alleged health-related discrimination.

In her resignation letter submitted to the board of selectmen dated Aug. 22, Nicole (Nikki) Arsenault, who served as an administrative assistant and land/property use assistant, wrote that she was in the process of submitting a discrimination complaint with the state agency. She said it was related to how she felt she was treated by Nancy Bates, the town administrator, after missing time due to an illness.

‘There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office…’

Nicole Arsenault, former town employee

“I’ve missed several days of work over the past month,” the letter reads. “I have become aware that I am being treated differently due to the fact that Ms. Bates is ‘angry’ with me when I miss work due to illness.”

In a note attached to the letter, Arsenault recorded discussing the issue in an April meeting with Bates. At that time, the assistant wrote, Bates admitted to being angry about the missed hours, adding that it was “not right, but that’s how she (Bates) felt.”

Arsenault’s letter stated that she was resigning because she’d recently approached the town administrator again about the perceived problem, but Bates denied ever admitted that she was angry.

“It was my mistake to not speak up sooner for myself and for those around me, to demand that inappropriate behavior be stopped,” Arsenault wrote to the three-member board of selectmen.

“There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office by the town administrator and it is unacceptable,” she added.

At the September 5 selectmen’s meeting, Rhonda Gauthier, the long-time town clerk/tax collector, and her assistant, Kathy LaVallee, announced that they were resigning their positions effective Dec. 31. In her resignation letter to the board, Gauthier wrote that Bates “fired or bullied all employees.”

But Nick Brodich, chairman of the selectmen, has said that although the board was aware of tensions between Gauthier and Bates, it didn’t feel that they were severe enough to take action.

In a response letter to Gauthier, the selectmen criticized her brief appearance at the Sept. 5 meeting as lacking “substance.” It also said that the charges directed at both Bates and the board (for allegedly ignoring ongoing problems) were “serious and hurtful,” and that, by refusing to meet with the board and Bates, Gauthier’s actions were “as disrespectful as cowardly… (and) completely unbecoming an elected town official.”

Late last week, Gauthier said, “I really want to move on,” adding that “Nancy (Bates) did many little things over a period of time… (but) I resigned because I was tired of seeing it happen to other and nothing being said or done about it. I did not want to be part of that environment any longer.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

 

Snowstorm brings down trees and wires, but not town workers

By Ray Carbone

The recent area snowstorm resulted in scores of downed wires and tress, power outages, road closures, cancelled school days and a marathon work session for some town employees in the Kearsarge/Sunapee region.

“It was a lot of snow,” said Dennis Pavlieck, Newbury’s town administrator, “but we’re used to a lot of snow. We’re New Hampshire folks!”

Snowfall totals ranged between 18 inches in Springfield to 4-to-5 inches in parts of Sutton and Warner. The snow was heavy and wet, pulling down trees and tree limbs and dropping power lines, which caused electrical outages all over the area.

‘My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community.’

– Dan Ruggles, chief of Sunapee’s all-volunteer fire dept.

Eversource, the company that services most of the local area, reported close to 100,000 outages around the state between Monday evening (Nov. 22) when the storm began and early Wednesday evening (Nov. 24); more than 60 percent of those were north and west of Concord, an area that includes many Kearsarge/Sunapee towns, explained William Hinkle, a spokesman for the power company. By Friday afternoon (Nov. 30), no local outages were reported.

Officials with the Kearsarge Regional School District said that the towns hardest hit by the storm were in the district’s northernmost communities of Wilmot, Springfield and New London. All district schools were closed both Tuesday and Wednesday, due to poor road conditions and power outages. On Wednesday, electric power was out at the district’s elementary school in Bradford.

During the height of the storm, reports indicated that virtually all of New London and a major section of Wilmot were without electricity.

The storm generally dumped more snow than was predicted, making for long day for public works and safety staffs in local towns.

“Our shift started on Monday night at 9 p.m., and went right through to 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” said Bob Harrington, public works director for New London.

Officials in Newbury and other local towns reported similar long hours for their road crews.

“The town of Sunapee received about 12 inches of snow that was mixed with rain,” said David Cahill, that town’s police chief. “We had at one point eight roads closed due to wires and trees.”

Jim Bingham, Warner’s town administrator, said four roads in his town were inaccessible for several hours and Pixie Hill, the town clerk/tax collector in Springfield, reported a section of Rte. 114, the town’s main thoroughfare, was closed until late Wednesday morning.

Cal Prussman, Newbury’s highway administrator, said that Stoney Brook Road was closed for most of Tuesday, and that Bowles Road was closed to through traffic for several days. In addition, the 50-plus homes on Bay Point Road, a dead end off the Sunapee State Beach access road, were temporarily cut off from the rest of the town on Tuesday until storm damage could be cleared.

Harrington echoed the thoughts of several town public work managers throughout the area, commending the work of his staff while thanking local police and fire departments for their assistance in the emergency.

Dan Ruggles, Sunapee’s fire chief, said his volunteer department responded to 29 calls of wires down, trees on wires, blown transformers, car accidents and providing support for the town’s highway department clearing damage across roads between Monday night and Tuesday evening.

“My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community,” he added.

Ruggles and Cahill reported that Sunapee opened its safety service building as a warming station during the storm. “As a result, we did see a couple of residents take advantage of the safety service building,” Cahill said.

Throughout the storm and its aftermath, police officers did welfare checks on elderly folks and others who could be vulnerable during the outages, the police chief said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

Old firehouse, daycare proposal, economic development addressed

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – It was an informal conversation, but at a public meeting of Warner’s economic development advisory committee (EDAC) held in the town hall Thursday, Nov. 15, residents discussed ideas about what to do with the town’s old fire station.

The fire department will be moving into its modern facility around the end of this year, so the old brick building on Main Street will soon become vacant. Some residents have proposed selling the property which means it would be added to the town’s tax rolls while other suggest converting it into another community facility.

Among the most popular ideas raised at the recent meeting was using the old firehouse for a brewery or small restaurant, or developing it into a community and/or senior center.

Charlie Albano, EDAC’s chairman, said that he’s read about research that called daycare an ‘economic engine’ for a community.

The proposal that generated the liveliest discussion centered on creating a facility that would include some kind of daycare center. Emma Bates, a resident and local business owner who is part of the EDAC, said that she’s spoken to numerous young mothers in town who’ve expressed interest in a local daycare.

“The (Simonds Elementary) School has a Boys & Girls Club but there’s a lot of needs for younger children,” Bates told the group of about 30 people. “Until they reach school age, there’s nothing in town to send them to. A community center that includes a daycare space that could be used for preschool children (would be beneficial).”

Another resident said that a local licensed daycare would make Warner more attractive to younger people and Charlie Albano, EDAC’s chairman, said that he’s read about research that called daycare an “economic engine” for a community.

In addition, daycare facilities create demand for other local services, including food businesses, he said.

Another resident reported that the New Hampshire Telephone Musuem in town is planning to expand at its current Main Street location, which will impact the lower floor space now used by the Warner Firefighter Museum. She said she spoke with Ed Raymond, the fire chief, if he’d ever considered being at the old fire department station.

“I’d love to know if there is a significant firefighter museum in New Hampshire,” she added, “and, if there’s not, it could be a pretty tremendous opportunity.”

Albano said that the several local museums already attract tourists to Warner, and that his committee has learned about specific tourism communities that are now identified.

“It’s a huge, well-respected community,” the resident added, referring to firefighters and their supporters. “I think it (a state firefighter museum) would bring people to town.”

The discussion about the old firehouse was preceded by a presentation that Albano did about a recent town survey down by his committee. The survey is building on information gathered in earlier surveys to help identify ways that Warner could grow economically.

The new survey only gathered information from 136 respondents, which is less than 10-percent of the town’s population, but taken together with the earlier polls it does suggest certain kinds of businesses many people would like in their community, he said. Among specific options, small restaurants were the most popular, followed by small retail stores, and a medical or dental office, Albano reported.

Eighty percent of respondents favored increasing musical and other cultural events to attract tourists, and 70 percent said that programs like the Warner Fall Foliage Festival were an important part of the community.

Following the meeting, Albano said that the EDAC will be using the results of the new survey to help create a new town website and a new tourism brochure. When the website is completed, it will include the full survey results as well as two sections: one for economic development and one for a ‘Welcome to Warner’ tourism-focused page.

“We can also use the new website to advertise, for example, for a dentist and a restaurant,” Albano said. The EDAC hopes to have the new website established soon, he added.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 30, 2018.

 

Wave of resignations hit small NH town

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – Selectmen are dealing with resignations from four town hall employees in recent weeks, as well as a charge that they ignored an ongoing bullying problem between two workers.

On Friday, Nick Brodich, the chairman of the board of selectmen, said that Rhonda Gauthier, the departing town clerk/tax collector, claims that Nancy Bates, who recently resigned her position as town administrator, bullied her. Gauthier also says that the selectmen were aware of the situation but did nothing to resolve it, according to Brodich.

“The board of selectmen took serious issue with both of those accusations,” he said. “Especially that we were, to use her words, ‘sweeping things under the rug.’”

Sometime after the meeting, (Nancy) Bates submitted her own letter of resignation. She’s leaving her post as town administrator on December 7.

Brodich said that the selectmen were aware of some ongoing low-level tensions between Gauthier and Bates for the past year or two.

“It never really got to the point where (Gauthier) ever reached out to us, ever expressed any concerns,” he said. “It was not, in any way, brought to our attention.”

On September 5, the selectmen held their regular meeting in the town offices. As it was starting, Gauthier entered the room and handed her resignation letter and a packet of information to the selectmen and others attending the meeting. She then wished the selectmen a pleasant evening and left. Brodich said that he called out to her but the town clerk/tax collector apparently left the building quickly.

Neither the letter nor the packet was available at press time, but Brodich said they included the claims against Bates and the three-member board, and that Gauthier was planning to leave her position on Dec. 31.

“In her letter, she referenced the culture of bullying by (Bates) and then included a reference that the board of selectmen knew about it, that she’d been trying to tell the board of selectmen and that we weren’t hearing it,” Brodich said.

At Gauthier’s departure from the September 5 meeting, Brodich asked her assistant, Kathy LaVallee, the deputy town clerk/tax collector, if she was also planning to leave the town’s employ. LaVallee said she would be handing in her resignation with the same departure date, December 31.

According to the meeting minutes, Brodich then turned to Nikki Arsenault, an administrative and land use assistant for the town. Arsenault had resigned several weeks earlier shortly before a board meeting, effective immediately, and her resignation letter has not been made public.

The chairman asked Arsenault if she wanted to make any comment in light of Gauthier’s sudden departure. Arsenault said she’d hoped that “everyone could sit down and talk about this,” according to the minutes.

Brodich then declined a request to read Arsenault’s resignation letter into the public record. (There may be legal restrictions if it’s considered part of an employee’s personal file.)

Sometime after the meeting, Bates submitted her own letter of resignation. She’s leaving her post as town administrator on December 7, Brodich said.

At the next selectmen’s meeting on September 13, the board read an open letter that they wrote to Gauthier, saying that her actions at the previous meeting “though not lacking drama… lacked substance.”

“The accusations you have leveled against Town Administrator Bates are extremely serious and hurtful,” it reads. “The accusations you have leveled against the board of selectmen being derelict in its duties are likewise grave. To make such accusations in written correspondence and then refuse to meet with the people you have accused is as disrespectful as it is cowardly, and it is completely unbecoming an elected town official.”

Brodich reiterated the board’s willingness to meet with Gauthier and others who may have an interest in the situation.

On Friday, Brodich said he doubted Gauthier’s claim that Bates was a bully. “Anyone who knows Nancy Bates would laugh at loud at the concept of her bullying anyone,” he said. “She’s about a quiet and mild a person as you’ll find.”

Gautier and LaVallee have worked for the town for a decade or more, and Bates has been with the town for more than six years, according to Brodich. Arsenault is a newer employee, Brodich added.

Last week, Bates refused to comment on the situation. Attempts to reach Gauthier and Arsenault were unsuccessful, and LaVallee made no comment.

The town is now looking for a new town administrator and a new town clerk/tax collector.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 30, 2018.

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