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A panel depicting a Native American about to torch a settler's home has left some in Durham uneasy, but it will not be removed or altered under post office policy. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)

Controversial mural will stay at Durham post office


DURHAM — A post office mural that depicts a Native American preparing to torch a settler’s home will not be removed or altered.

United States Postal Service Historian Jennifer Lynch told Town Administrator Todd Selig that the USPS is developing interpretive text to put the mural in context. It is located in the lobby of the building at Main Street and Madbury Road.

The New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs brought the mural to the USPS’ attention earlier this year.

Selig said he is pleased a resolution is in sight.

“We cannot rewrite history, but we can provide objective context with the fullness of time. It’s my hope we can find language that honors Durham’s past, and the many nuances that encompassed the people who over time have inhabited this land,” Selig said Tuesday.

The recent conversation in Durham started when the Rev. Larry Brickner-Wood of the Waysmeet Center at the University of New Hampshire suggested officials remove the panel.

He claimed no other ethnic group tolerates such disparaging images.

Last week, the leaders of Durham’s Historic District Commission expressed their concerns about removing the panel, saying its content is protected by the First Amendment and altering the art would be censorship by the town.

The mural was commissioned by the Women’s Club of Durham in 1959 and painted by artist Bernard Chapman.

There are 16 panels, each meant to depict a moment in the town’s history.

“Cruel Adversity” represents the Oyster River Massacre during King William’s War. On July 18, 1694, 250 Abenakis under the command of Claude-Sebastien de Villieu raided the Oyster River settlement.

It is believed 104 people were killed and 27 were taken captive and taken to Canada.

When the mural was first created, the Women’s Club paid for a brochure to be printed to explain each panel.

Brickner-Wood said he would be open to a new brochure with an updated account of history.

He suggested students at the University of New Hampshire could help create one, or assist in developing interpretive text.

Selig said the next step is for the Historic District Commission, which also serves as the Heritage Commission in Durham, to have a public hearing on the matter after the postal service comes up with its plan. Steve Doherty, a spokesman for the USPS, said there is no immediate timetable to get the text in place.

“The focus isn’t on getting it done quickly so much as getting it done correctly,” Doherty said.


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