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Article

Barbara A. White

prosperous businessman, whaling captain, and community leader, whose court case against Nantucket led to the integration of the public schools, was a member of one of the largest and most influential black families on the island. His father was Seneca Boston, a manumitted slave, who was a self‐employed weaver. His mother was a Wampanoag Indian named Thankful Micah. They had four sons and one daughter. Absalom Boston, the third‐born, went to sea, as did many of Nantucket's young men, signing onto the whale ship Thomas in 1809 when he was twenty‐four. Little is known about his early education. Anna Gardner, in her memoir Harvest Gleanings, mentions him visiting her family and hints that it may have been her mother, Hannah Macy Gardner, who taught the young man to read.

Shortly before he went to sea, Boston married his first wife, Mary Spywood about whom little is ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

merchant, public official, religious leader, and longtime state legislator, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the eldest son of free, mixed-race parents John Cail (Cale) and Elizabeth Mitchell, a homemaker, who were married in 1827. His father worked as a miller, later as a fisherman, and moved his large family—as many as nine children—to Edenton in nearby Chowan County in the 1850s. Little is known of Hugh Cale's early life or education, although he had learned to read and write by the end of the Civil War.

After the Union army occupied much of northeastern North Carolina in early 1862, Cale began working as a manual laborer for federal installations at Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island. In 1867 he moved to Elizabeth City North Carolina where he commenced a singularly successful career as a grocer and held a number of local offices during and after ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

farmer, shoemaker, and longtime state legislator, was born in Warren County, North Carolina, the third son of free, mixed-race parents Hawkins Carter and Elizabeth Wiggins, who were married in 1845. Few details are known of his early life or education, only that his father, a prosperous farmer, could afford to hire a young white teacher, W. J. Fulford, to tutor his eight children in 1861, the last year before the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the teenage Carter served as an officer's attendant for a Warrenton acquaintance, Captain Stephen W. Jones of the Forty-sixth North Carolina Regiment's Company C, raised at Warrenton in early 1862 Jones s company saw action at Antietam and other battles and Jones was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House where Carter presumably helped care for him The eldest son of the Warren County sheriff and a former deputy sheriff himself ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

carpenter, merchant, public official, and legislator, was born in Beaufort County, near Washington, North Carolina, of unnamed parents, probably free. Little is known of his early life or education, only that he was both free and literate when he moved to Tarboro, the Edgecombe County seat, in 1860, according to that year's federal census.

Within just a decade of his arrival in Tarboro, the mixed-race carpenter acquired significant social standing, a comfortable income, and political influence at both the local and state levels in the state's new Republican Party. Cherry's marriage in March 1861 to Mary Ann Jones (b. 1837) secured his place in the social ranks of the largely African American town. The daughter of a white Edgecombe planter and his free mistress, Miss Jones was the owner of her own house and a respected church leader The rest of her husband s achievements came ...

Article

John N. Ingham

businessman and politician, was born a free person of color in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Bernard Cohen and Amelia Bingaman, a free woman of color. Although Cohen's father was Jewish, he was raised as and remained throughout his life a Roman Catholic. His parents died when he was in the fourth grade, whereupon he had to quit school, though he later attended Straight University in New Orleans for several years. As a boy Cohen became a cigar maker and later worked in a saloon. His entrée into the world of politics came during the period of Reconstruction, when he worked as a page in the state legislature, then meeting in New Orleans. There, Cohen became acquainted with several influential black Republicans, among them Oscar J. Dunn, C. C. Antoine, and P. B. S. Pinchback Pinchback founder of and dominant figure in the city ...

Article

David E. Paterson

harness maker, state legislator, community organizer, and barber, was born on James Spier's farm, the Hurricane Place, three and a half miles from Thomaston, Upson County, Georgia, the fourth child of Guilford Speer and Viney, two of Spier's slaves. Guilford and Viney separated soon after William was born, and Guilford moved to Thomaston to operate a harness and shoe shop. William probably spent his earliest years with his mother, his three elder brothers, and several younger half siblings on the Hurricane Place, but by the late 1850s William had undoubtedly moved to the village and was learning his father's trade of harness making. In 1863 a devastating fire destroyed three-quarters of downtown Thomaston, and thereafter William probably worked in a shop organized by his father in Barnesville, Pike County, sixteen miles away.

Sometime during the Civil War, William married Lourinda presumably a slave but ...

Article

Bruce L. Mouser

trader, traditional medical practitioner, and political arbiter, was born on the coast of Guinea-Conakry. She is also known as Elizabeth, Beth, and Liza Heard. Her likely father was a British merchant attached to commercial firms maintaining factories at Bance Island in the Sierra Leone River or on the nearby Iles de Los. It was customary for African headmen to arrange a husband/wife relationship for resident foreign “strangers”—of which Heard’s father was likely one. Her mother’s name and relationship to local leaders are unknown. At a young age, Betsy was recognized as exceptionally intelligent, and she was sent to Liverpool, where she was boarded and educated, with the expectation that she would return to the Windward Coast as an agent for European commerce and Liverpool interests.

By the 1790s Heard had established a commercial footing at Bereira on the southern Guinea Conakry coast At that time Bereira was a border ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

newspaper editor, businessman, and politician, was born in Marion, Alabama. Nothing is known of his parents. He was sent to a primary school, and he later attended the state normal school in his hometown and Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. At age twenty he married Lillie A. Jones of Marion, and they had two children. At age twenty-six he became editor of the Mobile State Republican, and between 1894 and 1907 he edited the Mobile Weekly Press, described by Booker T. Washington as a “thoughtful Negro journal.”

In his editorials, Johnson attempted to put the best cast on racial conditions and outwardly expressed optimism about the future for African Americans in the South. At other times, however, as when the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901 disfranchised blacks he was less optimistic Whites he said then had made a mockery of popular democracy His editorials ...

Article

Glen Pierce Jenkins

obstetrician and community leader, was born near Moncks Corner, South Carolina, the son of the former slaves John Lambright and Mary Gelzer, farmers. Middleton was one of thirteen children, and although he was born free, more than half his siblings were born into slavery. As a young man he often accompanied his father to Charleston for supplies. Their route took them by the Medical College of South Carolina, and Lambright questioned his father about the young men in white coats walking on the campus. This experience established in him the notion of studying medicine. When a life-threatening accident brought him into personal contact with a physician for a period of several months, he became convinced of his life's ambition. With the support of his family, Lambright eventually graduated from Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, with an AB degree. In 1898 he received his MD from the ...

Article

Sandy Dwayne Martin

shoemaker, newspaper publisher, clergyperson, denominational leader and organizer, business leader, and political activist, was born the eighth of ten children to James and Cora Cornelia Morris near Spring Place in Murray County, Georgia, as a slave. On 24 November 1884 Morris married Fannie E. Austin of Alabama; they had five children. His father, James, came to Alabama from North Carolina in 1850. The father, relatively educated for the time, practiced a trade in town and visited the farm twice weekly, during which time he taught his family reading and writing in preparation for their eventual freedom. Elias augmented this home training by attending schools between 1864 and 1875 in Dalton, Georgia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Stevenson, Alabama; and Nashville, Tennessee (the school that eventually became Roger Williams University). Converted in 1874 he was also licensed to preach by a Baptist church the same year ...

Article

Michael F. Hembree

abolitionist and activist, was born in New York City, the son of Edward Powell, a slave. His mother's name is unknown. A passport application later described Powell as “of mulatto colour but of Indian extraction.” He apparently received some education before becoming an apprentice sailor and spending several years at sea in the 1820s. By the early 1830s he had settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, an active whaling port, and established a boardinghouse for sailors. He married Mercy O. Haskins of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1832; they had seven children.

Powell readily embraced the immediate abolitionism of William Lloyd Garrison and participated in the immediatist movement from its beginnings in the early 1830s He signed the constitution of the American Anti Slavery Society and joined the New England Anti Slavery Society Powell s abolitionism emanated from a deeply held religious conviction that slavery was a sin and ...

Article

Peter J. Duignan

fifth president of the Republic of Liberia, was born in Newark, Ohio, the son of John Roye, a wealthy merchant. His mother's name is unknown. His father died in 1829, leaving some personal property and land to Roye. He went to public schools in Ohio, attended Oberlin College, and taught for a few years in Chillicothe. He also tried his hand as a sheep trader and shopkeeper in various parts of the Midwest. After his mother died in 1840 he was influenced by the emigration movement to escape American prejudice. He rejected the idea of going to Haiti and instead traveled to Liberia in 1846 just before an independent republic was installed there in July 1847, taking with him a stock of goods.

At the time of Roye s arrival the new republic faced a variety of ills The dominant Americo Liberians remained a small minority threatened ...

Article

Philippe Girard

who was executed when he attempted to spark a slave revolt in Jamaica during the Haitian Revolution. Isaac Sasportas was born in Cap-Français, Saint-Domingue (present-day Cap-Haïtien, Haiti). The 1685 French law known as the Code Noir ostensibly banned the presence of Jews in French colonies, but it was often ignored. Sasportas’s father was a merchant in Cap-Français; another Sasportas family member was a slave-owning indigo planter in southern Saint-Domingue.

Sasportas was the scion of a wide-ranging kinship network that, like most Sephardic families, had originated in the Iberian Peninsula before scattering after the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain. One famed ancestor was Jacob Sasportas, an anti-Sabbatean rabbi who died in Amsterdam in 1698. Other family members lived in Bordeaux, London, and Curaçao, where in 1730 Sasportas’s namesake, Rephael Jeshurun, built Curaçao’s synagogue, the oldest in the New World.

No record survives that would document Isaac Sasportas s early ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

public official, Prohibitionist, and legislator in two states, was born a slave in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, the mixed-race son of Jane Sykes, a slave, and an unnamed father. His mother's owner was Caleb Sykes, an Elizabeth City, North Carolina, cabinetmaker. Only the year of his birth is recorded. Nothing is known of Sykes's early life, or his education before the Civil War, although he had learned to read and write by the war's end.

Sykes first appears in public records as a delegate to the North Carolina Colored Convention of 1866, and he soon became active in the state's new Republican Party. In 1868, he was selected as a member of the North Carolina Republican Party Executive Committee and was appointed as a magistrate by Governor William W. Holden The same year Sykes was also elected as Pasquotank County s first ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

waiter, storekeeper, and politician, was born near Montgomery, Alabama, to slave parents whose names-are unknown. His parents had been brought to Alabama from South Carolina in the 1830s by their owner, William H. Taylor, who became a wealthy planter in Montgomery County. Taylor also owned Thompson but appears to have allowed him to hire out his time as a waiter at the Madison House hotel in Montgomery prior to the end of the Civil War. Thompson learned to read and write and probably enjoyed greater freedom than most slaves in Alabama, though as a slave he was not allowed to marry legally. He did, however, have a common-law wife, Binah Yancey, who was born in 1842 in Alabama and was owned by William Lowndes Yancey a prominent Alabama secessionist politician Like her husband Binah Yancey was able to read and write and enjoyed a ...