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Article

Penny Anne Welbourne

Born a slave in Rancocas, New Jersey, William Boen belonged to a Quaker master. As a young man he met and became friends with John Woolman, the Quaker minister known for his continuing efforts to end slavery. It was most likely Woolman who encouraged Boen to attend worship at the Mount Holly Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Anecdotes and Memoirs of William Boen, a Coloured Man, Who Lived and Died Near Mount Holly, New Jersey. To which is Added, The Testimony of Friends of Mount Holly Monthly Meeting Concerning Him was a memorial written by Quakers from Mount Holly for Boen, who was a member of the Society of Friends from 1814 until his death in 1824 The authors of the memorial stated that although they rarely felt called upon to record the virtues of any of this afflicted race of people they thought Boen ...

Article

Kevin D. Roberts

The demographics of African Americans in early America were influenced significantly by the transatlantic and domestic slave trades, the westward and southwestward expansion of slavery, and steadily improving rates of natural increase. From 1619, when the first Africans arrived in colonial America, to 1830, when the black enslaved population numbered 2 million, a significant social and cultural shift from African-dominated communities to native-born communities occurred.

In 1619 the demographic phenomenon that became black America began in Virginia when “twenty-odd Negroes” arrived on a Dutch sloop. Accorded the status of indentured servants, these Africans planted the roots that would later flower into thousands of black descendants. The first person of African descent to be born in the American colonies, a child named William, was born in 1624. By 1649 a census conducted in the colony enumerated three hundred people of African descent almost all of whom were ...

Article

Stacey Pamela Patton

Elleanor Eldridge was the last of seven daughters of Robin Eldridge, an African native, and Hannah Prophet, a Native American. The young Robin Eldridge was captured along with his entire family and brought to the United States to be sold as a slave. Later, in exchange for service in the American Revolution, he and his brothers were promised their freedom and two hundred acres of land. Though they were granted their freedom as promised, they were paid for their services in the worthless old continental currency and were therefore never able to claim any land. They did, however, eventually save enough money to purchase a small plot in Warwick, Rhode Island, where they built a house. Elleanor Eldridge was born free in Warwick.

When Eldridge was ten her mother died and against her father s wishes she went to work for her mother s employers Joseph and Elleanor Baker ...

Article

Toni Ahrens and Paul Finkelman

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with the emancipation of slaves from before the American Revolution through the ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 The first article discusses the various means by which African Americans could gain freedom up to 1830 while the second article provides an overview ...

Article

John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...

Article

Taunya Lovell Banks

in Massachusetts in 1781. “I heard that paper read yesterday that says, ‘all men are born equal, and that every man has a right to freedom.’ I am not a dumb critter; won’t the law give me my freedom?” According to Catherine Sedgewick, Elizabeth Freeman said this to Theodore Sedgewick, a young Massachusetts lawyer who was Catherine’s father.

Elizabeth Freeman, an enslaved black woman also known as Mum Bett (or Mumbet), was born in Claverack, New York, and sold to Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield Massachusetts She approached Theodore Sedgewick after hearing the Declaration of Independence read at the village meetinghouse in Sheffield Another account claims that Freeman overheard talk about the Massachusetts state constitutional provision while waiting on tables There is at least one possible explanation for the conflict over the legal source of Freeman s claim She may have asked about the Declaration of ...

Article

Richard S. Newman and Paul Finkelman

Fugitive, or self-emancipated, slaves ran away in every American colony and state from the beginning of bondage until the Civil War ended slavery forever. Indeed, while fugitive slaves of the colonial and early national periods remain less celebrated than such antebellum counterparts as Frederick Douglass, Henry “Box” Brown, and Harriet Jacobs they too had a significant impact on the institution of slavery From the advent of plantation slavery in British North America in the seventeenth century onward fugitive slaves were intimately connected to patterns of slave resistance and rebelliousness Colonial masters had turned to African labor because of the high incidence of escapism among both Native American laborers and indentured servants No sooner had colonial masters shifted to racial slavery than bondpeople began running away too Moreover because the line between black slavery and indentured servitude remained fluid during the first half of the seventeenth century fugitive slaves ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

In March 1780 the newly independent state of Pennsylvania passed “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.” This was the first statute in modern history (perhaps in the history of world) designed to end an existing system of slavery. At the time, every one of the thirteen states had slavery, as did every other jurisdiction in the Americas colonized or settled by Europeans. In the case of Somerest v. Stewart (1772) opponents of slavery had successfully challenged the right of a master to keep a slave in England against his will. However, at this time there was no serious movement to end slavery in the colonies.

Inspired by a combination of religious belief and Revolutionary ideology, the Pennsylvania legislature moved to end human bondage in that state. The striking preamble to the Pennsylvania act set out the goals and motivations of the legislature:

WHEN we contemplate our ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

first man to be returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was born James Hamilton Williams in Baltimore, Maryland, the slave of Mary Brown. Little is known of Hamlet's parents, but he claimed during his brief trial that he was the son of a freewoman and thus had never been a slave at all. A purported escaped slave, Hamlet left Baltimore for New York City in 1848 where he worked as a porter in the Tilton and Maloney general store Before his capture and return to slavery he lived in the city of Williamsburg present day Brooklyn with his wife and two children whose names are unknown While in Williamsburg Hamlet was an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a devoted husband and father It is not surprising that Hamlet chose New York as a safe haven for his family ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Hull was born free in Northampton, Massachusetts. In later years, according to Thomas Egleston, General Paterson's biographer, Hull would say that he was the son of an African prince. He was taken to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, when he was six years old by a black man named Joab. On 1 May 1777, when he was eighteen, he enlisted in the Massachusetts Line, the state militia, as a private. For the next two years he was Paterson's orderly, known among those with whom he served for his intelligence and wit. He was almost certainly among the more than eight hundred African Americans at the battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778, since he was serving under Paterson at the time and Paterson's brigade fought in the battle. The historian Richard S. Walling includes Hull in a list of those whose presence at the battle is probable but not ...

Article

Jews  

Paul Finkelman, Lois Kerschen, and William Pencak

[This entry contains two subentries providing an overview of the Jewish presence in colonial and early national America through the nineteenth century The first article discusses Jewish involvement in the slave trade and cultural interactions between Jews and African Americans while the second article discusses Jewish political participation and ...

Article

Kenneth R. Manning

zoologist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Charles Fraser Just, a carpenter and wharf builder, and Mary Mathews Cooper. Following his father's death in 1887, his mother moved the family to James Island, off the South Carolina coast. There she labored in phosphate mines, opened a church and a school, and mobilized farmers into a moss-curing enterprise. A dynamic community leader, she was the prime mover behind the establishment of a township—Maryville—named in her honor. Maryville served as a model for all-black town governments elsewhere.

Just attended his mother's school, the Frederick Deming Jr. Industrial School, until the age of twelve. Under her influence, he entered the teacher-training program of the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College (now South Carolina State College) in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1896. After graduating in 1899 he attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden New ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with laws and legislation from 1830 to 1895 The first article provides a discussion of the topic up to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 while the second article discusses laws and legislation during the war and after especially focusing on ...

Article

Gregory D. Smithers

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries France, Spain, Great Britain, and finally the United States colonized Louisiana and attempted to forge social and cultural systems that revolved around slavery. The administrative and imperial priorities of these countries, in addition to the racial, gender, and age structure of their respective colonial populations, influenced the types of societies to emerge in Louisiana.

The French were the first to colonize Louisiana. Their main priority was military: they were determined to prevent English expansion in North America by gaining a foothold at the mouth of the Mississippi River. French objectives were hamstrung, however, by the sparsely populated and settled nature of the colony. The 1706 census counted only eighty-five French and Canadian settlers. When John Law's Company of the West took control of Louisiana in 1717 the French population had grown to a paltry four hundred Granted a twenty five year monopoly ...

Article

Essie Manuel Rutledge

Sociologically speaking, marriage is the cornerstone of the traditional nuclear family. It is the basis for the formation of the family as an institution and as a group that contains both individuals and relationships: husband-wife, parent-child, and sibling-sibling. These relationships indicate bonds, connections, attachments, and obligations between individuals. The bonds and attachments are conjugal and consanguine, with the former based on husband-wife relationships and the latter on blood ties. But both relationships are intrinsically connected. Therefore, many of the responsibilities of the conjugal relationship are connected to the family.

Marriage in the United States is highly valued. More than 90 percent of Americans express a desire to marry at some point in their lives. This reflects the country’s Judeo-Christian ethic, which emphasizes marriage as a requirement for heterosexual sex and childbearing. But because of changing attitudes about sexuality and intimate relationships, neither sexuality nor childbearing is confined to marriage.

Black ...

Article

The first known Africans to set foot in North America arrived in the summer of 1526, when five hundred Spaniards brought along one hundred black slaves as they tried to establish a town in the Carolinas, perhaps near the mouth of the Pee Dee River. That November the slaves rebelled, killed some of their former owners, and fled to join the Native Americans. Only 150 Spaniards survived; they retreated to Santo Domingo. Like many later incidents, this event is noted little if at all on the African American history landscape, but an ever-increasing array of markers, monuments, and museum exhibits tell of African Americans in the colonial world and the first half century of American national existence.

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

African Americans played a key role in the political economy and society of the colony and state of New York from the first settlement until the abolition of slavery in 1827 and thereafter. From the original dozen or so Creole blacks from around the Atlantic basin who worked in New Amsterdam in the 1620s, the population jumped to over 430 by 1640 and to over 600 at the time of the English takeover The first African Americans cleared land built fortifications and harvested crops and they occupied a status of partial freedom Permanent slavery did not exist in New Netherland but gradually merchants artisans millers and farmers purchased enslaved Africans for much needed labor Especially among younger farm families in the rural areas free labor was rare buying a slave made good economic sense Within the official Dutch Reformed Church subcontracting the religious instruction to the head of the ...

Article

Richard S. Newman and Graham Russell Hodges

People of African descent worked a vast array of tasks, jobs, and occupations during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Both free and enslaved blacks made much of the severely limited opportunities available to them in early American culture. Enslaved people worked on both tobacco plantations and cotton fields in nineteenth-century Virginia and South Carolina, respectively, but also harvested wheat in Delaware; labored as ironworkers in Baltimore, Maryland; and mastered carpentry, blacksmithing, and masonry skills on plantations from Georgia to Texas. Free blacks in towns and cities in both northern and southern states worked a spectrum of occupations—from chimney sweep, butler, or waiter to sailmaker, barber, or minister.

The Reverend Richard Allen offers one illuminating biographical perspective on the diversity of black peoples' working lives. Although he was born a slave in 1760 Allen secured his freedom in the 1780s then became the principal founder of the African Methodist ...

Article

Paul Finkelman, Peter Hinks, and Sam Hitchmough

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with African American personal resistance to slavery violent or nonviolent legal or not and its repercussions The first article provides a discussion of resistance from the colonial period through 1830 while the second article provides a discussion the topic from the antebellum period ...

Article

Raymond Pierre Hylton

college administrator, entrepreneur, and first and sixth president of Liberia, was born either in Norfolk, Portsmouth, or Petersburg, Virginia, the son of James Roberts and Amelia (maiden name unknown). A persistent rumor that his father was an unidentified white man remains no more than mere speculation. James Roberts and his wife were freed people and had seven surviving children. The family ran a boat and trading business that plied the James River. The Robertses probably lived for a while in Norfolk and later moved to Petersburg, where Joseph alternately worked for his father and in a barbershop owned by the Reverend William Nelson Colson, an African American minister and businessman. The Colson business was located at Wythe and Sycamore streets—an historical marker indicates the actual site.

By 1829 James Roberts had died leaving considerable financial assets and property in Petersburg Joseph as the eldest child ...