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Tom Stephens

farmer and businessman, was born at Indian Queen Tavern in Danville, Kentucky. Doram was a son of Lydia Barbee, a free black woman, who had been a slave of the Revolutionary War General Thomas Barbee. According to family tradition, Barbee was Doram's father and that of his siblings. Lydia and her six children were the first people mentioned in Barbee's will, which freed her and provided for the emancipation and education of the children.

When Boyle County, Kentucky, was formed in 1842 Doram was already a leading figure in the community and, by 1850, was considered “the wealthiest member of his race” in the county (Brown, 427). His business concerns included the local Caldwell School for Women and a rope factory, in addition to his growing and selling hemp. The county's 1850 tax list shows Doram as the owner of 215 acres along Dix River ...

Article

Julie Winch

businessman and social reformer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Forten, a freeborn sailmaker, and Margaret (maiden name unknown). James's parents enrolled him in the African School of abolitionist Anthony Benezet. When James was seven, his father died. Margaret Forten struggled to keep her son in school, but he was eventually forced to leave at age nine and work full time to help support the family. His family remained in Philadelphia throughout the American Revolution, and Forten later recalled being in the crowd outside the Pennsylvania State House when the Declaration of Independence was read to the people for the first time.

In 1781, while serving on a privateer, Forten was captured by the British and spent seven months on the infamous prison ship Jersey in New York harbor.

After a voyage to England in 1784 as a merchant seaman Forten returned ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

was the first African American and perhaps the first of any color to become a millionaire in Texas. His life reflects substantial changes in the social and legal implications of skin color from the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteeth century, distinct from, but closely related to, changes in the institution of slavery.

His father was a “free colored” man named William Goyens Sr. (or Goin), born in 1762, who enlisted in a company of the Tenth North Carolina Regiment May 1781–May 1782 for the Revolutionary War. After discharge from the militia, Goyens Sr. married an unknown woman referred to as “white,” who was the mother of the younger William Goyens. Goyens Sr. then remarried a colored woman named Elizabeth in 1793. Goyens Sr. received an invalid pension for North Carolina militia service in 1835, at the age of seventy-two (Research of Cindy Goins Hoelscher ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

minister and blacksmith, was born in Leonardtown, Maryland, the son of Jane and Thomas Henry, slaves of Richard Barnes, the largest slave owner in the district. It is thought that Henry's maternal grandmother, Catherine Hill, had been purchased by the Barnes family on a return trip from England and the Caribbean. Thomas's parents were domestic servants of the Barnes family, which owned tobacco plantations and other business interests. Before his death in 1804, Richard Barnes had stated in his will that his slaves were to be freed; one unusual stipulation he added that suggests a special closeness with these individuals was that the manumitted slaves take the name Barnes.

Thomas, however, did not gain his freedom until almost twenty years after his master's death, because John Thomson Mason a nephew of Richard Barnes and the executor of his estate exploited a growing number of ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

, blacksmith and hero of the 1811 Richmond Theatre fire, was born a slave at the Piping Tavern near the Pamunkey River in King William County, Virginia. The names of his parents are unknown, though his mother appears to have been a slave of the keeper of the Piping Tavern. What little is known of Hunt's life comes from a brief biographical sketch published in Richmond, Virginia, on the eve of the Civil War by Philip Barrett, a white journalist. A transcription of Hunt's reminiscences accounts for much of this sketch of the “meritorious old negro” (5), in which Barrett urges his fellow, predominantly white citizens of Richmond to be profoundly grateful for Hunt's long years of service to the community. Hunt, in Barrett's view, was a man of “high integrity” whose bearing and words betrayed his “true, generous-hearted, disinterestedness” (4).

Hunt arrived in Richmond in the first decade ...

Article

Lucia C. Stanton

blacksmith and slave narrative author, was born a slave at Monticello, the Virginia plantation of future U.S. president Thomas Jefferson, to the slaves George, a foreman and overseer, and Ursula, a pastry cook and laundress. In 1773 Thomas Jefferson had purchased Isaac's parents from two different owners in Powhatan County. George rose from foreman of labor to become, in 1797, overseer of Monticello—the only slave to reach that position. Ursula, who had been a “favorite house woman” of Martha Jefferson's, was given charge of many of the domestic operations of the plantation.

The slave couple s third son Isaac spent his childhood at Monticello near his mother From an early age he performed simple tasks for the Jefferson household lighting fires carrying water and fuel and opening gates When Thomas Jefferson became governor of Virginia during the American Revolution Isaac and his family accompanied ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

craftsman, minister, and businessman, was born a slave in Virginia. The names of his father, a Baptist preacher, and his mother are unknown. A skilled carpenter and cooper, Meachum was allowed to save some of his earnings, and eventually he bought his freedom. Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, he married a slave, Mary, and then purchased her out of bondage; they had an unknown number of children. About 1815 he moved with his wife to St. Louis, reportedly with only three dollars in his pocket. There Meachum used his carpentry skills to find a job as a cooper. He established his own cooper's shop a few years later and began buying St. Louis real estate.

During the 1830s in order to help fellow African Americans become free Meachum started buying slaves training them in barrel making and letting them earn money to pay him back for their ...

Article

Chaitali Korgaonkar and Robert Smieja

porter, clerk, and civic leader in Hartford, Connecticut, was born in Guilford, Connecticut, the son of Ham Primus, a sailor, and Temperance Asher. His grandfather, named simply Primus, is recognized in one local history as a servant and apprentice to a Dr. Wolcott in East Windsor, Connecticut, in the mid-eighteenth century. Later on, inspired by Dr. Wolcott's work, this Primus became a doctor himself, setting up his own office. We know little about Holdridge Primus's early life, but we do know he was earning a living by age twelve. In his early teenage years, he made his way to Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked and apprenticed for William Ellsworth, (later governor of Connecticut from 1838 to 1842). When Ellsworth served in Congress around 1840 he chose to take Primus with him based on his merit intelligence and dedicated service Primus was employed in a ...