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Darshell Silva

oral historian and centenarian, was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents who were slaves brought to the United States from Barbados. She was moved to Dunk's Ferry in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, when she was ten years old to be with her master, of whom no information is available. There Alice lived as a slave, collecting ferry fares for forty years of her life.

Alice was a spirited and intelligent woman. She loved to hear the Bible read to her, but like most other enslaved people she could not read or write. She also held the truth in high esteem and was considered trustworthy. Her reliable memory served her well throughout her long life.

Many notable people of the time are said to have made her acquaintance like Thomas Story founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane which was the precursor to ...

Article

pianist, educator, and philanthropist, was born a slave in Trenton, Kentucky, to Mary Dickinson, also a slave, and Mr. Leavell, likely a scion of the white Benjamin Leavell family, pioneers of Trenton. According to family history, Josephine's father wanted to send her and her sister to Canada on the Underground Railroad, but their mother objected because of the danger and distance. Sometime between 1868 and 1875 Josephine attended the Nashville Normal and Theological Institute (also known as the Baptist Institute), a college for African Americans that was later renamed Roger Williams University. Daniel W. Phillips, a white Baptist minister, had started the school in 1864, teaching Bible classes to freed people in his home. The school was later acquired by Vanderbilt University and incorporated into its George Peabody campus, a teachers' college.

While at the Baptist Institute Josephine studied music particularly piano and ...

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

Marcus B. Christian

The names of Barès's parents are unknown. When very young, he began work at the large music store of J. A. Périer on Royal Street in New Orleans. Whether or not he was related to this white merchant, the New Orleans Tribune—a noted periodical of free blacks—frequently referred to him as “Basile Pérrier.” Basile Barès is often referred to as a self-made musician and composer because, unlike many of his musical contemporaries, he never attended recognized conservatories. Like most of them, however, he studied music under some of the leading white instructors of his day. Basile was clearly a musical prodigy; he began to show evidence of this while still in his teens. He began his musical studies under Eugène Prevost a prominent musician who had formerly directed the orchestras of the Orleans Theater and the famed French Opera of New Orleans He later studied harmony and composition ...

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Ann Ostendorf

composer and pianist, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Augustine Celestine, a slave, and Jean Barès, a white French-born carpenter. He was baptized at the age of one month in Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church in the French Quarter. Basile Barès was born a slave of Adolphe Périer, the French-born owner of a music emporium, where Barès learned to tune pianos. Barès worked at this Royal Street business while receiving piano instruction under Eugène Prévost, former director of the Orleans Theater and the French Opera of New Orleans, and instruction in composition under C. A. Predigam. Barès played both piano and saxophone and composed for piano.

Barès's first-known published piece of sheet music, “Grande polka des Chasseurs à Pied de la Louisiane,” was copyrighted to him in 1860 despite the illegality of this action because he was a sixteen year old slave Very few slaves are ...

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Marlene L. Daut

Medal of Honor recipient, actor, and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, of unknown parentage. Beaty (sometimes spelled Beatty) was born a slave, but little else is known of his early years or how he came to be free. Beaty left Richmond in 1849 for Cincinnati, where he would spend the majority of his life, and became a farmer. Later, Beaty's education consisted of an apprenticeship to a black cabinetmaker in Cincinnati, as well as a tutelage under James E. Murdock, a retired professional actor and dramatic coach.

On 5 September 1862 Powhatan Beaty along with 706 other African American men was forced to join Cincinnati s Black Brigade after Confederate troops repeatedly threatened the city The Black Brigade was one of the earliest but unofficial African American military units organized during the Civil War but it did not engage in any military action since the city was ...

Article

Philip Herbert

Alias of Thomas Wiggins (1849–1908), famous slave pianist, described by Mark Twain as a musical prodigy. He was born in May 1849 in Columbus, Georgia, being blind, and in today's terms an ‘autistic savant’. The renowned lawyer James N. Bethune bought Wiggins's parents as slaves. Recognizing that Wiggins was a musical genius capable of imitating noises, improvising, and composing at 6, Bethune's daughter Mary taught him to play the piano.

In 1857 Bethune paraded Wiggins's talent across Georgia, meeting rapturous responses. Consequently, Bethune had tours organized by Perry Oliver (concert promoter) earning them $100,000 a year. Wiggins would play European classical music, improvisations, popular ballads, and his own compositions, examples of the last being ‘The Rainstorm’ (1865) and ‘Cyclone Gallop’ (1887).

The Bethune family forced him to tour the South performing to raise funds during the Civil War for the confederacy and its army ...

Article

Thomas Bethune was born a slave within a few miles of Columbus, Georgia, the twentieth child of Charity Wiggins. He was blind from birth. Tom was included in a bargain when Colonel James Bethune, a Columbus lawyer and journalist, purchased the boy's parents in 1850. From infancy he manifested an extraordinary fondness for musical sounds and showed exceptional retentive skills. Said to have demonstrated musical genius before he was two, he was, by his fourth year, exhibited as the “musical marvel” of the Bethune plantation. At age eight his owner publicly presented him throughout Georgia. Soon after, Tom was hired out for three years to Perry Oliver, a Savannah tobacco planter, who promoted him in concerts throughout the United States. Tom's reputation was so widespread that in 1860 he performed for foreign dignitaries and before President James Buchanan in Washington D C So impressed ...

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John Davis

pianist and composer, was born Thomas Greene Wiggins to Domingo Wiggins and Charity Greene, field slaves on the Wiley Jones Plantation in Harris County, Georgia. In 1850 Tom, his parents, and two brothers were auctioned off to General James Neil Bethune, a prominent attorney and anti‐abolitionist newspaper publisher from Columbus, Georgia. The discovery two years later of the toddler, newly renamed Thomas Greene Bethune, blind from birth, possibly mentally impaired, and unusually captivated by random sounds, playing one of the general's daughter's piano pieces “totally 'stonished us,” according to Charity (New York Times, 27 Nov. 1886).

The general, however, viewed Tom's unforeseen musical ability as an opportunity. Eulogized in 1895 as “almost the pioneer free trader in this country” and “the first editor in the south to openly advocate secession” (New York Times, 21 Jan. 1895 Bethune saw the potential for ...

Article

Jane Poyner

Orphan from Dahomey (now Benin) reputed to be of royal lineage, who was brought as a slave to England, where she became Queen Victoria's protégée. Sarah was named, ignominiously, after the ship Bonetta on which she was transported to England. Ironically, she was given to Captain Frederick Forbes by King Gezo of Dahomey in a conciliatory gesture following Forbes's unsuccessful attempt to persuade the King to give up trading in slaves. Forbes, in his account of his travels Dahomey and the Dahomens (1851), used Sarah as an example of the potential for progress in the intellect of the African at a time when pseudo‐scientific enlightenment theories of race were rampant: as Forbes noted, ‘it being generally and erroneously supposed that after a certain age the intellect [of the African] becomes impaired and the pursuit of knowledge impossible’.

Sarah was presented to Queen Victoria and thereafter raised under her ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Atlantic slave-trade survivor presented as a gift to Britain's Queen Victoria, was born in the early 1840s in or near the southern Beninese town of Okeadon. Her birth name is not known, but her marriage certificate would list her name as Ina Sarah Forbes Bonetta, perhaps indicating that her original name was Ina. Southern Beninese states had fought for years against the inland kingdom of Dahomey for autonomy, as the slave-trading empire sought to force its southern neighbors to pay tribute and accept Dahomean control over the slaves that were often sold to European and South American merchants. In 1846 Dahomean soldiers seized her and killed her parents during the Okeadon War between Dahomey and its enemies in the Yoruba city of Abeokuta after a traitor had allowed Dahomean troops entry to the town Bonetta was fortunate she did not join the 600 or so town residents ...

Article

Julia Sun-Joo Lee

slave and minister, was born in Maryland. The names of his parents are unknown. For the first twenty-five years of his life Cooper was known as “Notly.” He escaped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, around 1800 and took the name John Smith. Employed at a lumberyard, he married a free black woman and had four children. Around this time Cooper's identity was betrayed by a friend. He was separated from his family and sent to Washington, D.C., to be sold at auction. He managed to escape and, with the help of a friend, return to Philadelphia, where he was reunited with his family. Still in danger of recapture, Cooper concealed himself at the home of a Quaker, where he stayed for a week while his master attempted to locate him.

Cooper fled to New Jersey where he was hired by a farmer His whereabouts were again discovered and Cooper escaped by ...

Article

Shennette Garrett-Scott

Revolutionary War soldier and fifer, was born in Africa and brought to work in the British colonies as a slave. Some sources assert that he was a free man when he enlisted in the Continental Army, but it is more likely that he secured his freedom in exchange for enlistment. His name does not appear on the list of enslaved recruits to the First Rhode Island Regiment compiled by historian Lorenzo Greene in his seminal 1952Journal of Negro History article Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution which may explain why historians and writers consider Cozzens a free person Greene admits that the primary source records are incomplete In addition like other enslaved recruits Cozzens would be emancipated if he passed muster and then served through the end of the war Cozzens may have been enslaved by members of the distinguished ...

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Philip Herbert

Violinist and composer, celebrated and admired as a remarkable musician in Cornish society after his humble beginnings as a slave. Emidy, was born in Guinea, West Africa, sold into slavery in 1787 by Portuguese traders, and then taken to Brazil. He came to Lisbon with his new owner, who recognized his interest in music and provided him with a violin and a tutor. He progressed musically, and by 1795 was a second violinist in the orchestra of the Opera House in Lisbon.

However, in 1795, when Sir Edward Pellow brought his ship the Indefatigable into the river Tagus in Lisbon for repairs, he and other officers attended the Lisbon opera. After seeing Emidy perform in the orchestra, they kidnapped him, forcing him to come aboard their ship as their fiddler to perform dances (which he loathed) to entertain the sailors and raise their morale as they sailed.

After ...

Article

crystal am nelson

community leader and musician, was born Occramer Marycoo in West Africa. Although his country of origin is unknown, a 1757 ship manifest shows that he was brought to America at the age of fourteen. He was on one of that year's seven slaving voyages that brought a total of 831 African slaves to Rhode Island. Gardner was one of the 106,544 slaves brought to Newport, Rhode Island, between 1709 and 1807. Caleb Gardner, a white merchant and member of the principal slave-trading team Briggs & Gardner, bought the teenage Marycoo and baptized him into the Congregational faith as Newport Gardner.

The forced exposure to Christianity aided Gardner s rise to a leadership position in the New World He quickly learned English from daily Bible studies with his master who freed Gardner after overhearing him pray for emancipation Upon gaining his freedom Gardner combined his new religious fervor with ...

Article

Angela Bates

buffalo soldier, pioneer settler, and entrepreneur, was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi, to a Native American mother and an African American father. At the age of fourteen he boarded a riverboat on the Mississippi River and became a cabin boy. During the Civil War, Garland served as a Union volunteer. After the war, in 1867, he joined the Tenth U.S. Cavalry and was assigned to Company F at Leavenworth, Kansas. Leavenworth became the first headquarters for the Tenth U.S. Cavalry. In 1866 the U S Congress designated the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries and the Twenty fourth and Twenty fifth Infantries These regiments were composed solely of African Americans except for their white officers the soldiers of these regiments were the first to officially serve in the military after the Civil War After training Company F was assigned to forts in western Kansas responsible for a ...

Article

Raymond Lemieux

Born in slavery and educated in freedom, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield possessed a remarkable vocal range—from baritone G, first line in the bass clef, to high C above the treble clef—and the sensitivity and musical intelligence to use that capacity artistically. She was probably the first African American musician to gain recognition in England, Canada, and in the United States.

Greenfield was born in Natchez, Mississippi (According to her court testimony in 1847, she was born in 1817.) The Taylors were slaves on the estate of Holliday Greenfield. When Elizabeth was a year old, Mrs. Greenfield, acting on her Quaker beliefs, freed Elizabeth's parents and sent them to Liberia. Mrs. Greenfield took Elizabeth to Philadelphia, where she raised her as a daughter, giving her the family name of Greenfield.

While still a young woman, Elizabeth Greenfield's extraordinary voice and personality attracted the attention of a Miss Price ...

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Lucy MacKeith

African‐American singer celebrated in Great Britain. She was born in Natchez, Missouri, as a slave, and taken to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a child by her mistress, Mrs Greenfield. When Mrs Greenfield joined the Quakers, advocating a just society for all people in the United States, she freed her slaves. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was loyal and stayed with Mrs Greenfield, who advised her to cultivate her gift for singing. She took her advice by continuing her study of music, and in 1851 she made her debut as a public performer in Buffalo, New York. This was followed by a tour of several cities.

In March 1853 following a concert in Buffalo friends raised funds to enable Elizabeth to go to Europe for further study Unfortunately her agent in Britain reneged on an agreement to devise a British tour To get out of this disastrous situation she sought the support of Lord ...

Article

singer and teacher, known as the “Black Swan,” was born a slave in or near Natchez, Mississippi. Her father may have been born in Africa, and her mother, Anna, was of mixed ancestry. Various sources offer no fewer than seven different birth dates between 1807 and 1824. Greenfield's use of “Taylor” rather than “Greenfield” in certain documents suggests that her parents used this surname, but little record of them survives.

When their owner, the wealthy widow Elizabeth Holliday Greenfield, joined the Society of Friends and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1820s, Greenfield's parents were manumitted and immigrated to Liberia. Though records suggest her mother planned to return, Greenfield never saw her parents again. She lived with her mistress until she was about eight years old and then rejoined her as a nurse-companion in about 1836 she seems to have lived with relatives in the ...

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Kathleen Thompson

At a time when most African American women were enslaved and working under unbearable conditions on the plantations of the South, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was appearing on concert stages around the country and traveling to England, giving a command performance for Queen Victoria. She was accomplished, intelligent, and ambitious, and became the best-known black concert singer of her time.

Greenfield was born about 1817 in Natchez, Mississippi, to a family named Taylor, who were slaves on the estate of Mrs. Elizabeth Holliday Greenfield. When Elizabeth was only a year old, Mrs. Greenfield, acting on her beliefs as a Quaker, manumitted the child’s parents and sent them to Liberia; she took Elizabeth with her to Philadelphia. The child stayed with Mrs. Greenfield until she was eight, and then went to live with her own sister, Mary Parker When she was in her late teens she went back to ...