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Paul A. Frisch

, activist, inventor, and entrepreneur, was born in Virginia. It is unknown whether he was born free or enslaved. Little information about his early life and education is available. He moved to New York City and in 1873 married Henrietta (maiden name unknown), a New Yorker. The couple had no children. Ferrell reported his occupation as engineer, a term commonly used in this era for machinist, stationary engineer, or boiler tender.

During the 1880s Ferrell joined the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, the largest labor union in nineteenth-century America. After a major growth spurt in 1885–1886 the organization counted over 600 000 members The Knights were an inclusive labor organization that enrolled employers and workers excluding only lawyers bankers and liquor peddlers and unlike most such organizations of the period the Knights accepted African American members Ferrell belonged to District Assembly 49 a large politicized union that ...