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George Michael La Rue

preeminent trans-Saharan merchant and caravan leader (khabir) from the Sudanese kingdom of Darfur, was born in Kubayh, the son of Ibrahim ibn ʿAli, a Tirayfi merchant from Kordofan who immigrated to Darfur, and an unknown mother. He was commonly known as khabir ʿAli. In the nineteenth century Darfur was Egypt’s leading supplier of trans-Saharan goods including ivory, ostrich feathers, and slaves. In 1838, when Darfur’s sultan Muhammad Fadl died, young ʿAli ibn Ibrahim had already crossed the Sahara along the route from Kubayh (Darfur’s commercial capital) to Asyut in Upper Egypt, perhaps as part of a caravan led by his mentor, paternal uncle, and future father-in-law, Muhammad Kannun, or one of the lesser Tirayfi caravan leaders. ʿAli ibn Ibrahim allegedly heard the news of the sultan’s death from Muhammad ʿAli, the viceroy of Egypt.

ʿAli married six times and had numerous children His first marriage was probably ...

Article

Mary Ann Mahony

whose career spanned the late Brazilian Empire through the fifth decade of republican rule, was born to Maria Francisca Vitória, an unmarried, free Afro-Brazilian woman descended from rural slaves, on a small cacao farm in the emerging cacao district of Cachoeira de Itabuna in the municipality of Ilhéus, in the northeastern province of Bahia. Alves dos Reis is an example of the rapid social mobility available to ambitious and well-connected young men of African descent in the emerging cacao region of the northeast as European and US demand took off for cocoa and chocolate.

By 1887, when Alves dos Reis registered with the local National Guard unit, he was already a moderately prosperous merchant. In 1883 he and his wife lived in a one story wattle and daub thatched roof house with a door a window and a dirt floor It resembled the slave cabins on nearby local ...

Article

David Northrup

Atlantic merchant, was born and lived in Duke Town, a part of the trading community of Old Calabar, near the Cross River in what is now southeastern Nigeria. The names of his parents are unknown. His name is also given as Ntiero Edem Efiom. He married Awa Ofiong, whom he called his “dear wife,” as well as two other wives whose names are not known. His only known child was a son, Duke Antera.

Antera grew up in a family prominent in the marketing of merchandise brought by Europeans in exchange for African slaves and other goods In addition to the local Efik language the young Antera learned to speak English through contact with the British captains and crew who called at Old Calabar The fact that he could also read and write English suggests he may have received some formal education in England as did the sons of other ...

Article

Amar Wahab

Pan‐Africanistleader in Britain in the early 1900s. Born in Sierra Leone, in 1869 he was sent to Cheshire to be educated and started working for the family firm, Broadhurst and Sons, in Manchester in 1905. By 1936 he is known to have been a cocoa merchant in the Gold Coast. He was heavily involved in the realm of Pan‐Africanist politics in Britain, becoming a founder member of the African Progress Union between 1911 and 1925. He became secretary of the Union in his sixties and continued as a member of the executive committee until its end. He worked with other leading supporters such as Duse Mohamed Ali, Edmund Fitzgerald Fredericks, and ‘the Black doctor of Paddington’ John Alcindor The Union organized around issues related to the welfare of Africans and Afro Peoples worldwide and vociferously advocated self determination This involved for example protests about ...

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

Philip J. Havik

merchant and trader in Portuguese Guinea, present-day Guinea-Bissau, was born in the 1780s, in the town of Cacheu on the Guinea coast, into a family with strong connections to administration and commerce in the region. Her father, Manuel de Carvalho Alvarenga, was also Guinean-born; he was descended from Cape Verdeans who had settled there in the 1700s, acting as commanders of the ports of Cacheu, Farim, and Ziguinchor, who intermarried with African women. Her brother, Francisco de Carvalho Alvarenga, became an important trader and held posts in the Portuguese administration in the town of Ziguinchor in the Casamance region (part of Senegal since 1886 Her aunt Josefa de Carvalho Alvarenga was born in the Cape Verde islands and married wealthy officials and owned landed property and slaves in the archipelago Although Rosa de Carvalho Alvarenga s mother s name is unknown she was in all likelihood of Banhun origin ...

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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

Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable's biography combines conjecture and lore with a few established facts. He was probably born in St. Marc, Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) around 1750 to a French mariner and an African-born slave. He may have been educated in Paris and employed as a sailor during his young adult life. Du Sable entered North America through either Louisiana or French Canada, and first appeared in historical documents in 1779, when a British officer in the Great Lakes region reported that the local trader “Baptist Point de Sable” was “much in the interest of the French.”

The British detained Du Sable for suspected “intercourse with the enemy,” but he soon impressed his captors as a well-educated and highly capable frontiersman. British governor Patrick Sinclair sent Du Sable to the Saint Clair River region to manage trade and serve as a liaison between Native Americans and ...

Article

Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable is reputed to be the founder of Chicago because he was the first non–Native American to build a home on the future site of the city. As an enterprising free black man on the Revolutionary frontier, Du Sable has become a symbolic figure of great importance to the modern-day African American community, especially in Chicago. The lack of much concrete evidence about his life seems only to enhance his mythic importance as a pioneering black settler and prominent frontiersman. Documents composed by English speakers spell his name variously as “Au Sable,” “Point Sable,” “Sabre,” and “Pointe de Saible.”

Du Sable s birth date is not known It is thought that he was born in the town of Saint Marc on the island of Saint Domingue in what later became the first free black republic in the Americas Haiti At the time of his birth Saint ...

Article

Swithin Wilmot

was a passionate advocate for the rights of freed people in early post-slavery Jamaica. He was summarily tried and executed after the Morant Bay Rebellion in October 1865. Gordon was born into slavery sometime between 1817 and 1820, the son of Joseph Gordon, a Scotsman who owned or managed several coffee plantations, livestock pens, and sugar estates, and an enslaved black woman on Joseph Gordon’s Cherry Garden estate in the St. Andrew foothills overlooking Kingston. This common-law union produced George William and at least three girls. The absence of his mother’s and his sisters’ names from biographies of Gordon underscores the general invisibility of women in the historical record.

Joseph Gordon kept George William and his sisters nominally in servitude until the Emancipation Act in 1834 but early on he recognized his son s intellectual abilities and encouraged his interest in books and figures When George William ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

singer, dancer, ventriloquist, and junk merchant, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, on the eve of the Civil War. To date, questions remain about Harmon's real name, parents, siblings, if any, and childhood. In addition, there appears to be no documentation about his years as a performer. The available information indicates that he worked in show business as a singer, dancer, and ventriloquist. Essentially, he was a well-rounded entertainer who had many talents and a knack for the stage. Harmon was married and had two children; however, the names of his wife and children are not readily available. When Harmon was around 38 and 39, his wife and children died from influenza in 1898–1899, during the Spanish American War. Harmon then moved to Harlem and lived in a two-room apartment.

Around 1910 Harmon having left the stage began a new career with a small cart and a ...

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

Elsie A. Okobi

merchant and king of Opobo, was born in the village of Umuduruoha in the densely populated Igbo heartland of eastern Nigeria (now in Imo State). He was born into the Isu clan, and his father, Ozurumba, was most likely a farmer who supplemented that work by trading or with a skilled profession such as blacksmithing. His mother’s name was Uru. At the approximate age of twelve, Jaja was sent to live with relatives in Nkwerre, from where he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. From Nkwerre he was brought to Akwete and sold to a trader named Odiari from the Royal Canoe House of Opobo. (Canoe houses had begun in the delta as trading and fighting communities capable of manning and maintaining a war canoe; the trading center city-states of the eastern delta—Brass, Nembe, Bonny—each consisted of several organized canoe houses.)

Given the name Jubo Jubogha Jaja stayed with his ...

Article

Genaro Vilanova Miranda de Oliveira

West African–born self-manumitted slave and prosperous merchant who lived in Brazil in the first half of the nineteenth century. Accused of collaborating with the 1835 slave and Muslim-led Malê Revolt in Salvador da Bahia, de Jesus was deported to Africa and forced to abandon all properties and businesses in Brazil. Documents refer to de Jesus as belonging to the Jeje nation, a nineteenth-century slave classification today associated with people from the region of the former kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin). The reasons behind de Jesus’s arrival in Brazil are not fully clear. Possibly, he was enslaved and sold as a result of retaliatory, military incursions of the kingdom of Oyo against its tributary kingdom of Dahomey.

After ten years working as a wage-earning slave (escravo de ganho), de Jesus was able to buy his freedom in 1810 An alternative explanation for his manumission argues that he received ...

Article

Lolita K. Buckner Inniss

vendor, was born in Easton, Maryland, as the slave of Philip Wallis of Maryland. The names of Johnson's parents are unknown. Johnson is said to have run away in his early twenties, after having been sent on an errand for his master. Johnson first took a boat from Maryland and later a train. In 1839 he reached Princeton, New Jersey, where he was employed as a laborer and janitor in Nassau Hall in the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He had been known as James Collins in Maryland but called himself James Johnson once he reached Princeton.

In 1843 Johnson was recognized as an escaped slave and was seized and put on trial in Princeton as a fugitive slave The son of Johnson s owner Severn Teackle Wallis traveled from Maryland to claim Johnson The younger Wallis was later a well known lawyer politician provost of the ...

Article

Thomas Spear

renowned Kamba trader, was born in Kibwezi on the Machakos-Kitui border of eastern Kenya about 1790 The early nineteenth century was a period of rapidly expanding trade in eastern Kenya as Giriama and other Mijikenda traders from the coast traveled inland with cloth beads and other trade goods to exchange for ivory cattle hides and craft products At first they met Kamba hunters and traders at the periodic local markets held throughout Kitui but soon Kamba hunters and traders themselves began to travel farther inland to Kikuyu Embu Mbeere Tharaka and Maasai to acquire cattle and ivory establishing wide ranging networks of kin and trade partners with whom they did business By the 1820s Kamba traders were accompanying their Giriama partners to the coast and by the 1840s and 1850s they had come to dominate the long distance trade routes between the coast and highlands At the same time ...

Article

Nana Yaw B. Sapong

domestic slave, slave trader, and merchant prince, was born Adzoviehlo Atiogbe in Agoue in Dahomey (Benin) in 1804 He is also known as Adzoviehlo Atiogbe or Geraldo de Vasconcellos A man of several names he is one of the least understood and most complex characters in modern West African history Geraldo de Vasconcellos probably a Brazilian name given to him by his master in servitude entered into a period of apprenticeship under Brazilian slave trader Cesar Cerquira Lima who had a slave factory warehouse at Vodza in present day Ghana Slaves were kept in the Vodza factory before shipment to various destinations Cesar Cerquira Lima was one of a succession of Brazilian traders who had been establishing factories along the eastern coastline of the Gold Coast in the nineteenth century Geraldo de Vasconcellos became one of Cesar s trusted agents in Anlo who kept the supply of slaves steady ...

Article

Isabelle de Rezende

prominent trader and warlord in present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa, former Zaire), was born between 1855 and 1860 in what today is Congo’s Maniema Province, between the rivers Lomami to the west and Lualaba to the east. Ngongo’s origins are unclear. Most commentators situate him as a Tetela-Kusu, Songye, or Hina (Lomami River people, connected linguistically and culturally to their various neighbors); the preferred spelling of his name by these communities is Ngongo Leteta.

What we know of Ngongo’s life was lived in the context of eastern and central Congo in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. Swahili traders, the most famous of whom was Tippu Tip, culturally mixed Muslims from the East African island of Zanzibar, began incursions into the Congo west of the Lualaba. They established the slave and ivory market towns of Kasongo and Nyangwe.

There are different stories about how Ngongo came to Tippu Tip ...

Article

Ana-Lucia Araujo

alias “Dominguinhos da Costa,” also known as Domingo Martinez, was one of the most important Brazilian slave merchants who developed his career in the Bight of Benin. He contributed greatly to trade connections between Bahia, Ouidah, and Lagos. Martins was born c. 1813 in Salvador, the capital of the captaincy of Bahia. He was the filho natural (out-of-wedlock) child of Domingos José Martins and Francisca Romana Pinto, who was probably an Afro-Brazilian.

In 1834, after the slave trade to Brazil had been outlawed, Martins traveled from Bahia to the Bight of Benin as a crew member of a slave ship sent to Francisco Félix de Souza (1754–1849), a notorious Brazilian-born slave merchant who held the honorific title of chacha In this capacity Martins played the role of commercial agent in Ouidah controlling the slave trade in a port that was part of the territory of the ...

Article

Rosemary Elizabeth Galli

warlord, trader, and founder of perhaps the greatest Yao dynasty in Niassa in northern Mozambique, was the grandson of Syungule, head of the Chisyungule lineage. Mataka Nyambi, along with his biggest rival Makanjila, was instrumental in transforming the Niassa Yao from a society of matriclans to one governed by territorial chiefs. In the process, he brought a large population under his control and gained many wives; he is said to have had six hundred wives and numerous children. In about 1875 Mataka (now Mataka I) beheaded his adversary Makanjila.

A fierce drought drove the Niassa Yao to invade and ransack their neighbors for food and, subsequently, slaves in the 1830s Attacks by Nguni raiders have been responsible for their militarization Small and weak matriclans submitted to the stronger territorial chiefs and even sought their protection Mataka Nyambi was both feared and admired for his military prowess In addition trade ...