Wentworth Cheswell: Biography & Role in the Revolutionary War

Wentworth Cheswell: Biography & Role in the Revolutionary War
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  • 0:05 Revolutionary War Figures
  • 0:44 Wentworth Cheswell's…
  • 1:31 Cheswell's Role in the…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the life of Wentworth Cheswell, highlight his role in the American Revolutionary War, and find out why he was an important figure in history.

Revolutionary War Figures

Often times, we look at the American Revolution from a top-down approach, meaning we concentrate on the leading figures like George Washington or John Adams instead of the ordinary men and women. Sometimes it's refreshing to look at this important event in history from a bottom-up approach, meaning to focus on ordinary people, and work our way up from there.

In this lesson we'll be doing just that by examining the life of Wentworth Cheswell, a figure we don't hear as much about, but was nonetheless an important civic leader and war veteran. Perhaps he was more ordinary than men like Thomas Jefferson or John Adams, but in other respects he was quite extraordinary. Let's learn about him.

Wentworth Cheswell's Early Life

Wentworth Cheswell was an African-English colonist born in 1746 in Newmarket, New Hampshire. He was born to a free biracial black man and a white woman, making him one-quarter black. Cheswell's father earned a fairly good income, which allowed young Wentworth to receive a formal education, which was rare for black colonists during that time.

After his education, Cheswell became a teacher. Again, this was rare for black or mixed race men in this period of American History. He was also a landowner, a position that brought with it status and wealth. When Cheswell was 21 years old, he married a 17 year-old girl name Mary Davis, and the couple would go on to have 13 children. The following year, he was elected town constable, making him the first black man elected to public office in American history.

Cheswell's Role in the Revolution

When the American Revolution broke out, the citizens of Newmarket proved zealous supporters of the Patriot cause, and Cheswell was among them. This went against the norm at that time, as most black colonists tended to support the British because they took a more anti-slavery approach. After the Revolutionary War erupted, the British even promised to grant freedom to black slaves who fought with them. Of course, as we have to remember, Cheswell was no slave, but rather a free, biracial man. Nevertheless, strong pro-British sentiment was common among black communities.

Being a reliable Patriot, Cheswell was elected messenger to his town's Committee of Safety. Committees of Safety were underground resistance groups organized to foster communication and collaboration among Patriots.

Wentworth Cheswell was also a Revolutionary War veteran. He served in a volunteer cavalry unit called Langdon's Company of Light Horse Volunteers. This unit was led by Colonel John Langdon, who went on to become one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution.

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