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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 ...

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Laura Murphy

escaped slave and narrator, was born Abel Bogguess to enslaved parents near Shinnston in present-day West Virginia. Richard Bogguess, a white bachelor with a large plantation, claimed Abel Bogguess's family as his property. Abel's mother was in charge of the household, and his father worked on the farm. He was one of eleven children.

Richard Bogguess died in 1843 leaving a will that freed his slaves Justifiably suspicious that he would not be given his freedom despite the will Abel ran away with his mother and five siblings The family hid just a short distance from the farm on which they had lived and after a couple of days a relative found them informed them that the will would probably stand and suggested that Abel s mother and his siblings head back to the farm He advised Abel on the other hand to continue on the road to ...

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Leyla Keough

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, to Agnes, a slave of the Burgwell family, and George Pleasant, who was owned by a man named Hobbs. When Elizabeth was in her teens, the Burgwells sold her to a slaveowner in North Carolina by whom she was raped and had one child, George. Shortly thereafter, a Burgwell daughter, Anne Burgwell Garland, bought Elizabeth and her son. They were taken to St. Louis, where Elizabeth married James Keckley. She later found he had deceived her by claiming to be a free man, and the couple separated.

To support her owner's household, Keckley worked as a seamstress. She acquired many loyal customers, one of whom loaned Keckley $1,200 to buy her freedom in 1855. In 1860, Keckley relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, and then to Washington D C where she opened a successful ...

Article

Anne Bradford Warner

Elizabeth Keckley became a center of public controversy with the 1868 publication of Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.

Born a slave in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, Keckley became such an accomplished seamstress that she was able to purchase her own freedom and her son's. After manumission she moved from St. Louis to establish herself in Washington, D. C., in 1860, becoming modiste first to the wife of Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis and finally to Mary Todd Lincoln during Abraham Lincoln's first term. Two-thirds of Behind the Scenes concerns Keckley's life with the Lincolns and the difficult period following the president's assassination, especially Mary Lincoln's desperate attempt to raise money through what became known as the “Old Clothes Scandal.” A misplaced trust in her editor, James Redpath and the sensationalist marketing of Carleton and Company culminated ...

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Rosemary Reed

Elizabeth Keckley used her needlework skills to purchase her freedom and went on to have such a flourishing business that she became dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln. Fortunately for posterity, she also wrote a book about her life, her sewing work, and her experience as someone closely connected to the Lincoln White House. Behind the Scenes; or, Thirty Years as a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1868) has been a source of historically significant information ever since.

Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Hobbs, the only child of a slave couple, Agnes and George Pleasant Hobbs, in Dinwiddie, Virginia Her mother was a housemaid and excellent seamstress owned by the Burwells a prominent family of central Virginia Her father lived on a neighboring farm and was allowed to visit his family twice a year until he was sold away from them As a ...

Article

Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe

Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1820?–26 May 1907), White House dressmaker during the Lincoln administration and author, was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, the daughter of George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs, slaves. Her birth date is variously given from 1818 to 1824 based on different documents that report her age. The identity of her father is also uncertain; in later life Keckley reportedly claimed that her father was her master, Colonel A. Burwell. George Pleasant, who was owned by a different master, was allowed to visit only twice a year and was eventually taken west.

Elizabeth s life as a slave included harsh arbitrary beatings to subdue her stubborn pride frequent moves to work for often poor family members and being persecuted for four years by Alexander Kirkland a white man by whom she had a son Her life improved when she was loaned to a Burwell daughter ...

Article

Jennifer Fleischner

slave, dressmaker, abolitionist, and White House memoirist, was born Elizabeth Hobbs in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, the daughter of Armistead Burwell, a white slaveholder, and his slave Agnes Hobbs. Agnes was the family nurse and seamstress. Her husband, George Pleasant Hobbs, the slave of another man, treated “Lizzy” as his own daughter, and it was not until some years later, after George had been forced to move west with his master, that Agnes told Lizzy the identity of her biological father. While her mother taught her sewing, the skill that would make her name and fortune, it was George Hobbs who first instilled in Lizzy a profound respect for learning. Ironically, it was Armistead Burwell, who repeatedly told Lizzy she would never be “worth her salt,” who probably sparked her ambition to succeed and prove him wrong.

As a young girl Hobbs lived in ...

Article

Chris Gavaler

author, actor, and Indian celebrity, was born in Winston, North Carolina, the son of Sallie Long, a nurse and midwife, and Joe Long, a janitor. Sylvester's light-skinned mother was born a slave weeks before the end of the Civil War and was the daughter of a plantation owner and an unknown Lumbee Indian. Long's father, also born into slavery, believed his own mother to be Cherokee and his father white Their claim to exclusively white and Indian ancestry established the Long family as the social elite of Winston s African American community After attending elementary school there Sylvester twice joined traveling Wild West circuses where he passed as an Indian and learned rudimentary Cherokee After returning to Winston and working as a library janitor Sylvester taught himself to type at night in the white school where his father mopped floors The principal suggested he apply ...

Article

Martha L. Wharton

abolitionist, writer, lecturer, women's rights activist, and social critic, was born Nancy Gardner in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the daughter of an African American and Indian mother and an African American father, Thomas Gardner, who was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and died within three months of Nancy's birth. What is known about her is drawn primarily from her 1850 memoir, A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince. While Prince does not name her mother in her narrative, she provides descriptions of both parents that highlight their African descent, and she recounts her grandfather's violent removal to America, along with his memories of a proud life in Africa. She briefly notes the capture of her Indian grandmother by local English colonials. Her narrative speaks clearly to issues of race, gender, slavery, and morality in the United States and the Caribbean.

Prince s childhood ...

Article

Nancy Gardner Prince's 1850Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, Written by Herself, chronicles the antebellum economic conditions of free blacks, her experience in the court of two Russian tsars, and the difficulties of missionary work in politically volatile, newly emancipated Jamaica. Prince's life, as told in this fascinating volume, reveals the opportunities available to and hindrances suffered by nineteenth- century black women.

Prince s early life as a free black in New England was marked by hunger hard work and racism She endured these harsh conditions by clinging to the dignity of her family history which included the exploits of an African grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War a Native American grandmother once enslaved by the British and an African stepfather who emancipated himself by jumping off a slave ship Despite her pride in her heritage her frustration with the social and ...

Article

Australia Tarver

Prince’s autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, Written by Herself (1850), is distinctive for several reasons. Its narrator wrote it as evidence of her energy, leadership, and agency during the antebellum era, when few black American women wrote or traveled beyond the locations where they were enslaved. It is textual evidence of the presence of a limited number of blacks living in czarist Russia. It defines Prince’s leadership, spiritual prowess, and transnational awareness as a black woman traveler, missionary, and reporter across lands and cultures outside the experience of most nineteenth-century African Americans and whites as well. Prince’s narrative authenticates her family background, its multiracial origins, the history of traveling seamen, and the extreme difficulties of being nominally free in a slave society.

Prince was born free in Newburyport Massachusetts the second of eight children Although her narrative does not name her mother ...

Article

Anthony Aiello

Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to free parents, Nancy Prince and the details of her life are known largely through her own autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince (1850). Nancy Gardner had as many as seven siblings and was the daughter of Thomas Gardner, a seaman from Nantucket who died before Nancy was three months old. Her mother, whose name Prince never gives in her autobiography, was the daughter of Tobias Wornton, or Backus, who was taken from Africa and, though he was a slave, fought at Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary army; Gardner's maternal grandmother, a Native American, was captured and enslaved by English colonists. Gardner's stepfather, Money Vose was her mother s third husband the other two having died He escaped a slave ship by swimming ashore but was later kidnapped and pressed into ship service During the ...

Article

Mark Andrew Huddle

fugitive slave, antislavery agitator, memoirist, and farmer, was born in Caswell County, North Carolina, the son of a white planter, Henry H. Roper, and his mixed-race (African and Indian) house slave, Nancy. Moses Roper's light complexion and striking resemblance to his father proved embarrassing to the family. The animosity of the wife of his father, coupled with the death of Moses's legal owner, probably a man named John Farley, led to Henry Roper's decision to trade mother and son to a nearby plantation when Moses was six years of age. Soon after, he was sold to a “Negro trader” and shipped south. He never saw his mother again. Over the next twelve years he was sold repeatedly in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Moses Roper s light skin had an impact on his value on the slave market Unable to ...

Article

Allan D. Austin

Islamic slave and autobiographer, was African born and also known as Omar, Uncle Moro, and Moreau. The son of moderately wealthy parents in Futa Toro (northeastern Senegal), whom he honored in several of his American writings, he may have been related, at some remove, to some of the other Fulbe or Fulani caught up in the Atlantic slave trade, such as Job Ben Solomon, Ibrahima Abd al-Rahman, Bilali, Salih Bilali, and Charno (a literate Fula enslaved in South Carolina). All were steadfast adherents to Islam. According to Said's own statements, he was educated for some twenty years by Fulani instructors, became a teacher himself, and while in Futa Toro closely followed the tenets of his religion. He never mentioned having a wife or children.

Said did write that an unidentified African army he belonged to was defeated by an infidel non Muslim enemy ...

Article

Harold S. Forsythe

farmer and sharecroppers union activist, was born Ned Cobb in rural east-central Alabama. Shaw was one of six children of former slaves Hayes and Liza Culver Shaw. Ned Cobb is best known under the pseudonym Nate Shaw, because of the magnificent oral autobiography Shaw shared with Theodore Rosengarten. The book, All God's Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw (1974), was perhaps the best single source for the consciousness and politics of the millions of illiterate black women and men who struggled in the decades after Emancipation to create a life in freedom. The fictionalized names of people and places in All God's Dangers are the best guide to this rich story.

Nate Shaw s father Hayes put Nate to work at farming tasks while he was a still a young boy Shaw s mother Liza died when he was nine years old and although he ...

Article

Laura Murphy

writer and preacher, was born in Northern Neck, Northumberland County, Virginia, to Rachel and Charles, on the property of Thomas Langdon, on which they were enslaved. Over the course of her life, Smith s mother gave birth to eleven children and labored as a cotton spinner His father managed the Lancaster County plantation his owner had acquired through inheritance When Smith was a young boy he was injured while carrying lumber and remained crippled for his entire life because his owner did not think Smith s life was worth enough to call a doctor As a result of his disability Smith worked in the house with the women knitting and carding Later in his life he was apprenticed to a shoemaker which proved to be the source of his livelihood in all the places he settled For a brief time Smith was hired out to a ...

Article

Mark Andrew Huddle

fugitive slave, memoirist, and sailor, was born into slavery on the Wagar plantation in southern Maryland, the son of two field slaves whose names remain unknown. Although there is little information about Thompson's life beyond his memoirs, his descriptions of his experiences in slavery as well as his adventures as a black seaman are important contributions to our knowledge of both those worlds.

John Thompson's recollections of his early years are vague at best. His realization that he was a slave came at age six, when he witnessed the sale of his oldest sister. Even at that early age, as Thompson recounted in his memoirs, he was engaged in backbreaking work in the corn, wheat, and tobacco fields of the Wagar plantations. Like many slave-narrative authors, including Harriet Jacobs, Henry Bibb, Solomon Northup, William Parker, Solomon Bayley, James Mars, and William ...

Article

Jared Winston Hickman

pastor and community activist, was born in Caroline County, Maryland, to an unnamed father and Sidney Rotter, both slaves. After he was manumitted at a young age, Tilmon's mother (who was also manumitted) indentured him in or around 1815 to a farmer in Northern Delaware. Life as an indentured servant was not much better than life as a slave, and on multiple occasions Tilmon physically resisted cruel masters. Around 1824 Tilmon escaped on a vessel via the Delaware River to Philadelphia but was quickly recaptured and jailed While in jail Tilmon learned that his insolvent master planned to sell him out of state to a slave trader which was considered kidnapping under Delaware state law With the help of the community and through legal means Tilmon was able to free himself from his master and finish the four remaining years of his indenture in Wilmington Delaware serving ...

Article

Jacob Andrew Freedman

slave-narrative author, businessman, and entrepreneur, was born in King George, Virginia, one of five children. Little is known about Isaac's parents except that his father was a free man. His mother's status is unknown. It is believed, although not certain, that as a boy Isaac served not as a slave but as an indentured servant. However, when Isaac's father was presented with the choice of either being enslaved or leaving for Liberia, he smuggled himself to England, parting ways with his family forever. Isaac was placed under the guardianship of John O. Washington owner of a plantation with over 700 slaves Williams had been meant to apprentice as a carpenter until the age of twenty one when he would have been responsible for deciding his own fate But Washington died when Williams was seventeen and although no new guardian was appointed he continued to live and ...