×

‘Whispers on the Wind’: Plainfield Honors African-American Revolutionary War Soldier

  • Lorenzo Arredondo, of Fremont, N.H., a reenactor with the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, welcomes the descendents of Derrick Oxford, a slave who fought with the regiment in the Revolutionary War, to a dedication service of a new stone on Oxford's previously unmarked grave at the Coreyville Cemetery in Plainfield, N.H., Saturday, May 19, 2018. Oxford was present at the battle of Saratoga and the seige of Ticonderoga. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Stephanie Johnson, of Meriden, Conn., holds her daughters Paris Haley, 3, left, and London Haley, 5, right, as 1st New Hampshire Regiment reenactors fire a salute to Johnson's sixth great grandfather Derrick Oxford during a ceremony to dedicate a new grave stone for the soldier and slave in the Coreyville Cemetery in Plainfield, N.H., Saturday, May 19, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bonita Johnson, of Bridgeport, Conn., a descendent of slave Derrick Oxford, front left, talks with Cindy and Randy Roberts, right, descendents of Oxford's owner William Gallup after being introduced by Plainfield Historical Society President Jane Stephenson, middle, following a ceremony at Oxford's grave in Plainfield, N.H., Saturday, May 19, 2018. Stephenson contacted the Johnsons and Robertses after finding that Oxford's grave was one of two unmarked graves of thought to be those of slaves in the Coreyville Cemetery. Oxford came to Hartland, Vt., in 1775 with Gallup, who inherited him from his parents. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Descendents of Derrick Oxford, from left, Kaishon Holloway, of Stamford, Conn., Bobby Johnson, of Bridgeport, Conn., and Stephanie Johnson, of Meriden, Conn., look at the grave of Benjamin Cutler with Plainfield Historical Society President Jane Stephenson, right, at the Coreyville Cemetery in Plainfield, N.H., Saturday, May 19, 2018. Stephenson's research revealed that Oxford was likely a member of Cutler's household before he died between 1790 and 1800. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2018

Plainfield — Descendants of Derrick Oxford and the white man who owned him shook hands at the Coryville Cemetery on Saturday, where they gathered to commemorate the Revolutionary War veteran who fought for the colonies’ freedom while his own was in doubt.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently commissioned a new headstone for Oxford, after new research revealed that he likely was buried under a weathered, mossy stone in the Ladieu Road cemetery.

Descendants of Oxford came to remember him, including Bonita Johnson, of Bridgeport, Conn., who said she was Oxford’s fifth-great-granddaughter.

Johnson said that her family was taking inspiration from Oxford’s example, despite having learned of their ancestor only recently.

“He was in a struggle of his own, but he thought about others instead of his own self,” she said after the ceremony.

After combing through historical records, Johnson and Upper Valley researchers like Jane Stephenson of the Plainfield Historical Society found that Oxford was enslaved by the Gallup family of Stonington, Conn., in the mid-late 1700s.

He moved north with the family to Hartland in 1775. A few years later, military musters show him in the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, which distinguished itself in the pivotal battles of Ticonderoga and Saratoga.

“There’s still many things we don’t know about Derrick,” Stephenson told a crowd of at least 50 under a tent in the light rain.

That includes whether or not Oxford was ever freed, when he died, and even how he chose the name “Oxford.” Military records show that he departed the Continental Army on sick leave before it wintered in Valley Forge, and that he returned near the end of 1778, staying until July 1780. The British surrendered at Yorktown the next year.

Oxford later joined the Vermont militia, and then moved to Plainfield. But otherwise, information about him is scarce. He does not appear on the 1800 census, so researchers assume that he died after 1790. New England states began to abolish slavery around that time, but no manumission papers for Oxford have yet been found.

Revolutionary War re-enactors with the 1st New Hampshire Regiment were present to honor Oxford on Saturday.

Lorenzo Arredondo, a teacher from Fremont, N.H., said he and the regiment were proud to preserve an African-American soldier’s memory, given the unique struggles they faced in the war for independence.

“Their memories are just whispers on the wind, and they don’t really get thanked for their service,” he said.

With that, three Continentals arranged themselves next to the gravestone.

“First New Hampshire!” Arrendondo called. “Make ready. Present. Fire.”

In two volleys, only one musket appeared to go off. Earlier, Arredondo had noted that possibility, given the rain. “We did warn you,” he said.

After the ceremony, Stephenson introduced Johnson to Cindy Roberts, a Gallup descendant who lives in Vermont.

Standing among worn, rain-dotted gravestones, they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries for a moment.

“Thanks for coming,” Johnson said, smiling. “It was really nice to meet you.”

Roberts, of Rutland Town, was among several Gallups in attendance. She said the news about Oxford and her ancestor made her want to know more about her family’s history.

“This is all a revelation to me,” she said.

“It’s exciting,” Johnson said later. “It’s a historical moment. I’m really proud.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.