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Lisa E. Rivo

quilt maker, was born a slave, probably in Georgia. Her maiden name is unknown, as are the names and occupations of her parents. As is often the case with little-known historical figures, most of the details of Powers's life have been gleaned from tax and census records. Before the Civil War, Harriet married Armstead Powers, a farmer who lived in Clarke County, Georgia. The date of their marriage is unknown, but it appears that two of the couple's children were born into slavery (Amanda in 1856 and Leon Joe in 1860) and several more were born after Emancipation (including Alonzo in 1865, Nancy in 1866, Lizzie in 1868, and Marshall in 1872). The Powerses, neither of whom could read nor write, found moderate success as farmers, and the 1870 census lists Armstead as a farmhand and Harriet as keeping house Sometime in ...

Article

Kyra E. Hicks

a slave who spent fifty years in a quest to see Queen Victoria and present her with a quilt, was born Martha Ann Erskine. Her fine sewing was displayed on three continents during her lifetime. Her parents, George and Hagar Erskine, were slaves on the George Doherty plantation in Dandridge, Tennessee. Her father was a literate and religious man, purchased in 1815 by Isaac Anderson, a Presbyterian pastor of New Providence Church in Maryville, Tennessee, who tutored him in religious studies. In 1818 Erskine, at thirty-nine years old, became one of the first ordained African American Presbyterian ministers in the United States. He worked several years as a traveling preacher to buy his wife Hagar and at least seven of their children out of slavery. In 1830, with the assistance of the American Colonization Society, founded in 1816 to transport newly freed slaves to Liberia ...

Article

John Garst

was probably born Ella Cherwiss in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was an African American woman whose death in New Orleans at age twenty-eight is the subject of the ballad “Ella Speed” (also known as “Alice B.” and “Po' Li'l Ella”). With her husband Willie Speed, she had a son and possibly other children.

For several years before her death, Ella Speed was a prostitute. In the spring of 1894, while an “inmate” at “Miss Lou” Prout's sporting house at 40 South Basin Street, a luxurious parlor house built nearly thirty years earlier for the renowned madam Kate Townsend, Speed met Louis “Bull” Martin, an Italian American born in July 1866. A short, stocky bully and small-time thug, Martin lived with his parents and worked as a bartender at Trauth's Saloon near the Dryades Street market. In August 1894 he was arrested for beating up ...