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Leyla Keough

Benedetto, or as he became known, Saint Benedict the Moor, was born in San Fratello, on the Italian island of Sicily, to Christopher and Diane Manasseri. His parents had been transported as slaves from Africa to Sicily, where they converted to Christianity. Benedetto worked on a farm until he gained his freedom as a teen.

Benedetto continued to work as a laborer. Sharing his wages with the poor and healing the sick, he became known as “the black saint.” He joined a group of hermits who chose Benedetto as their leader. In 1562 he became a lay brother. Stories began to circulate about his saintliness and miraculous deeds; he is said to have resurrected a young boy. Church accounts report that people of all classes in Sicily sought his prayers and his counsel. In 1578 though he was neither a priest nor literate he was chosen to lead a ...

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Charles Rosenberg

baker, community leader, cautious abolitionist, and patriarch of a talented African American family well known into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was born in Burlington, New Jersey. His narrative records that he belonged to “the Estate of Samuel Bustill of the City of Burlington, but he Dying when I was Young I was Sold to John Allen of the Same City” (Bustill, p. 22). The name of Bustill's mother is recorded only as Parthenia; Samuel Bustill, an English‐born lawyer who died in 1742, was his father as well as his owner.

Many sources, including Lloyd Louis Brown's detailed history of the Bustill family in The Young Paul Robeson: On My Journey Now (1997), leave out the Allen family, and assert that Samuel Bustill's widow, Grace, arranged for Cyrus Bustill to be apprenticed to Thomas Pryor Jr. However Bustill s own account ...

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Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor

the first non-Indian woman to view the Black Hills. Conflicting information exists about her early years, but all sources agree that she was born in Kentucky, in 1813 or perhaps 1824. The 1813 date appeared in one of her obituaries. In later years she told of traveling up the Missouri River on the first steamboat in 1831, perhaps as a servant, cook, or lady's maid. Employment on the riverboats plying the Missouri River trade from St. Louis north during the mid-1800s provided opportunities for many black Americans to experience a measure of freedom, save some money, and have an adventure. Often they settled in one of the many northern river ports. Sarah Campbell made the most of that opportunity She worked many years on the river before purchasing property in the river town of Bismarck in present day North Dakota a territory when Campbell settled there North ...

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Charles Rosenberg

best known as the reputed inventor of the potato chip, who established his own restaurant in the resort community of Saratoga Springs, New York. His ancestry and ethnicity are a matter of speculation; he may have been best described in Saratoga Springs, New York: A Brief History as “of thoroughly mixed American blood.” He is generally reported in census data from 1850 to 1880 as mulatto and in later censuses as black. It is commonly said that his mother was of Native American descent and that he “looked Indian.”

Crum was born in Malta, New York, to Abraham (or Abram) Speck and his wife Catherine. Although oral accounts suggest Speck was from Kentucky and possibly had been enslaved there, the 1820 Federal Census shows a “Free Colored Person” male, age twenty-six to forty-five, of that name, living in New York, and the 1840 Census shows a free ...

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Leslie H. Fishel

abolitionist, businessman, and civil rights advocate, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with the future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American men to fight for ...

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Sheila Gregory Thomas

teacher, politician, and businessman, was born in Austin, Texas. His mother, Eliza, a slave of mixed race, was owned by John Hancock, a lawyer, judge, state legislator, and U.S. congressman whom Hugh knew to be his father. When he was five years of age and the Civil War was threatening, Hugh and his mother were sent by John Hancock to Oberlin, Ohio, a thriving community of whites and free blacks. This not only placed them in a safe environment but also guaranteed Hancock an education, as Oberlin College and its preparatory department welcomed all. For younger children there was the village elementary school.

Hancock was one of many offspring of white fathers and former slaves for whom Oberlin was a safe haven from the hostilities and limitations of life in the South Black residents of Oberlin in the 1800s included entrepreneurs teachers and elected officials ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

businessman and politician, born in rural Arkansas, was the slave son of his owner, John Havis, a white farmer in Bradley and Jefferson counties, and an unnamed slave mother. Most often known simply as Ferd, his name appears in some records as Ferdinand. After the Civil War, he was educated in Freedmen's Bureau schools in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he lived for the rest of his life.

A successful entrepreneur, Ferd Havis began his career as a barber, but quickly expanded his interests, eventually operating both a saloon and retail whiskey distributorship in Pine Bluff, as well as owning tenement houses and two thousand acres of farmland in Jefferson County. He married his first wife, Dilsey, in the mid-1860s, and they had one daughter, Cora; Dilsey Havis died in 1870. In 1871 he was elected to the first of five terms as a Pine ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

body servant and minister, was born a slave at Stafford House, on the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The names of Lee's parents are not known, but shortly after the death of his mother he was taken to the Arlington Heights, Virginia, home of Robert E. Lee, later to command the Confederate army of northern Virginia during the Civil War. William Mack Lee married in 1855, but his brief autobiography does not mention the name of his wife, who died in 1910, nor the names of his eight daughters, the youngest of whom was born in 1875. The couple also had twenty-one grandchildren and, as of 1918, eight great-grandchildren.

Lee does not state precisely when he began serving Marse Robert whom he describes as one of the greatest men in the world but his autobiography notes erroneously that Robert E Lee freed all ...

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Jennifer Ky

painter, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Holdridge Primus, a porter at a grocery store and an active member of the Talcott Street Congregational Church, and Mehitable Jacobs, a dressmaker. The Primuses, one of the few African American families in the state to own property, consisted of the parents, Nelson, and his siblings Rebecca, Isabelle, and Henrietta, and their home was located on Wadsworth Street in Hartford. During Reconstruction, Rebecca Primus was active in efforts to educate the southern freedmen. Nelson Primus discovered his artistic talent at an early age. At the Hartford County Fair, he was recognized twice: in 1851, when he was only nine years old, he received a diploma for his sketches, and in 1859 he received a medal for his drawings.

Nelson Primus wanted to pursue that talent by painting professionally His father likely thought that this ...

Article

Edward E. Andrews

slave, renowned pastry maker, and entrepreneur, also referred to as “Charity,” was born on the Gold Coast of Africa to a minor royal family. In the middle of the eighteenth century she was taken captive, sold into slavery, and transported to Newport, Rhode Island, where she became a domestic slave in the home of William Channing, a prominent attorney.

Like many of that port town s female slaves Quamino would have been responsible for a variety of activities that maintained the household One job in which she excelled early was baking a skill which would hold her in good stead in later years The historical record does not indicate what kind of personal relationship Quamino had with her master but it is significant that she converted to Christianity while working and living with the Channing family Her exact motives for doing so are not certain she ...

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John Saillant

Sancho was baptized as an infant in a Roman Catholic Church but confirmed as a youth in the Church of England. His baptismal name was Ignatius, while his surname came from his first owners in England, who fancifully named him after Don Quixote's servant in Miguel de Cervantes's famous novel. Charles Ignatius Sancho was the name he used in 1758 to sign his marriage certificate. Two volumes of his letters were gathered from their recipients and published in 1782, prefaced by Joseph Jekyll's Life of Ignatius Sancho; Jekyll undertook this work, from which virtually all biographical information on Sancho derives, after his acquaintance Samuel Johnson, the poet, critic, and compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language, failed to fulfill his intention to write Sancho's biography himself. Additional information survives in vital records, as do a few comments from such contemporaries as Johnson.

Jekyll wrote that ...

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Vincent Carretta

author, is now best known for the posthumously published two-volume Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (London, 1782), edited by Frances Crewe, one of his younger correspondents. Virtually the only source of information about the first thirty years of Sancho’s life is Joseph Jekyll’s anonymously published biographical preface to the Letters According to Jekyll Sancho was born on a slave ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Spanish colony of New Granada present day Colombia Jekyll reports that the bishop of Granada baptized him naming him Ignatius Shortly thereafter his mother died of disease and his father committed suicide rather than endure slavery The unnamed owner of the orphan brought him to England when he was two years old and gave him to three unmarried sisters in Greenwich They surnamed him Sancho because they thought that the pudgy toddler resembled the fictional Don Quixote s ...

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David Dabydeen

Africanwriter whose letters, published posthumously in 1782, became best‐seller, attracting 1,181 subscribers including the Prime Minister, Lord North.

Sancho was born on board a slave ship en route to the West Indies. His mother died soon after, of a tropical disease, and his father chose to commit suicide rather than endure slavery. Sancho was brought to England by his master, at the age of 2 or 3, and given to three maiden sisters living in Greenwich. The sisters named him Sancho, thinking he resembled Don Quixote's squire. They kept him in ignorance, not teaching him to read or write. He was rescued by the Duke of Montagu who lived nearby in Blackheath The Duke encountering the boy by accident took a liking to his frankness of manner and frequently took him home where the Duchess introduced him to the world of books and of high culture He ...

Article

Leyla Keough

Ignatius Sancho was born on a slave ship en route to the West Indies; both of his parents died during the journey, casualties of the Middle Passage. Never having lived in Africa, Sancho was in many ways a product of Western civilization. His letters, written between 1768 and 1780, and published posthumously in 1782, proved to the English public that an African could not only master the language and literature of England but become a discriminating reader and a discerning critic.

Upon arriving in Britain, Sancho was bought by three sisters in Greenwich who treated him poorly and denied him education. But the sisters' neighbors, the Duke and Duchess of Montague, were impressed by Sancho's curiosity about books and his quick mind and secretly lent him materials to read. In 1749 when the sisters threatened to sell him into American slavery Sancho fled to the ...

Article

Carla J. Jones

grocer and community leader, was born Alethia Browning in the late eighteenth century in Maryland to parents whose names are unknown. No information is available about her early life. Referred to alternatively as Aletha, Lithe, Lethee, or, most commonly, Lethe, Browning grew up enslaved in southern Maryland and first appears in the historical record at the time of her manumission by Joseph Daugherty in Washington, D.C. In July 1810 Daugherty had paid Rachel Pratt of Prince George's County, Maryland, $275 for Browning, manumitting her four days later “for value received and other good causes” (Provine, 154). Subsequent histories refer to the $275 payment to Pratt as a deposit toward the sum of $1,400 that the white-woman demanded in return for Browning's freedom. Browning made the payments herself with money earned through independent work in Washington, D.C.

Rachel Pratt the mother of the Maryland governor and U S ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

cook and survivor of the 1864 Fort Pillow Massacre in Tennessee, was born a slave near Brown Mills, Virginia (later Pentress, West Virginia). Practically all that is known about him can be found in his testimony before a joint committee of the U.S. Congress about the Fort Pillow Massacre. He testified that he had been a slave of a man named Colonel Hardgrove in Virginia and had run away from him early in the Civil War then he returned to his master for a short period then ran away again Thompson s indecision was not at all unusual among young male slaves during the Civil War Union advances into Confederate territory emboldened many slaves to make their escape just as Confederate counterattacks gave pause to would be escapees Whatever his hesitation Thompson twice risked being captured by slave patrollers or taken by Confederate troops while making his way to ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

who accompanied the Continental Army during the revolutionary war as a cook, was enslaved at birth, owned by four different men over half a century, and by the end of the war was a free woman, settling in Philadelphia and living to the age of 104.

One of the few contemporary written accounts is that of John Fanning Watson, who writes that his sister saw Till alive at the age of 104. Later published accounts say she died at 102. Her date of birth is not recorded, estimated only by subtracting the length of her life from the year she died.

Watson wrote that Till had told him her childhood name was Hannah Long Point—a name her father acquired for successful deer hunting at a place called Long Point. She was born in Kent County, Delaware, assigned by law as the property of John Brinkley Esq He sold ...

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Timothy J. McMillan

businessman, saloon owner, victim of exclusion code, was one of the few African Americans living in nineteenth-century Oregon. He also has the distinction of being the only person in the territory of Oregon to have been found guilty of the crime of being black and to have been expelled from his home. Nothing is known about his family or childhood and the only official recorded trace of his history still extant is a legal case mentioned in a local newspaper in Salem, Oregon, and in the transcript of his trial. His name did not appear in the 1850 Oregon Census.

The forces of racism common in the eastern United States followed settlers on their journey to the Pacific coast. Vanderpool is almost totally invisible in Oregon's recorded history. Except for the work of Elizabeth McLagan his name scarcely appears in modern histories of African Americans or ...

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De Anne Blanton

cook, laundress, and Buffalo Soldier, was born into slavery in Independence, Missouri. Nothing is known of her parents, except that her father was reported to be a free black man. At some point in her early childhood, she went with her master's family to a farm near Jefferson City, where she toiled as a house servant until the start of the Civil War.

Probably in the summer of 1861, when she was nearly seventeen years old, Williams fled the plantation and joined the large group of escaped and newly freed slaves seeking the protection of Union troops occupying Jefferson City. Within months she was pressed into service as a laundress and cook for a Union regiment, possibly the Eighth Indiana Infantry. She maintained that position for nearly two years, accompanying the troops on campaigns in Missouri and Arkansas. In the summer of 1863 Williams found ...