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Michael P. Johnson

cotton-gin maker and planter, was born a slave in Fairfield District, South Carolina. His father was probably the planter Robert Ellison or his son William, and his mother was a slave woman whose name is unknown. Originally named April, the biracial child received exceptional treatment. His master apprenticed him to William McCreight, a white cotton-gin maker in Winnsboro. From 1802 to 1816 Ellison worked in McCreight's gin shop, learning the skills of gin making from a master craftsman. During his training, he learned reading, writing, arithmetic, and basic bookkeeping skills. He also became well versed in interracial social skills, as he met scores of planters who came to negotiate with McCreight for gins. These encounters provided him with a valuable network of strategic acquaintances and contacts. Ellison's owner, William Ellison, allowed him to work extra hours and eventually to purchase his freedom on 8 June 1816 ...