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Article

Clarence Maxwell

was born on the island of Antigua in 1788. He moved to Bermuda in 1807, settling in the island’s former capital of St. George’s. Whether he arrived in Bermuda as either bond or free, he was certainly free by 1821 when he made one of his earliest appearances in the local records. The St. George’s Vestry noted him among the parish’s “free persons of colour” in 1828.

Between 1807 and 1821 Athill established himself as a shipwright a skill he may have learned living in Antigua There was a market for such in his new home Bermuda had experienced since the late 1600s a maritime and commercial economic revolution dominated by the carrying trade and including ancillary industries such as shipbuilding and boatbuilding As one of the few Bermuda residents classified as Free Coloured the 41 year old Athill purchased a freehold in St George s ...

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Jeannine DeLombard

fugitive slave, soldier, and slave narrative author, was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of slave parents whose names are unknown. When Charles was four years old, his mother and siblings were sold to slave traders to settle their late master's debts; he never saw them again. Charles was sold to John Cox, a local slave owner, and continued to live near his father and grandfather. After the sale of Charles's mother, his father sank into a deep depression, eventually escaping from slavery on the eve of his purchase by a slave trader. Charles grew close to his octogenarian grandfather, a former African warrior who had arrived in Maryland about 1730.

Cox died when Charles Ball was twelve and the young slave worked for his late master s father until he was twenty years old During this time Ball married a slave ...

Article

Sharon E. Wood

former slave, entrepreneur, steamboat worker, nurse, and church founder, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1801 or 1804. Although her father was a white man and also her master, his name is unknown. Her mother, Lydia, was his slave. While she was still a child, Baltimore's father sold her to a trader who carried her to the St. Louis area. Over the next few years, she passed among several masters, including the New Orleans judge Joachim Bermudez, working as a house servant for French, Spanish, and Anglo-American households in Louisiana and eastern Missouri.

In New Orleans Baltimore joined the Methodist Church Her piety so impressed one preacher that he purchased her then allowed her to hire her own time and buy her freedom Baltimore worked as a chambermaid on steamboats and as a lying in nurse According to tradition it took her seven years to earn the ...

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David Michel

pastor and religious leader, was born somewhere in the South; however, little is known about his early and adult life. He never went to school but managed to educate himself and learned both Hebrew and Yiddish. He also worked as a seaman, during which time he traveled all over the world. While overseas he claimed to have been appointed a prophet by God. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and founded the Church of God (Black Jews) in 1915. He probably married and fathered at least one child, Benjamin Cherry.

Cherry maintained that blacks, whom he also called Jews or Hebrews, descended from the Jews of the Bible, with Jacob as the father of all black people. Cherry was not the first African American to claim a Jewish ancestry for blacks. In 1896William S. Crowdy had founded the Church of God and Saints of Christ viewing its ...

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David M. Carletta

William Pancoast Clyde was born in Claymont, Delaware, the son of Thomas Clyde and Rebecca Pancoast. His father, a Scottish immigrant, settled in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a civil and marine engineer. In 1844 Thomas Clyde built America's first screw propeller steamship and launched the Clyde Steamship Line, which became the nation's largest coastal steamship company.

William Clyde attended Trinity College in Connecticut, but at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 he left his studies to join the Union forces as a Philadelphia Gray Reserve. In 1865 he married Emeline Field with whom he had seven children and entered the merchant shipping business in which his father had prospered At the age of thirty four Clyde became president of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company enabling him to dominate American shipping on the Pacific coast while his father dominated shipping on the Atlantic coast Clyde became ...

Article

David H. Anthony

adventurer, mariner, and African emigrationist, was born to Susan Cuffe and John Dean in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Harry Foster Dean followed the family profession when he decided to become a seafarer. By the age of thirteen he was on an around-the-world cruise captained by his Uncle Silas. A decade later he had made his way to Southampton, England, where he was mentored by a Captain Forbes. He later reported that he won his captain's license in that port, beginning a new phase in his life. According to Dean, his mother, Susan, was a granddaughter of the black Yankee Paul Cuffe As the progeny of the Cuffe family Dean considered himself a black aristocrat Since Cuffe was a merchant and back to Africa advocate Dean dreamed of reversing the effects and trajectories of the Middle Passage and removing himself to his ancestral continent of origin Much of what ...

Article

Eric W. Petenbrink

political theorist, was born Haywood Hall in South Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest of three children of Haywood Hall, a factory worker and janitor, and Harriet Thorpe Hall. When he was fifteen, racist violence in Omaha prompted the family to move to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Hall soon dropped out of school and began working as a railroad dining car waiter. In 1915 the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, to be near extended family, and Hall enlisted in the military in 1917. He served in World War I for a year as part of an all-black unit in France, where he grew accustomed to the absence of racism. Hall married his first wife, Hazel, in 1920, but the marriage lasted only a few months. In spite of their lengthy separation, they did not officially divorce until 1932.

Hall s experiences in World War I and defending ...

Article

Andrew W. Kahrl

real estate developer, general contractor, philanthropist, and shipping and excursion steamboat owner, was born in Orange, Virginia.

Jefferson spent his youth in Washington, D.C. In 1881, at the age of fifteen, Jefferson enlisted in the Navy after falsifying his age. He traveled around the world working as a coal heaver. During his service, Jefferson secured connections with wealthy, influential whites, including Canadian shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allen, from whom Jefferson received a significant bequest after his death in 1882 Following his service Jefferson returned to Washington and started a small business that furnished manure and other fertilizers to city lawns and gardens and collected and shipped it out of town His wealth grew as a result of real estate investments Partnerships and friendships with influential whites in the city s business community helped to mitigate the effects of discrimination and protect him from ...

Article

John Garst

“steel-driving man” and legendary hero, may have been a historic person born a slave in Mississippi, Virginia, or some other Southern state. In ballad and legend he is simply “John Henry,” but “John Henry” is a common combination of given names, so Henry may not have been his surname.

Songs about John Henry were collected as early as 1905. In 1916 the former West Virginia governor W.-A. MacCorkle confused him with John Hardy, an African American gambler and murderer who was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894 and is the subject of his own ballad. By the mid-1920s the ballad “John Henry” was being recorded commercially by Riley Puckett (1924), Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), and other white “hillbilly” performers, and shortly thereafter recordings by such African American bluesmen as Henry Thomas (1927) and Mississippi John Hurt (1928 began ...

Article

Carl E. Meacham

railroad fireman and union activist, was born Matt Meacham in the township of Springfield, Greene County, Alabama, the fifth of seven children of Anthony Meacham, an ex-slave and farmer, and Hazel Cooks, also a farmer. Almost five years old when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, Anthony became a sharecropper in Greene County, but relocated, following a racially motivated financial dispute with the landowner, to nearby Pickens County about 1915. A defining moment in Meacham's life, it influenced his decision to confront the pervasive racism in the railroad industry in the 1940s.

Meacham's odyssey began at seventeen in July 1922 Like thousands of poorly educated yet ambitious rural Alabama black youths in the 1920s he migrated to the thriving small city of Tuscaloosa seeking a better life and in the process assumed a new surname Mitchell Hired as a coal heaver on the ...

Article

John Herschel Barnhill

sailor, was born on Union Island, St. Vincent, British West Indies, the son of a shipbuilder. As a child he attended St. Vincent Grammar School because his father wanted him to be an engineer. Mulzac himself wanted to be a sailor, a desire that became a passion when his father took him to visit HMS Good Hope in Kingston, Jamaica.

On completing grammar school Mulzac sailed as a seaman on the schooner Sunbeam, captained by his brother John. He subsequently sailed on a Norwegian ship from Barbados through the Caribbean and the Atlantic, again as a seaman. When the ship's captain invited Mulzac to church with him in Wilmington, North Carolina, Mulzac encountered his first taste of segregation when the sexton directed him to the black church some blocks away.

Mulzac received his training at Swansea Nautical College in South Wales and in New York City He ...

Article

Sandra Opdycke

Isaac Myers was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of free African American parents, whose names and occupations are unknown. Myers was barred from public education, but he did attend a private day school run by a local clergyman. Leaving school at sixteen, he served an apprenticeship with a leading black ship caulker and then entered the trade himself, becoming by the age of twenty a supervisor, responsible for caulking some of Baltimore's largest clipper ships. During this period he married Emma V.; neither the precise year nor her full maiden name is known. They had three children, the first born in 1859.

Myers worked as a porter and shipping clerk for a wholesale grocer from 1860 to 1864 ran his own store for a year and then went back to ship caulking Soon after he returned to this trade however the city s white caulkers ...

Article

Sandra Opdycke

labor leader, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of free parents whose names and occupations are unknown. Myers was barred from public education, but he did attend a private day school run by a local clergyman. Leaving school at age sixteen he served an apprenticeship with a leading black ship caulker and then entered the trade himself, becoming by the age of twenty a supervisor, responsible for caulking some of Baltimore's largest clipper ships. During this period he married Emma V., though neither the precise year of the marriage nor her full maiden name is known. They had three children, the first born in 1859.

Myers worked as a porter and shipping clerk for a wholesale grocer from 1860 to 1864 ran his own store for a year and then went back to ship caulking Soon after he returned to this trade however the city ...

Article

David Killingray

African‐Americanseaman, evangelist, and missionary born in the United States, the child of freed slaves. As a seaman he travelled over a large part of the world, living what he later described as the dissolute life of a prodigal. He arrived in Edinburgh sometime in the early 1870s. While living in Leith, in 1873, he entered a mission hall and was converted to Christianity. From then on he became an evangelist, first in Leith and then as an itinerant preacher with a travelling tent mission in the Scottish midlands.

Newby wanted to go to Africa as a missionary, and so he trained at the Harley Institute in east London from 1874 to 1876. He sailed for West Africa in July 1876 to work for the Church Missionary Society in the Niger delta region As part of his evangelistic work he went with an expedition into ...

Article

Ian Rocksborough-Smith

civil rights, peace, and social justice organizer, and writer, was born Hunter Pitts O'Dell on the west side of Detroit, Michigan. Jack's parents were George Edwin O'Dell and Emily (Pitts) O'Dell. His father was a hotel and restaurant worker in Detroit who later owned a restaurant in Miami, Florida. His mother had studied music at Howard University and became an adult education teacher, a classical and jazz pianist, and an organist for Bethel AME Church in Detroit. His grandfather, John H. O'Dell, was a janitor in the Detroit Public Library system and a member of the Nacirema Club, which was a club for prominent African American Detroiters. Jack O'Dell later took his grandfather's signature, “J.H. O'Dell” as his nom de plume when he became a writer.

Raised by his paternal grandparents O Dell grew up during the Great Depression and witnessed the sit down ...

Article

Burgsbee L. Hobbs

merchant mariner who was interned in the Nazi concentration camp system, was born in San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic, to Alfred and Marie Louise Illidge Romney. He was of African and Dutch ancestry, and later immigrated to the United States; in the 1980s, he applied for citizenship.

The extremist, racist policies of Nazi Germany during the period 1933–1945 frequently extended to both its own black populace and prisoners of war. African Europeans and nationals living in occupied African territories were also singled out for persecution. In some cases, captive black soldiers were first segregated from white soldiers and then summarily executed. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in addition to European blacks, blacks from the Americas were also detained in the Nazi concentration camp system (Carr, 47).

Romney whose surname has also been recorded erroneously as Rommney Taylor and Rombley War was one such ...

Article

Eileen Scully

sailor and sojourner, was born near Rochester, New York. Little is known of her lineage, but she is believed to have been the daughter of a John Sands, and a descendant of Virginia slaves. Her father, who may have been a fugitive slave, was in Rochester by 1841, and the family moved westward to Buffalo around 1848, where John Sands found work first as a laborer and then as a cook on a Lake Erie steamer. Among African Americans the family name “Sands” most often comes from the white Sands (variously spelled “Sandys”) family: Sir Edwin Sandys and George Sandys (also pronounced “Sandz”) were involved in the Jamestown settlement; others of that surname can be found in the northern colonies as well.

Sarah Sands grew up in the neighborhood of the Vine Street African Methodist Episcopal AME Church not far from what would much later be ...

Article

A. J. Peluso

deckhand, scowman, sailor, and marine artist, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Nelson Selby and Margaret Hicks, occupations unknown. Nothing more is known of Selby's family, and little is known about his youth. By 1905, as a child of twelve, he was employed as a deckhand working the ships in Mobile Bay—schooners from ports around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. One day his leg was mangled in a snapped towline and had to be amputated. In spite of the loss he managed to engage successfully in various manual and unskilled jobs and earn a precarious living.

Selby spent some of his early working years in Baltimore Maryland as a scowman for the Atlantic Transport Line Even with a peg leg he could climb a rope ladder as deftly as anyone without his disability Nor did the work of scowman suppress ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

whaling master, was born in Barbados, the eldest of eight children of a Scottish sugar planter named Shorey, and an African Caribbean woman, Rosa Frazier, whom the younger Shorey's biographers have invariably described as a “beautiful creole lady” (Tompkins, 75). Some biographical sources incorrectly suggest that William was born either in Provincetown, Massachusetts, or in India. Although he was born free twenty-five years after slavery was abolished in the British West Indies, Shorey's prospects as a black man in Barbados were limited. He apprenticed for a while as a plumber on the island, but sometime in the mid-1870s, when he was still a teenager, Shorey found work as a cabin boy on a ship headed to Boston, Massachusetts. The English captain of the vessel quickly took to the eager, quick-witted, and adventurous lad and began to teach him navigation.

Upon arriving in New England Shorey ...

Article

Berkeley E. Tompkins

The San Francisco Chronicle described William Shorey in 1907 as “the only colored captain on the Pacific Coast.” He was born on the island of Barbados in 1859 and spent his childhood there. His father was a Scottish sugar planter on the Caribbean island, and his mother, Rosa Frazier, was a native Barbadian.

As the oldest of his mother's eight children it was necessary for Shorey to begin working at an early age. Although slavery had been abolished in Barbados several decades earlier, in 1834, opportunities for a young man like Shorey were still quite limited. He was apprenticed in his early teens to a plumber, but he found the drudgery of this job uncongenial. Strongly attracted to the sea, as were many young men raised on the island, Shorey said goodbye to his family in 1875 and shipped on a British vessel bound for Boston Massachusetts ...