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Charles Rosenberg

known as “one of the best educated colored ladies of Oakland,” California (Beasley, p. 236), was born Rebecca Crews in or near Halifax or Pittsylvania counties, Virginia, the youngest child of Richard and Sylvia Crews. In 1870, when Rebecca Crews was five years old, her father was a blacksmith, her mother did washing and ironing, her older sister Martha Ann (who later took the married name of Ford) was hired out as a domestic servant, and her older sister Susan, like Rebecca, remained at home. She and Susan appear to have been the first in the family who learned to read and write.

Her parents and older siblings had been enslaved and an older brother George born in Halifax County Virginia was sold away from his parents at the age of two into Richmond Virginia He acquired the surname Mitchel It was by no means universal that formerly enslaved ...

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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 ...

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Yasmine Ali

a literate domestic servant, grew up in Philadelphia and in New York City with her family. While her parents' names remain unknown, in one of her 1859 letters, she revealed that her father owned a restaurant. Brown severed ties with her family after her father's death in October 1862. In her letters to Rebecca Primus, her beloved friend, she discussed how her mother had remarried a man whom Addie described as often present in her nightmares.

Brown is known today primarily because of her relationship to Rebecca Primus of Hartford, Connecticut. Primus was the only African American among the five teachers selected by the Freedman's Society in 1865 to head to the south and start schools for freed blacks. She relocated to Royal, Maryland, and founded a school there, working until 1869 She was an inspirational figure and a close friend to Addie Brown and seems ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

wife of Amos Fortune, was of unknown origin, but it is likely that she was forcibly enslaved and transported from Africa to the New World while young. Few details regarding Vilot's life are known. However, surviving evidence provides an accurate portrayal of her life and what it meant to be a free woman of color in northern New England in the late eighteenth century. Vilot is first documented on 9 November 1779, when she was sold by James Baldwin of Woburn, Massachusetts, to a free black, Amos Fortune, for the sum of fifty pounds. Described as “a Negro Woman … being now my property,” Vilot was fifty years old and had served as a domestic slave for the Baldwin family (Lambert, 38).

Vilot's purchaser Amos Fortune had been enslaved until he was manumitted in 1770 and had previously been married to Lydia Somerset whom he had also ...

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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 ...

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Cheryl Laz

humanitarian and founder of Hale House, was born Clara McBride in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she grew up. Her father was murdered when she was a child, and her mother died when Clara was sixteen. She left high school without graduating, although she eventually earned her high school equivalency diploma at the age of eighty-seven. After leaving school she married Thomas Hale and moved with him to New York City. There she did cleaning, worked as a domestic, and studied business administration by taking night classes at City College. When she was twenty-seven her husband died, leaving her with three children.

The conflict between financially supporting and physically caring for three young children spurred Hale to begin caring for children in her home. She became a licensed foster parent, taking in seven or eight children at a time. Between 1941 and 1968 she reared more than forty foster children.

Hale ...

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Karen E. Sutton

property owner and matriarch of eighteenth-century free black Albany, New York. Records indicate that Jackson was the first African American to own property in Albany. In January 1779 she bought a city lot on the South side of lower Second Street. We know little of her origins; however, by the time of this fortuitous purchase she had married Jack Johnson, a free man of color from Albany. They had two sons, Jack and Lewis. In 1790Dinnah Jackson worked as the housekeeper at the Masonic Lodge and at Saint Peter's Episcopal Church. Exactly how she was able to purchase her property is unclear, but she may have been extremely frugal and resourceful, or perhaps she had an unknown benefactor.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries people lived near their work and most free blacks lived near one another for support and companionship Unlike many other northern ...

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 ...

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Laura M. Chmielewski

convert to Methodism and religious contemplative, was born probably in New York City, of unknown but most likely enslaved parents. All the details of Zilpah Montjoy's life are derived from Abigail Mott's 1826Narratives of Colored Americans, a collection of biographical sketches of prominent and, in Mott's view, exemplary black Christians that includes Richard Allen, Benjamin Banneker, Paul Cuffe, Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano), and Phillis Wheatley as well as more obscure figures such as Billy and Jenny Poor Pompey and Old Dinah The circumstances surrounding Zilpah Montjoy s birth and parentage are unknown According to her biographer Montjoy spent her early life in domestic slavery in New York City serving masters who invested nothing in her spiritual development beyond calling her by a name that had biblical origins Montjoy was reportedly bound so tightly to her work that throughout her youth she ...

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Charles Rosenberg

school teacher and domestic worker, is best known for a poignant and detailed autobiography that provides a window into daily life for the Americans who were stigmatized legally and socially, during the middle of the twentieth century, by their dark complexion.

Sarah Lucille Webb was born in Clio, Alabama, to Elizabeth (Lizzie) Janet Lewis Webb, a schoolteacher, and Willis James Webb, a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. In her early years she moved with her parents to Troy, Andalusia, Birmingham, Batesville, and Eufala, Alabama. As an itinerant minister ordained by a Methodist church, Reverend Webb was subject to reassignment to a new church at any annual conference, and every one to two years he had to move. The family supplemented his minister's salary by sharecropping cotton and corn and grew field peas, greens, and vegetables for their own use or for sale.

The family ...

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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 ...

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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 ...