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Article

Aaron  

Laura Murphy

a former Virginia slave who became an antislavery lecturer, used no last name. Almost nothing is known about him outside of the record contained in his episodic, forty-eight page memoir. He did not provide any information about his parents other than that “hard work and hard usage … killed them.” (Light and Truth 6 He recorded that he had lived in Maryland and Kentucky but that for most of his time as a slave he lived in Virginia owned by a master with seven other slaves three of whom were female Aaron s owner proved especially cruel preferring to personally punish his slaves rather than send them out for a whipping During the summer he forced his three female slaves to work all day and then spend the entire night cooling him and his family with fans while they slept Aaron was forbidden to go to church although ...

Article

Patrick Brode

fugitive slave and abolitionist, was originally named Jack Burton after his enslaver, a Missouri planter. His parents are unknown. Raised in his master's household, Anderson (the name he used in later life) eventually supervised other slaves and farmed his own small plot. In 1850 he married Maria Tomlin, a fellow slave from a nearby farm, and devoted himself to buying their freedom. In the meantime he had become accustomed to visiting Maria at her plantation and was growing impatient with the restrictions of slavery. His master tried to curb his wandering, but Anderson refused to submit to the lash. When this resulted in his sale to a planter on the far side of the Missouri River, Anderson resolved to run off.

On 3 September 1853 the third day of his escape he encountered a planter Seneca Digges and four of his slaves By Missouri law Digges had the ...

Article

Mary Karasch

author of an exceptional English-language slave narrative about enslavement in West Africa and Brazil in the nineteenth century, was, according to his own account, born to a Muslim merchant family in “Zoogoo” (Djougou), Benin, an important commercial town, likely in the 1820s.

Baquaqua s letters and biography trace his journey from his homeland in the interior to the coastal kingdom of Dahomey then via the slave trade to Brazil Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro with continued travels to New York City Boston Haiti upstate New York Canada and Liverpool England Baquaqua is also notable for making the cultural transition from being a Dendi speaking Muslim who had studied at a Qur anic school and knew some Arabic to that of a Portuguese speaking slave in Brazil then to a free Baptist convert in Creole speaking Haiti and finally to an English speaking supporter of abolitionists in North America and England ...

Article

Mohammah Baquaqua was born in 1824 in Zoogoo, (probably a small village in present-day Angola) in central Africa, to a fairly prosperous family. He was raised in an Islamic household and was sent by his father to the local mosque to study the Qur'an (Koran), the sacred text central to Islamic worship. Unsatisfied with school, he left to learn the trade of making needles and knives with his uncle in another village. Baquaqua was captured and enslaved after a struggle for the succession of the local throne. His brother managed to find someone who was able to purchase Baquaqua's freedom. Baquaqua returned to his hometown and became a bodyguard to the local king, where he noted the corruption of the royal armed forces that looted the citizens of the city.

A group of individuals apparently envious of his close association with the king engineered Baquaqua s capture and ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

writer and escaped slave, was born probably in 1824 in the town of Djougou located in what is now northern Benin Djougou was an important trading town with close commercial connections to the kingdom of Dahomey to the south and the sultanate of Nupe to the east Baquaqua s family which spoke Dendi as their first language was deeply involved in long distance trade His mother was originally from the Hausa speaking town of Katsina far to the east of Djougou while his father claimed Arab descent He probably spoke Hausa as well as the Arabic he learned in qurʾanic school Baquaqua traveled on caravans to the east and west of Djougou at the behest of his father However he did not want to follow his father s wish that he become a Muslim scholar so he stayed with one of his maternal uncles a well connected Hausa trader ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, was born in Muskegon, Michigan, to Ezra Douglas and Natalie VanArsdale Bell. As a youngster, Bell was such a committed reader that visits to the library were withheld from him as punishment for misbehaving. His love for reading served him well throughout his life.

Bell enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 and remained in the service until 1970, after which he attended the University of Michigan for a year. After relocating to New York, he attended Hofstra University for free because he worked as a custodian, maintaining classrooms in 1970. Applying those same principles of hard work in exchange for opportunity, he joined the staff at Newsday and worked his way up from custodian to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. According to a biography written for the Pulitzer Prize award book, he held many positions in the Newsday organization including porter clerk ...

Article

Adam Jones

traveler and writer from what is now southern Ghana, was born c. 1827 in or near the Asante capital of Kumasi. In contemporary documents, his name often appears as Aquassie Boachi. His father Kwaku Dua (c.1797–1867) was Asantehene (King of Asante) from 1834 to 1867. According to the “History of Ashanti,” prepared in the mid-twentieth century under the chairmanship of Asantehene Prempeh II (1892–1970), Kwasi Boakye belonged to the village of Atomfuo, 8 miles (13 km) east of Kumasi. This suggests that on his mother’s side he came from the lineage of royal blacksmiths, which may explain why, in 1837 in accordance with his father s wishes he and a close relative of the same age Kwame Poku were chosen to accompany a Dutch embassy under Major General Jan Verveer on its return to Elmina on the coast They were subsequently brought to ...

Article

Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman

escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

Henry “Box” Brown was born a slave in Louisa County, Virginia, probably around 1815. By 1830 he was living in Richmond, where his master hired him out to work in a tobacco factory. Around 1836, when he would have been about twenty-one, Brown married a slave named Nancy, who was owned by a bank clerk. The owner promised not to sell Nancy but soon did so anyway. She was later resold to a Mr. Cottrell, who persuaded Brown to give him fifty dollars of the purchase price. Cottrell also promised never to sell Nancy, but in 1848 he sold her, and her children with Henry, to slave traders, who removed them from the state. Brown pleaded with his own master to buy Nancy and the children. As Brown wrote in his autobiography, “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away from him as ...

Article

Ana Raquel Fernandes

Prominent 19th‐century African‐American abolitionist who escaped to England. Brown was born into slavery on a plantation in Richmond, Virginia. After having been forcibly separated from his wife and children, Brown and a white friend, Samuel A. Smith, conceived an ingenious plan for his escape from slavery. In March 1848 Brown hid in a wooden crate supposedly containing dry goods, and had himself shipped via the Adams Express Company to William H. Johnson, an abolitionist sympathizer. Having arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a free state, Brown claimed his freedom and thereafter took the name ‘Box’ as his own. With the help of anti‐slavery friends, he became an abolitionist lecturer and author. In 1849Charles Stearns wrote and published ‘Box’ Brown's narrative of his daring escape. A year later, however, with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 fearing possible capture and return to slavery Brown fled instead ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Born a slave in Richmond, Virginia, Henry Brown labored on a plantation before going to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, under a master who was regarded as relatively benevolent. Although he later described his life in enslavement as tolerable, Brown decided to escape in 1848 when his wife, Nancy, and their three children were sold away from him. He devised an ingenious plan, which he maintained was divinely inspired.

In March 1849 Brown had a white friend, Samuel A. Smith, package him in a wooden box and ship him by Adams Express to antislavery headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the twenty-seven-hour journey, Brown spent much of the time on his head, as he was transferred back and forth from wagons, trains, and steamboats. An astonished group of abolitionists “received” him once he arrived in Philadelphia.

Antislavery groups helped Brown relocate, first to Boston, Massachusetts ...

Article

F. N. Boney

fugitive slave and slave narrative author, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of slaves Joe and Nancy. For most of his life as a slave he was called Fed or Benford. When he was about ten years old he and his mother were moved to nearby Northampton County, North Carolina. Eighteen months later he was sold alone and sent to Georgia, never again to see any of his kinfolk.

Bought by the ambitious and quick-tempered Thomas Stevens, Fed grew to maturity on a farm in central Georgia near the state capital at Milledgeville. Stevens drove his slaves hard, often employing whippings and other brutal punishments. Gradually Stevens accumulated much land and more than twenty slaves, becoming a “planter” by federal census standards. In the 1820s Stevens expanded his family enterprises into DeKalb County near Cherokee territory in northwestern Georgia and when these Indians were driven west ...

Article

F. N. Boney

Brown, John (1810?–1876), field hand and author, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of slaves Joe and Nancy. For most of his life as a slave he was called Fed or Benford. At around age ten he and his mother were moved to nearby Northampton County, North Carolina; eighteen months later he was sold alone and sent to Georgia, never again to see any of his kinfolk.

Bought by ambitious quick tempered Thomas Stevens Fed grew to maturity on a farm in central Georgia near the state capital at Milledgeville Stevens drove his slaves hard often employing whippings and other brutal punishments Gradually he accumulated much land and more than twenty slaves becoming a planter by federal census standards In the 1820s Stevens expanded his family enterprises into DeKalb County near Cherokee territory in northwestern Georgia and when these Indians were driven west in the ...

Article

Diane Mutti Burke

author of a slave narrative, was born to slave parents in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The Lemuel Bruce family, including Pettis and Rebecca (Bruce) Perkinson, owned Henry Bruce and his mother and siblings. Bruce's many siblings included his younger brother, Blanche Kelso Bruce, the senator from Mississippi from 1875 to 1881.

Bruce spent most of his early childhood years on plantations and farms in Virginia, Missouri, and—briefly—Mississippi. Pettis Perkinson brought Bruce, his mother, and siblings back to Chariton County, Missouri, where he permanently settled in 1850 From the age of nine Bruce was frequently hired out to other employers in the community and worked at a variety of occupations including brick making tobacco manufacturing and general farm labor Bruce had a self described desire to learn and was taught to read by his young owner and playmate William Perkinson The older Bruce children taught their younger siblings ...

Article

Andre D. Vann

singer, writer, and socialite, was born Maria Hawkins in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Mingo Hawkins, was a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, which at the time was considered a prestigious position for an African American; her mother, Carol Saunders, was from Bermuda. Maria was born the second of three daughters, and when she was only two years old her mother died while giving birth to her youngest sister, Carol. Immediately all three girls were sent to live with their father's sister, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who was the founder and president of the Palmer Memorial Institute, the nation's most distinguished finishing school for blacks. There Cole was exposed to the likes of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary McCleod Bethune, and even Eleanor Roosevelt, among other noteworthy guests.

As a student at the Palmer Memorial Institute Cole ...

Article

Zoe Trodd

Article

Malini Johar Schueller

author, runaway slave, traveler, and public speaker, was born a slave in 1827 or 1828 in New Orleans. No information is available about his parents except that they were presumably of mixed-racial heritage because Dorr referred to himself as a “quadroon” and was light enough to pass for white. His owner was Cornelius Fellowes, a lawyer, with whom Dorr traveled around Europe and the Near East from 1851 to 1854. Fellowes promised to manumit Dorr upon their return to the United States but reneged on his promise, at which time Dorr escaped to Cleveland. There he decided to publish an account of his travels based upon the diary he had kept. In 1858 his book A Colored Man Round the World was privately printed and attracted enough attention to be reviewed in a number of important Cleveland newspapers.

A Colored Man Round the World ...

Article

Mark G. Emerson

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Charles Remond Douglass was the third and youngest son of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass. Named for his father's friend and fellow black antislavery speaker Charles Lenox Remond, Charles attended the public schools in Rochester, New York, where the family moved in late 1847. As a boy, he delivered copies of his father's newspaper, North Star.

As a young man, Charles became the first black from New York to enlist for military service in the Civil War, volunteering for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Unlike his brother Lewis, who also served in the Fifty-fourth and became a sergeant major in that regiment, Charles was unable to deploy with his fellow troops owing to illness. As late as November 1863 Charles remained at the training camp in Readville Massachusetts He ultimately joined another black regiment the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry rising to ...

Article

Mark G. Emerson

As the second son and namesake of his father, Frederick Douglass Jr. was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He attended public schools in Rochester, New York, where he also helped his brothers, Lewis and Charles, to aid runaway slaves who were escaping to Canada on the Underground Railroad. While he did not serve in the Civil War as his brothers did, Frederick acted as a recruiting agent for the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry regiments, as did his father. Following the war, Frederick attempted to enter the typographical workers' union. When that plan failed, he went with his brother Lewis in 1866 to Colorado, where Henry O. Wagoner, a longtime family friend, taught him the trade of typography. While he was in Colorado, Frederick worked with his brother Lewis in the printing office of the Red, White, and Blue Mining Company. In the fall of 1868 Frederick returned ...

Article

Leigh Fought

Helen Pitts was born in Honeoye, New York, the daughter of the white abolitionists Gideon and Jane Wills Pitts. Her father began working with the renowned abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass in 1846. Thus, from an early age Helen knew of Douglass and his work. Her parents, wealthy enough to pursue their progressive ideals, ensured that she and her sisters, Eva and Jane, received a better education than most girls of the era. Although few institutions of higher learning accepted women students, Eva attended Cornell and Helen and Jane both attended Mount Holyoke College. Helen graduated in 1859.

Reconstruction offered Helen the opportunity to combine her education with her activism. She moved to Norfolk, Virginia, to teach in a school for freed slaves in 1863 The swampy climate there took its toll on her health and the violent hostility faced by the African American ...