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Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

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Yesenia Barragan

enslaved rebel in the province of Chocó in New Granada modern day Colombia was born in the late eighteenth century Agustina lived in the small town of Pueblo Viejo present day Tadó located south of Quibdó where she was the slave of Miguel Gómez Agustina was admired for her tremendous physical beauty and like all female slaves faced the danger of sexual assault by her master especially common among slaves who lived and worked in close quarters This was the case for Agustina who worked as a cook in addition to performing other household tasks Sometime in the late eighteenth century Agustina was raped and impregnated by Gómez Upon discovering her pregnancy Gómez demanded that Agustina abort the child immediately to avoid public scandal but she refused Abortion infanticide and refusal to abort were common forms of resistance employed by enslaved women to control their bodies and livelihoods Consequently Gómez ...

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Kathleen Sheldon

queen mother in Ghana, where she served as asantehemaa from around 1809 until about 1819, when she was removed from office after being involved in a failed rebellion against Osei Tutu Kwame. Her father was Apa Owusi, who held the position of mampon apahene, or chief of the locality of Mampon; her mother, Sewaa Awukuwa, was a member of the Asante royal family. It appears from some sources that Adoma Akosua was married to a son of Asantehene Osei Kwadwo.

When the ruling queen mother, Asantehemaa Konadu Yaadom, died in 1809, there were two women with a strong genealogical claim to succeed her. One was Konadu Yaadom’s own daughter, Yaa Dufi, and the other was Adoma Akosua. Adoma Akosua was a matrilateral cousin of Asantehene Osei Tutu Kwame (their mothers were sisters); as such she was eligible to be named asantehemaa and she was selected for ...

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Darshell Silva

oral historian and centenarian, was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents who were slaves brought to the United States from Barbados. She was moved to Dunk's Ferry in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, when she was ten years old to be with her master, of whom no information is available. There Alice lived as a slave, collecting ferry fares for forty years of her life.

Alice was a spirited and intelligent woman. She loved to hear the Bible read to her, but like most other enslaved people she could not read or write. She also held the truth in high esteem and was considered trustworthy. Her reliable memory served her well throughout her long life.

Many notable people of the time are said to have made her acquaintance like Thomas Story founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane which was the precursor to ...

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Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mount Vernell Allen Jr., a principal in the Detroit public school system, and Barbara Jean Allen, a defense contract administrator for the federal government. She began studying classical piano at age seven but was also exposed to jazz at an early age. She met the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave when he was an artist-in-residence at her high school, Cass Technical; she studied jazz piano with him, and he became an important mentor, appearing on several of her later recordings. Allen also studied at the Jazz Development Workshop, a community-based organization.

After graduating from high school, Allen attended Howard University, where she was captivated by the music of Thelonious Monk and studied with John Malachi. In 1979 she earned a BA in Jazz Studies and taught briefly at Howard before moving to New York City where she ...

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Juan Navarrete

black slave of the Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro, who led an expedition to Chile, was reportedly born in 1498. Her place of birth is unknown, but the first archival notices of her date from 1523 when Antón Palma, a resident of Seville, purchased a pregnant slave woman named Malgarida for 12,000 maravedies from the artisan Juan Fiuco. In Seville in 1526, Francisco Díaz Sahagún committed to paying twelve gold ducats to a Genoese traveler to transport this slave woman to the Indies, where Malgarida was acquired by Diego de Almagro, probably in Panama, for the purpose of caring for his son, Diego.

Twenty years younger than her master, Malgarida was known to be profoundly beautiful, and she and Almagro reportedly became lovers. He brought her with him to Peru, and from there to Chile in 1535 as part of the first European expedition to the region ...

Article

Amina  

LaRay Denzer

sarauniya (queen) of Zazzau (present-day Zaria, Nigeria), was the legendary warrior and state builder who established the kingdom of Zazzau as a major Hausa state in the sixteenth century. Also known as Aminatu, she may have been born about 1533, but this is uncertain. She was the eldest daughter of Bakwa Turunku, the twenty-second sarki (ruler) of Zazzau (now Zaria). There are conflicting accounts about the gender of this ruler. Historian Abubakr Saʾad believes that she was a woman and argues that she very likely was the sarauniya of Kufena, the predecessor kingdom to Zazzau. Among the estates under her authority was Turunku. When an interregnum occurred, she was either appointed ruler or seized control of Kufena and in 1537 moved her capital to Zazzau which she named after her second daughter to secure land for expansion and better water supplies Her reign was mostly peaceful except for ...

Article

Nathalie Pierre

also known as Anacaona Fleur d’Or (gold flower), a Taíno cacique (leader), religious expert, and poet. She was born in Yaguana (now Léogane in the Republic of Haiti), the capital of the Xaraguá cacicagzo (territory of a cacique) on the Caribbean island of Ayiti (now Hispaniola). The Taíno people called the entire island Ayiti, which means “land of mountains” or “rough hill.” As she was a member of an elite family, it was important that Anacaona become a specialist in cemí interpretation.

Cemís are portable religious objects that represent supernatural entities, particularly ancestors who could intervene on behalf of their living descendants. Human political power could be enhanced through the deployment of cemí icons. To reveal the deity’s personhood, a specialized practitioner, like Anacaona, would conduct religious ceremonies. These ceremonies involved singing accompanied by tambourine music, and Anacaona would recite areytos a form of poetry that detailed ...

Article

Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, educator, and community worker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest daughter of the abolitionist movement leaders William Still and Letitia George Still. In 1850William Still became the head of the Philadelphia Underground Railroad and Vigilance Committee. He would later chronicle his experiences in the best-selling 1872 account, The Underground Railroad.

After completing primary and secondary education at Mrs. Henry Gordon's Private School, the Friends Raspberry Alley School, and the Institute for Colored Youth, Anderson entered Oberlin College. Although she was the youngest member of the graduating class of 1868, Anderson presided over the annual Ladies' Literary Society, a singular honor that had never been awarded to a student of African ancestry.

After graduating from Oberlin, Anderson returned home to teach drawing and elocution, and on 28 December 1869 she married Edward A. Wiley a former slave and fellow ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

multi‐instrumental musician, teacher, and orchestra conductor, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some sources give her birth year as 1885; however, according to U.S. census data, it was most likely 1882. Her mother, Betty Anderson, was born March 1849 in Virginia. Little is known about Hallie Anderson's father except that he was also a Virginia native. When Hallie was three, the family migrated to New York City. As a child, Hallie took public school and private music lessons. She received classical training at the New York German Conservatory of Music. Although it did not record her occupation, the 1900 census noted that Hallie's mother was a widow who could neither read nor write, and who had seven living children. Betty Anderson was then living with three of her children, all of whom could read and write: Charles (born Sept. 1872), a waiter; John ...

Article

Marcelo Ahumada

enslaved woman in Santiago del Estero, a province in northeastern Argentina, accused and condemned together with her mother, Simona, and one of her sisters for practicing witchcraft. María, another of her sisters, managed to evade legal prosecution. Antonia was, along with the rest of her family, a slave of Don Antonio de Luna y Cárdenas. She was freed after his death, at some point before March 1725, when a judicial proceeding was initiated against her for homicide resulting from enchantment and witchcraft. Within a short period, Antonia’s sister was burned to death for these alleged crimes, while their mother, Simona, managed to escape. Though Antonia was condemned to death on six charges of murder, evidence suggests that she managed to avoid the punishment, and her ultimate fate remains unknown.

The judge in the case López Caballero made statements that noted his prior familiarity with Antonia and the alleged infamy ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a teacher who opened the public schools of Philadelphia to children of color, and was the city's first school principal of African descent, was born Cordelia A. Jennings in New York City, the oldest child of a Scottish father, whose first name has not been published, but is recalled by descendants as William, and Mary McFarland Jennings, a school teacher born in Virginia.

In 1850, at the age of seven, Jennings was living in Philadelphia with her mother, sister Caroline, brother William, and brother Mifflin, and an older person named Annie Meda in a racially mixed neighborhood populated by shoemakers turners and carvers of known African descent as well as cooks and blacksmiths listed as white in the federal census Since Mifflin the youngest child was two years old the family had evidently lost their husband and father only recently Mifflin was also the only child ...

Article

James Chrismer

evangelist and African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, was born a freewoman near Havre de Grace, Harford County, Maryland. One of seven children of William and Harriet Lego Cole, she was descended from a family that included a Native American maternal great-grandmother married to an Englishman, a maternal grandfather born in Guinea, and a paternal grandmother reputedly freed from slavery by a Baltimore court after enduring an unwarranted and savage beating while pregnant. In October 1845, when she was sixteen years of age, Harriet married William Baker, ten years her senior and a slave on the Edward Gallop plantation in Michaelsville, a nearby Maryland hamlet.

In 1847 when the couple learned of Gallop s plan to sell William to a slave dealer in Georgia they fled north with their infant daughter After a forty eight mile flight along the western bank of the Susquehanna River they crossed ...

Article

Briallen Hopper

educator, lecturer, and activist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the oldest daughter of Peter L. Baldwin, a Haitian mariner who became a Boston postman, and Mary E. Baldwin, a Baltimore native whose maiden name is now unknown. Baldwin was educated in Cambridge public schools, attending Sargent Primary School, Allston Grammar School, and Cambridge High School. After graduating from high school in 1874 she attended the Cambridge Teachers' Training School. Initially refused a job by the Cambridge school district, she looked elsewhere for employment and eventually took a position teaching elementary school in Chestertown, Maryland. Within a few years, however, she was back in Cambridge. Reportedly under pressure from the African American community, the Cambridge school district decided to offer her a job. In 1881 Baldwin accepted a teaching position at the Agassiz Grammar School on Oxford Street where she would spend the remainder of ...

Article

Sharon E. Wood

former slave, entrepreneur, steamboat worker, nurse, and church founder, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1801 or 1804. Although her father was a white man and also her master, his name is unknown. Her mother, Lydia, was his slave. While she was still a child, Baltimore's father sold her to a trader who carried her to the St. Louis area. Over the next few years, she passed among several masters, including the New Orleans judge Joachim Bermudez, working as a house servant for French, Spanish, and Anglo-American households in Louisiana and eastern Missouri.

In New Orleans Baltimore joined the Methodist Church Her piety so impressed one preacher that he purchased her then allowed her to hire her own time and buy her freedom Baltimore worked as a chambermaid on steamboats and as a lying in nurse According to tradition it took her seven years to earn the ...

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Eduardo R. Palermo

was born in Africa in the mid-eighteenth century and brought to the River Plate region as a slave at an unknown date. After she was freed and purchased her own land, Barberá donated her property for the establishment of Tacuarembó, a city in northern Uruguay, in 1832. The donation represents the only documented case of a person of African descent contributing land for the subsequent founding of a town or city.

The existing historical record refers to Barberá as a freedwoman or “morena libre.” Until the late 1790s, she is registered as residing in rural northern Uruguay, with the respective landowner’s permission. She settled at the intersection of the Tranqueras and Tacuarembó Chico rivers, a site that became known among locals as “el rincón de Tía Ana” (Aunt Ana’s Corner). In July 1804 in Montevideo Barberá signed a commitment to officially purchase the plot of land with an ...

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Patricia Reid-Merritt

social activist and spiritual adviser, was born Willie Taplin in the small rural town of Burton, Texas, the daughter of Nelson Taplin, a Baptist preacher, and Octavia, a Methodist congregant. A member of a large extended family, Barrow fondly recalled an upbringing steeped in strict traditional family values and old-time southern religion. She lived with her parents, six siblings, both sets of grandparents, and a great-grandmother in the family home, and they were sometimes joined by a cousin or two in need of temporary housing. The family lived together, worked together, and went to church together. Although they had limited economic resources, they grew the food that they needed on the family farm, and though she came to understand the family's poverty in later years, Barrow said that she never knew hunger as a child.

Barrow discovered her activist voice and spirit early in life Under the state sponsored ...

Article

an African woman enslaved in Bermuda in the sixteenth century, was the grandmother of a young woman named Beck, who was enslaved by Thomas and Sarah Foster. Bassett was convicted of attempting to kill both the Fosters and their enslaved domestic woman Nancy (spelled by some sources as Nancey), by poison, in June 1730. Her story significantly chronicles how African communities, and black women in particular, resisted slavery in Bermuda and the wider Americas. In 2008, Bermuda’s Progressive Labour Party government erected a monument, “The Spirit of Freedom,” to honor Bassett’s fight against slavery. This launched a racially polarized debate about race and the memory of slavery in Bermuda.

During her trial it was claimed that Bassett gave Beck several types of poison including ratsbane white toad and manchineel root along with specific instructions on how to apply them one as a powdered inhalant the other to be ...

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Tonia M. Compton

Catholic nun, was born Mathilda Taylor in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Caroline Taylor, a slave owned by James C. Taylor, whose surname he gave to his slaves. Her father, whose name is not known, was Native American. Little is known about Mathilda's early years, except that she learned to read and write and that she somehow received her freedom and moved to Savannah. There she began operating a secret school for African American children in the late 1850s, an enterprise for which she risked imprisonment because state laws prohibited education for blacks.

Taylor supported herself by working a variety of jobs in Savannah. In the 1860s she was employed at the Railroad House, a restaurant owned by Abraham Beasley, a prosperous free black man. In 1869 she married Beasley His ventures included a produce market a saloon a boardinghouse and at times the slave trade The two ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Dona Beatrice was born Kimpa Vita in the Kongo kingdom (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Congo Kinshasa). As a young woman, Vita (later baptized Beatrice and known as Dona Beatrice) led a religious movement to restore the empire to its former glory during a period of instability and fragmentation within the Kongo kingdom. Beatrice began her movement, later called Antonianism, in 1704, when she claimed to have had a near-death vision of Saint Anthony. She said the popular Portuguese saint appeared to her as an African, after which she died and came back to life as the saint. Soon afterward she began preaching a religious message that combined an anti-Catholic Christianity with Kongo culture, through which she hoped to reunite the Kongo kingdom.

Within months Beatrice established a church in the Kongo capital of São Salvador Although based on Christian theology Beatrice preached that the founders ...