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Kimberly Cheek

enslavedAfrican-American woman, was born free in Illinois around 1818. The exact date and place of her birth, and the names of her parents are not known. The memoir From Darkness Cometh Light; or Struggles for Freedom, which was published by her daughter Lucy Ann Delany in 1891, provides an account of her mother's life. Despite this extant narrative the chronological record of Berry's origins, movements, and transfer of ownership during her enslavement remains vague.

Her enslavement began in the 1820s, when Polly was abducted, taken to St. Louis, Missouri, and sold into slavery. Shortly afterward she resided in Wayne County, Kentucky. Eric Gardner in Unexpected Places asserts that the Beatty family of Wayne County Kentucky were Polly s first owners p 33 Eventually the Beattys sold her to a poor farmer named Joseph Crockett and she became known as Polly Crockett When she was fourteen ...

Article

Nathalie Pierre

born Dédée Bazile, was also known as Défilée la folle (madwoman) and was born enslaved in Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien) in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), to unknown parents. She is remembered for burying the revolutionary leader, and independent Haiti’s first ruler, Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

Some historical accounts pinpoint Défilée’s rape and torture by her enslaver at age 18 as the genesis of her madness. Défilée was homeless and publicly spoke to invisible beings, possibly lwas (spirits) of Vodou, which is a syncretic religious system incorporating West African and Catholic beliefs. These actions defied emerging social conventions and contributed to her reputation as la folle, the madwoman. It is possible, however, that the twelve-year anticolonial war against France had much to do with Défilée’s seemingly odd behavior. The arrival of the French general Donatien Rochambeau in Cap Français in 1802 dramatically shifted the course of the Haitian ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

wife of Amos Fortune, was of unknown origin, but it is likely that she was forcibly enslaved and transported from Africa to the New World while young. Few details regarding Vilot's life are known. However, surviving evidence provides an accurate portrayal of her life and what it meant to be a free woman of color in northern New England in the late eighteenth century. Vilot is first documented on 9 November 1779, when she was sold by James Baldwin of Woburn, Massachusetts, to a free black, Amos Fortune, for the sum of fifty pounds. Described as “a Negro Woman … being now my property,” Vilot was fifty years old and had served as a domestic slave for the Baldwin family (Lambert, 38).

Vilot's purchaser Amos Fortune had been enslaved until he was manumitted in 1770 and had previously been married to Lydia Somerset whom he had also ...

Article

Theresa Vara-Dannen

former slave and butler to Samuel Clemens, waiter, and businessman, was born to unknown enslaved parents. Although an 1880 census record indicates he was born in Virginia, Samuel Clemens, the author known as Mark Twain, maintained he was born in Maryland. An 1870 census record shows a twenty-two-year old George Griffin working as a waiter and residing in the Bay State House, a residential hotel; this record indicates that Griffin reported Maryland as his state of birth.

The little known about Griffin's youth was written by Samuel Clemens in an unpublished piece, “A Family Sketch”: Griffin was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation; in his youth, he saw the Civil War firsthand as a servant of General Charles Devens Jr., who fought at Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg and was later named attorney general under President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Clemens met Griffin in 1875 ...

Article

Karen E. Sutton

property owner and matriarch of eighteenth-century free black Albany, New York. Records indicate that Jackson was the first African American to own property in Albany. In January 1779 she bought a city lot on the South side of lower Second Street. We know little of her origins; however, by the time of this fortuitous purchase she had married Jack Johnson, a free man of color from Albany. They had two sons, Jack and Lewis. In 1790Dinnah Jackson worked as the housekeeper at the Masonic Lodge and at Saint Peter's Episcopal Church. Exactly how she was able to purchase her property is unclear, but she may have been extremely frugal and resourceful, or perhaps she had an unknown benefactor.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries people lived near their work and most free blacks lived near one another for support and companionship Unlike many other northern ...

Article

Eric R. Jackson

personal assistant to President James Madison and the First Lady Dolley Madison, author, and enslaved African American, was born in Montpelier, Virginia. More importantly, Jennings is best known as perhaps the first non-president or member of a president's family to write a narrative about one's life experience in the Oval Office. His father, Benjamin (or William) Jennings, was a white English trader, his mother was an enslaved African American (unnamed) who was owned by President and First Lady Madison. As a child, young Paul was befriend by the Madison's son Payne Todd. When James Madison was elected as the fourth president of the United States in 1808 Jennings who at the time ten years old accompanied the family to Washington where he served the first family in the executive mansion On one occasion Jennings aided the First Lady as she greeted numerous guests during one of her legendary ...

Article

Laura M. Chmielewski

convert to Methodism and religious contemplative, was born probably in New York City, of unknown but most likely enslaved parents. All the details of Zilpah Montjoy's life are derived from Abigail Mott's 1826Narratives of Colored Americans, a collection of biographical sketches of prominent and, in Mott's view, exemplary black Christians that includes Richard Allen, Benjamin Banneker, Paul Cuffe, Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano), and Phillis Wheatley as well as more obscure figures such as Billy and Jenny Poor Pompey and Old Dinah The circumstances surrounding Zilpah Montjoy s birth and parentage are unknown According to her biographer Montjoy spent her early life in domestic slavery in New York City serving masters who invested nothing in her spiritual development beyond calling her by a name that had biblical origins Montjoy was reportedly bound so tightly to her work that throughout her youth she ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

The early years of Robert Roberts's life are largely unknown. He claimed later to have been freeborn in Charleston, South Carolina, but could not name his parents. Around 1802 to 1804, he entered domestic service to Nathan Appleton, a Boston financier who was then visiting Charleston. Roberts had somehow become literate and had sufficient skills as a domestic to induce Appleton to take him north. On 15 December 1805, Roberts married Dorothy Hall, daughter of Jude and Rhoda Hall, free blacks living in Exeter, New Hampshire. Jude Hall, known as “Old Rock,” was a famous and distinguished Continental Army veteran. His service did not prevent the Halls' loss of several sons to kidnappers who stole young northern blacks to sell in the slave South. Roberts described this man-stealing in a bitter document later in his life.

Roberts made several trips to Europe as Appleton s servant ...

Article

Timothy J. McMillan

slave, Civil War veteran, author, and itinerant minister, was born in New Bern, North Carolina. His mother was Lettice Nelson, a slave on John Nelson's plantation at Garbacon Creek in eastern North Carolina; his father was a white man believed to be William Singleton. As a young child of four, William was sold by his owner and thus separated from his mother and two brothers for the first time.

Singleton was purchased by a Georgia widow who speculated in slaves buying people cheaply when they were young and selling them at a premium when they had reached adulthood He was given the common tasks of a slave child running errands and carrying goods Around the age of six Singleton decided to escape the constant whippings and his bondage in Georgia and return to New Bern He was able to ride a stagecoach from ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Peter Wheeler was born enslaved to unknown parents on the farm of Job Mathis, a prominent farmer and shipbuilder in Egg Harbor, a coastal shipping town in New Jersey. During a childhood spent working on Mathis's farm, Wheeler learned to read and write at a Quaker school. Although Mathis's will provided for Wheeler's emancipation, on the slaveholder's death in 1804 (the year gradual emancipation was instituted in New Jersey), his heirs sold Wheeler to the farmer Gideon Morehouse.

As a slave born before 1804 Wheeler was termed a slave for life though his master s will nullified that legal condemnation Mathis s family refused to register the emancipation Thus Wheeler was forced to migrate with Morehouse to Genoa a town in Cayuga County in Upstate New York There Morehouse became a respected citizen and a trustee of the town s Presbyterian church From his master Wheeler learned ...