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Theresa Leininger-Miller

artist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James F. Bell and Susanna County, probably laborers. Little is known about Bell's early life. She presumably attended segregated schools. It is unlikely that she ever received artistic training; she declared that she drew “without human teaching.” She probably worked as a domestic servant, laundress, or seamstress, beginning in her teenage years, and she may have traveled extensively. Bell said she “lived all around” before World War I. Since she does not appear in early-twentieth-century city directories or census records in Washington, D.C., or Boston, Massachusetts, and because she apparently never married or had children, it is likely that she resided with her various employers.

By the mid-1920s Bell was working for Edward Peter Pierce, justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1914 to 1937, and Adele Dutaud Pierce his wife as a live ...

Article

Kimberly Cheek

enslavedAfrican-American woman, was born free in Illinois around 1818. The exact date and place of her birth, and the names of her parents are not known. The memoir From Darkness Cometh Light; or Struggles for Freedom, which was published by her daughter Lucy Ann Delany in 1891, provides an account of her mother's life. Despite this extant narrative the chronological record of Berry's origins, movements, and transfer of ownership during her enslavement remains vague.

Her enslavement began in the 1820s, when Polly was abducted, taken to St. Louis, Missouri, and sold into slavery. Shortly afterward she resided in Wayne County, Kentucky. Eric Gardner in Unexpected Places asserts that the Beatty family of Wayne County Kentucky were Polly s first owners p 33 Eventually the Beattys sold her to a poor farmer named Joseph Crockett and she became known as Polly Crockett When she was fourteen ...

Article

K. Wise Whitehead

seamstress and domestic, was born free in Pennsylvania, one of four children born to Charles and Helena Davis. She grew up in Philadelphia with her sister, Elizabeth, and her two brothers, Alfred and Thomas. Davis was raised in the lower section of the Seventh Ward, near the shipyards, and probably attended one of the local black schools. Very little is known about Davis’s childhood, but her daily journal, which she kept from 1863 to 1865 provides some insight into her lifestyle, her educational background, and her political, social, and religious choices. Davis’s three pocket diaries are one of only four known unpublished primary sources written by a free black woman during the nineteenth century. In her diary, which begins on 1 January 1863 Davis chronicles her daily experiences living and working during the latter half of the Civil War The Jubilee Day celebrations of Abraham Lincoln s ...

Article

Nathalie Pierre

born Dédée Bazile, was also known as Défilée la folle (madwoman) and was born enslaved in Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien) in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), to unknown parents. She is remembered for burying the revolutionary leader, and independent Haiti’s first ruler, Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

Some historical accounts pinpoint Défilée’s rape and torture by her enslaver at age 18 as the genesis of her madness. Défilée was homeless and publicly spoke to invisible beings, possibly lwas (spirits) of Vodou, which is a syncretic religious system incorporating West African and Catholic beliefs. These actions defied emerging social conventions and contributed to her reputation as la folle, the madwoman. It is possible, however, that the twelve-year anticolonial war against France had much to do with Défilée’s seemingly odd behavior. The arrival of the French general Donatien Rochambeau in Cap Français in 1802 dramatically shifted the course of the Haitian ...

Article

John G. Turner

domestic servant, teacher, and missionary, was born in Gainesville, Alabama, the daughter of Mary and Jesse Fearing, who were slaves of the planter Overton Winston and his wife Amanda Winston. At a young age Mrs. Winston removed Fearing from the care of her parents and began to train her, alongside her older sister, for work inside the plantation house.

Mrs. Winston, a Presbyterian, taught Fearing Bible stories, hymns, and the Westminster catechism, and she impressed upon Fearing the importance of foreign missions. As a young woman Fearing joined the Winstons' church, a congregation affiliated with the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States.

After the Civil War Fearing stayed in Gainesville and sought employment as a domestic servant. Motivated by a desire to read the Bible for herself, Fearing gained some measure of literacy through the help of friends. In 1871 a minister told ...

Article

Theresa Vara-Dannen

former slave and butler to Samuel Clemens, waiter, and businessman, was born to unknown enslaved parents. Although an 1880 census record indicates he was born in Virginia, Samuel Clemens, the author known as Mark Twain, maintained he was born in Maryland. An 1870 census record shows a twenty-two-year old George Griffin working as a waiter and residing in the Bay State House, a residential hotel; this record indicates that Griffin reported Maryland as his state of birth.

The little known about Griffin's youth was written by Samuel Clemens in an unpublished piece, “A Family Sketch”: Griffin was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation; in his youth, he saw the Civil War firsthand as a servant of General Charles Devens Jr., who fought at Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg and was later named attorney general under President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Clemens met Griffin in 1875 ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

enslaved African American, mother, yarn spinner, weaver, and housekeeper, was born on the Mount Airy plantation in Virginia to Bill Grimshaw, a carpenter, and to Esther Jackson, a textile worker and cotton spinner, who were married in the early 1820s. Grimshaw's grandparents were Henry and Winney Jackson, domestic workers. Grimshaw's parents named her after her grandmother. By the time Grimshaw was born, their family was owned by William Henry Tayloe. Grimshaw had five siblings: Elizabeth (b. 1824), Anna (b. 1827), Juliet (b. 1929), Charlotte (b. 1834), James (b. 1831), and Henry (b. 1837). Charlotte died when she was young, but the remainder of her siblings survived into adulthood. At the time, most African American slaves were listed in records by their first name or a nickname. It was not until 1862 that Grimshaw was documented by her ...

Article

Eric R. Jackson

personal assistant to President James Madison and the First Lady Dolley Madison, author, and enslaved African American, was born in Montpelier, Virginia. More importantly, Jennings is best known as perhaps the first non-president or member of a president's family to write a narrative about one's life experience in the Oval Office. His father, Benjamin (or William) Jennings, was a white English trader, his mother was an enslaved African American (unnamed) who was owned by President and First Lady Madison. As a child, young Paul was befriend by the Madison's son Payne Todd. When James Madison was elected as the fourth president of the United States in 1808 Jennings who at the time ten years old accompanied the family to Washington where he served the first family in the executive mansion On one occasion Jennings aided the First Lady as she greeted numerous guests during one of her legendary ...

Article

Kathryn L. Staley

lady's maid, hairdresser, and author, was presumably born free in Cincinnati or New York. Little is known about her childhood and personal life in general. She was raised in New York but her parents' names are unknown. One biographer lists her maiden name as Johnson and another states that she was the former Mrs. Johnson but neither provides a source. As a child she apparently did not obtain extensive education and began working as a domestic while young.

Most information about Potter stems from the anonymously published A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life (1859 At the time of publication it was universally attributed to her however within her work she masked most of her private life and instead described her clientele According to the autobiography Potter moved to Buffalo committed a weakness and married Potter 12 Ever private she neglects to mention to whom she ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

The early years of Robert Roberts's life are largely unknown. He claimed later to have been freeborn in Charleston, South Carolina, but could not name his parents. Around 1802 to 1804, he entered domestic service to Nathan Appleton, a Boston financier who was then visiting Charleston. Roberts had somehow become literate and had sufficient skills as a domestic to induce Appleton to take him north. On 15 December 1805, Roberts married Dorothy Hall, daughter of Jude and Rhoda Hall, free blacks living in Exeter, New Hampshire. Jude Hall, known as “Old Rock,” was a famous and distinguished Continental Army veteran. His service did not prevent the Halls' loss of several sons to kidnappers who stole young northern blacks to sell in the slave South. Roberts described this man-stealing in a bitter document later in his life.

Roberts made several trips to Europe as Appleton s servant ...

Article

Timothy J. McMillan

slave, Civil War veteran, author, and itinerant minister, was born in New Bern, North Carolina. His mother was Lettice Nelson, a slave on John Nelson's plantation at Garbacon Creek in eastern North Carolina; his father was a white man believed to be William Singleton. As a young child of four, William was sold by his owner and thus separated from his mother and two brothers for the first time.

Singleton was purchased by a Georgia widow who speculated in slaves buying people cheaply when they were young and selling them at a premium when they had reached adulthood He was given the common tasks of a slave child running errands and carrying goods Around the age of six Singleton decided to escape the constant whippings and his bondage in Georgia and return to New Bern He was able to ride a stagecoach from ...

Article

William A. Allison

housekeeper for Thaddeus Stevens, was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a black mother surnamed O'Neill and a white father. She took Hamilton as her surname. Even though Lydia Hamilton Smith was merely a housekeeper, she became widely known because of her employment with Thaddeus Stevens. When Thaddeus Stevens came to Washington in 1849 as a Whig representative to Congress from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he was known as an implacable foe of slavery. He labored tirelessly to make the slavery-ending Thirteenth Amendment (1865) a permanent part of the United States Constitution. He also played a major role in the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment (1866).

After moving into a house on South Queens Street in Lancaster, Stevens decided that he needed a housekeeper. He first attempted to employ a woman by the name of Anna Sulkey, but Anna became the wife of Dennis Martin ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Peter Wheeler was born enslaved to unknown parents on the farm of Job Mathis, a prominent farmer and shipbuilder in Egg Harbor, a coastal shipping town in New Jersey. During a childhood spent working on Mathis's farm, Wheeler learned to read and write at a Quaker school. Although Mathis's will provided for Wheeler's emancipation, on the slaveholder's death in 1804 (the year gradual emancipation was instituted in New Jersey), his heirs sold Wheeler to the farmer Gideon Morehouse.

As a slave born before 1804 Wheeler was termed a slave for life though his master s will nullified that legal condemnation Mathis s family refused to register the emancipation Thus Wheeler was forced to migrate with Morehouse to Genoa a town in Cayuga County in Upstate New York There Morehouse became a respected citizen and a trustee of the town s Presbyterian church From his master Wheeler learned ...