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Brad S. Born

Benjamin Banneker was born 9 November 1731in Baltimore County, Maryland, the first child of free African American parents Mary Banneker and Robert, a former slave whose freedom she had purchased and who took her surname upon marriage. Growing up on their tobacco farm, Benjamin received little formal schooling, learning to read and write from his grandmother and attending for several seasons an interracial school where he first developed his lifelong interest in mathematics. Following his parents’ deaths and three sisters’ departures from home, Banneker remained on the farm, working the crops and cultivating his intellect in relative seclusion.

In 1771, he befriended George Ellicott a Quaker neighbor whose family had developed a large complex of mills on the adjoining property With astronomical texts and instruments borrowed from Ellicott he trained himself to calculate ephemerides tables establishing the positioning of the sun moon and stars for each day ...

Article

Christopher Campbell

London‐born poet, printer, visionary, and ‘prophet against empire’. Over the course of his lifetime Blake confronted the horrors of slavery through his literary and pictorial art. He was able both to counter pro‐slavery propaganda and to complicate typical abolitionist verse and sentiment with a profound and unique exploration of the effects of enslavement and the varied processes of empire.

Blake's poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ from Songs of Innocence (1789 examines the mind forg d manacles of racial constructions in the minds of individuals both in the poem itself in the form of the black child and his white counterpart and also in the minds of those involved in the political dispute over abolition Seeming to explain a desire for racial acceptance and spiritual purity through assimilation into white British society and seeming also to be endorsing conventional assumptions of white racial superiority the poem ...

Article

Sam Hitchmough

George Gordon Noel Byron was born in London, England, with a club foot, a deformity that is thought to have affected his personality, particularly his attitudes to certain issues such as those confronting the disadvantaged and the oppressed. His contemporaries included another famous poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, with whom he formed a close friendship. Byron's principal works include Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812–1818), a lengthy narrative poem, and the epic poem Don Juan (1819–1824). The Byronic hero was a central figure in the poet's work, a romanticized and idealized rebel who often opposed or resisted the prevailing social and religious institutions. Dying as a participant in the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire, Byron became a poet much admired by many in the American abolitionist movement. Frederick Douglass often referred to and quoted from Byron in his speeches urging resistance to the ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Domingos Caldas Barbosa was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to a white father, Antonio de Caldas Barbosa, and a black mother, whose identity remains unknown. From an early age Caldas received a Jesuit education. He showed a predilection for poetry and musical composition.

While still a young man Caldas was drafted into the military and sent to serve in the Portuguese colony of Sacramento on the Rio de la Plata. Subsequently, Caldas obtained his discharge, returned home to Brazil, and then boarded a ship bound for Portugal. He arrived in Lisbon in 1763 and shortly thereafter enrolled at the University of Coimbra. It is unclear at what point Caldas's university studies were discontinued, but author Jane M. Malinoff asserts that the young poet took leave shortly after learning of his father s death Unable to independently support the cost of his education Caldas recalled ...

Article

Christopher Campbell

Northamptonshirepoet and labourer whose support for the Anti‐Slavery Movement was consistent with his consideration for the plight of the disfranchised within society. He corresponded with the literary editor and publisher Thomas Pringle secretary of the Anti Slavery Society on the subject of the colonial trade in trafficking humans I have a feeling on the broad principle of common humanity that slavery is not only impiety but disgracful to a country professing religion and there is evidence to suggest that Clare considered contributing to poetic anthologies on the subject He later utilized the language of abolition to describe his own wretched state in the asylum which he termed a slave ship from Africa While Clare expresses little condemnation for the machinery of imperialism as a system in the Blakean sense his account of meeting a black beggar outside St Paul s Cathedral London and his resolve to return with ...

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David Dabydeen

Englishpoet who wrote and lectured against slavery. Coleridge's first major poem was a Greek ode against the slave trade, which won him the Browne Gold Medal at Cambridge University. He was to write, ‘my Greek ode is, I think, my chef d’œuvre in poetical composition'. Coleridge was inspired by the anti‐slavery writings of Thomas Clarkson, and in the 1790s, along with his friend and fellow poet Robert Southey, began campaigning against the slave trade. During this period Coleridge actively lectured around England, particularly in the West Country and in Bristol, where he received his first audience. When Coleridge and Southey lived at Upper College Street, Bristol, in 1795 they were surrounded by neighbours who had either had significant seafaring careers or had been captains of slave ships One of them for instance was the captain of a ship that was bound for the Jamaican sugar ...

Article

W. Farrell O'Gorman

author, teacher, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boardinghouse owner who was known as an avid reader, and Martha Vaughn. Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African heritage. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught her son to read and enrolled him in school. When he was eight, however, economic necessity forced him to drop out of school to begin work at various jobs, first in a brickyard, then in a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter's life.

The friendship of the prominent black Louisville educator William T. Peyton who sensed Cotter ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Englishpoet who lent his pen to the anti‐slavery cause. Cowper was a supporter of international commerce, which he saw, idealistically, as the means by which mankind could share in God's bounty. In his poem Charity (1782), trade is described as ‘the golden girdle of the globe’, and Cowper writes of the ‘genial intercourse’ between nations effected by 18th‐century mercantile activity. The slave trader, however, betrays the principle of mutuality underpinning international commerce and brings shame to a Christian nation such as Great Britain (‘Canst thou, and honour'd with a Christian name | Buy what is woman‐born, and feel no shame?’). Religion apart, the slave trader also betrays the spirit of the age, its growing championing of liberty. To Cowper, the existence of slavery calls into question the very nature of humanity:

Then what is man? And what man, seeing this

And having human feelings does not blush ...

Article

Nicola Cooney

Born in São José do Rio das Mortes (now Tiradentes), Brazil, of noble ancestors, José Basílio da Gama was orphaned at an early age. With the help of a benefactor, he was sent to the Jesuit College in Rio de Janeiro. The Jesuits were considered too independent by the Church in Rome and were being expelled from Brazil and Portugal. Their expulsion in 1759 interrupted Gama's studies at the Jesuit College, but he continued at the São José Episcopal Seminary.

Gama next moved to Italy and Portugal, where he lived and studied from 1760 to 1767. In Rome, he was accepted in the Arcadia Romana, home of the Arcadian movement in neoclassical literature, whose writers were particularly interested in exploring pastoral settings. The Arcadia Romana, founded in Rome in 1690, gave Gama protection from persecution and allowed him to write under the pseudonym Termindo Sipílio ...

Article

Wallace Hettle

sailor, poet, Civil War soldier, and newspaper correspondent, first appears in the historical record in 1856 as a nineteen-year-old sailor on a whaling vessel out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. His birthplace is uncertain. His marriage certificate and seaman's papers say he was born in Troy, New York, yet no Gooding family appears in the census records for Troy. In Seneca, New York, a state census in 1850 records the presence of a James Goodin (with no final g who might have been Gooding s father and who probably worked as a rail or canal laborer in upstate New York Whatever Gooding s early background his education whether self directed or formal was exceptional The letters he published during the Civil War reveal his grounding in history and the classics If he did grow up in Troy Gooding received the benefits of membership in a black community ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Dear Master, I will follow thee,

According to thy word,

And pray that God may be with me,

And save thee in the Lord.

This stanza is from Jupiter Hammon's poem “A Dialogue Entitled the Kind Master and the Dutiful Servant,” published in 1786, when Hammon was in his seventies. Hammon had been a slave his entire life, and had served several generations of the Lloyd family on Long Island, New York. Many of his writings neither condemn, nor even mention, slavery; instead, they praise Christianity in the same manner as the evangelical hymns that were his models. But even when his words were not deliberately radical, they represented a radical act—Hammon became the first known African American to publish a piece of literature.

Hammon s owners were wealthy and the few records of his life with them indicate that he was a favorite servant who worked as a ...

Article

Sondra O’Neale

Jupiter Hammon gave birth to formal African American literature with the publication of An Evening Thought, Salvation, by Christ, with Penitential Cries (1760). Hammon was born on 17 October 1711 at the Lloyd plantation in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. He was almost fifty years old when he published his first poem, “Salvation Comes by Christ Alone,” on 25 December 1760.

Hammon was a slave to the wealthy Lloyd family. It is evident that he received some education, and he was entrusted with the family's local savings and worked as a clerk in their business. There is no record of his having a wife or child.

By the time he was eighty, Hammon had published at least three other poems— “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly [sic], Ethiopian Poetess”, “A Poem for Children with Thoughts of Death”, and A Dialogue Entitled the Kind ...

Article

David N. Gellman

In 1760 Jupiter Hammon became the first published African American poet. Over the next three decades Hammon's small assortment of published prose and poetry made him a literary pioneer. The native of Long Island, New York, explored themes and styles that would define African American literature from the American Revolution to the Civil War. His reputation has long been obscured by that of his more famous contemporary, Phillis Wheatley. Nonetheless, Hammon's work addresses crucial themes concerning religion, slavery, and African American literary self-expression.

Hammon spent his entire life as a slave He was the property of the Lloyds a wealthy merchant family that maintained an estate on the northern coast of Long Island Slaves were among the cargo the Lloyds carried between the West Indies and the Atlantic coast One scholar suggests that Hammon was the son of two Lloyd family slaves Rose whom the Lloyds had acquired from ...

Article

Joan R. Sherman

The “Colored Bard of North Carolina” was the only man to publish volumes of poetry while in bondage and the first African American to publish any book in the South. Born on the tobacco farm of William Horton in Northampton County, North Carolina, George Moses Horton moved with his master to Chatham and worked as a “cow-boy” and farm laborer throughout his teens. During these years he taught himself to read—he could not write until 1832—and began composing verses and hymns in his head. From about 1817 Horton took weekly Sabbath walks of eight miles to the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina to sell fruit soon winning the students admiration by composing love lyrics and acrostics to order He sold a dozen poems a week dictating them to the collegians who furthered their bard s education by giving him books of poetry geography history ...

Article

Vincent Freimarck

Horton, George Moses (1797?–1883?), poet, was born a slave in Northampton County, North Carolina, and grew up on a Chatham County plantation. He composed poems before teaching himself to read and, much later, learning to write. While selling vegetables in nearby Chapel Hill he also sold verses, often dictating to University of North Carolina students love lyrics ordered for girl friends. With fees from such commissions and from domestic work, he paid his second and third owners—son and grandson respectively of his original owner—to permit him to live mostly in Chapel Hill, where he became a legendary figure.

In 1828 two of Horton’s antislavery poems appeared in the Massachusetts weekly Lancaster Gazette through the encouragement of Caroline Lee Hentz, a professor’s wife. The first antislavery works by a slave ever published, they were included in a book of twenty-one poems by Horton, The Hope of Liberty ...

Article

Joan R. Sherman

poet, was born in Northampton County, North Carolina, a slave of William Horton; the names of his parents are unknown. As a boy he moved with his master's household to Chatham County, where he tended cows on the farm. Horton's teenage pleasures, he later wrote, were “singing lively tunes” and “hearing people read” (Horton, iv), and he taught himself to read, first learning the alphabet from an old spelling book. He acquired an extraordinary vocabulary and the forms, topics, and styles of his verse from reading the New Testament, Wesley's hymnal, and books given to him by University of North Carolina (UNC) students.

In his early twenties, now the slave of William's son, James Horton, George avoided the manual labor he disliked by walking eight miles from the farm to Chapel Hill on weekends to sell fruit and his poems. From about 1830 on he hired ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

George Moses Horton, who was enslaved for most of his life, has been called the first professional black poet in America. Even as a slave, Horton made money by composing poems for students at the University of North Carolina and became the first African American in the South to publish a book, receiving local fame as “The Colored Bard of North Carolina.” But Horton's creative potential was continually frustrated by the limits on his freedom.

Horton was the property of three generations of the same North Carolina family before Emancipation in 1865. He had no formal education, but began creating poetry by composing verses in his head. His earliest patrons, university students, commissioned him to compose love poems for their sweethearts. Horton had not yet learned to write, but he dictated, the students transcribed, and he was paid in money and books.

Horton s talents were eventually noticed by ...

Article

Roy E. Finkenbine

Born into bondage in Northampton County, North Carolina, George Moses Horton was the sixth of ten children by different fathers born to his mother, a slave of the tobacco farmer William Horton. When he was about three, his master moved to nearby Chatham County. His early years were spent tending cattle on the farm there, although he gained a reputation for his composition of “lively tunes.” He continued to be the property of various members of the Horton family until the Civil War.

After reaching adulthood Horton enjoyed unusual freedom of movement often walking the eight miles to nearby Chapel Hill He became a regular visitor at the University of North Carolina and was befriended by both university officials and students who viewed his oratorical acrostic and rhyming skills as a curiosity They paid him to compose poems often on matters of romance or current affairs Soon Caroline Lee ...

Article

Caryn Cossé Bell

writer, civil rights activist, and educator, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nothing is known of his personal life except that he married and had five children, four sons and a daughter. A brother, Numa Lanusse, also displayed considerable literary talent until his death at the age of twenty-six in a riding accident.

In New Orleans, the nation's nineteenth-century “Creole capital,” Lanusse belonged to a resident coterie of French-speaking Romantic writers whose ranks were reinforced by political refugees of revolutionary upheaval in France and the French Caribbean. Intensely hostile to Louisiana's slave-based racial hierarchy and inspired by the Romantic idealism of the democratic age, Lanusse joined with the native and émigré literati to press for change. In 1843 he played a leading role in the publication of a short-lived, interracial literary journal, L'album littéraire: Journal des jeunes gens, amateurs de littérature which began as a ...

Article

Jennifer Larson

politician, poet, journalist, and activist, was born in rural Kalkaska, Illinois, to French Creole parents who had traveled up the Mississippi River to escape oppression in Louisiana. Only scattered details about Menard's early life in Illinois remain. He likely spent part of his youth working on area farms before attending an abolitionist preparatory school in Sparta, Illinois. He also attended Iberia College (later Ohio Central College) in his early twenties, though he did not complete a degree there, presumably because of financial setbacks.

In 1859 Menard spoke to a crowd gathered at the Illinois state fairgrounds to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. The Illinois State Journal s laudatory coverage of the speech points to Menard s budding career in social activism A year later in response to growing racial discrimination in the Illinois legislature Menard published An Address to the Free ...