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The Legacy of William Haskell: A Skilled Basket Maker in 19th Century NH

Published Thursday May 11, 2023

Author Rebecca Courser, for The Black Heritage Trail NH

The Legacy of William Haskell: A Skilled Basket Maker in 19th Century NH

William Haskell, a noted basket maker, was born to John and Lovee Haskell in 1819 in Warner, NH. The Haskell family lived on Couchtown Road and John probably labored on local farms or seasonally as a mill hand.

William married Caroline Clark, daughter of Anthony, a well-known fiddler, and Lucy Clark. Their son, James, born in 1842, attended village schools in Warner until he was 20. He enlisted in 1863 for three years in Company D of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Colored Infantry. Upon his return, James married Dorcas Paul, but he died of tuberculosis in 1870 at age 28. He is buried in Salisbury, NH, and his name is engraved on the Soldier’s Monument in Warner.

It is not certain how William learned the basket trade, but that is how he is described on an 1854 deed for three-quarters of an acre in Warner. He may have been instructed by Jonathan Watson, a neighbor who made peck and bushel baskets of brown ash.

In 1860, William and Caroline purchased from Harrison Robertson land and buildings on Main Street. They would mortgage and rent this property off and on from the Robertson family for the next thirty years.

The home and shop had the advantage of being on the road to the grounds of the Warner-Kearsarge Agricultural Fair Association, making it a perfect location for Haskell to sell his sturdy baskets. Nineteenth-century business directories list Haskell’s basket-making business between 1885 and 1895. As early as 1881, however, his baskets were described in the newspaper as being as good as could be found in the market. He did the work by hand and in eight months produced 400 large baskets.

Caroline died in 1874 at the age of 47. Seven months later William married widow Samantha Clark of Fisherville (Penacook), NH. In 1879, William and Samantha sold their Warner property to John Robertson for $750, but continued to live there as tenants, paying rent.

Samantha died in 1893. Three years later William died from a heart attack at the age of 77. Although newspaper records note he was buried in Warner, the cemetery for the burial of his family has not been determined.

Rebecca Courser is a graduate of the University of NH and took graduate courses in the Heritage Studies Program at Plymouth State University. She has spent the last decades continuing to research the lives of families who lived in western Merrimack County.

This article is part of an ongoing series aimed at highlighting and honoring the stories of notable Black historical figures and families who helped shape New Hampshire and Maine. These stories were originally collected by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire for a project with the Episcopal Church of NH. Stories are being shared with the partners in The Granite State News Collaborative.

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