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Article

Alonford James Robinson

Information on the birth and early childhood of Crispus Attucks is inconclusive, but historians believe that he was part African and part Native American, and that he was once the slave of William Brown of Framingham, Massachusetts. In November 1750, Attucks escaped. For the next twenty years, he worked on whaling ships docked in ports throughout New England.

His fame is attributable largely to a single fateful day in Boston, March 5, 1770, when anticolonial patriot Samuel Adams urged dockworkers and seamen in Boston to protest the presence of British troops guarding the customs commissioners Attucks was among an estimated fifty men who gathered that night to confront the British and is alleged to have rallied his comrades by declaring Don t be afraid as he led the ranks When British soldiers fired on the protesters Attucks was the first of five men killed in what ...

Article

Harry M. Ward

probably a sailor, was the first to be killed in the Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770. Generally regarded to have been of mixed ancestry (African, Indian, and white), Attucks seems to have hailed from a Natick Indian settlement, Mashpee (incorporated as a district in 1763, near Framingham, Massachusetts). While Attucks's life and background before the tragic event are uncertain, two reasonable conjectures stand out. First, he was a descendant of those Natick Indians converted to Christianity in the seventeenth century. One tribesman, John Attuck, was hanged on 22 June 1676 for allegedly conspiring with the Indian insurrection of that year. Second, it appears that Attucks may have once been a slave. The Boston Gazette of 2 October 1750 printed this notice Ran away from his Master William Brown of Framingham on the 30th of September last a mulatto Fellow about twenty seven years of age ...

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Scott A. Miltenberger

The death of Crispus Attucks is shrouded in myth. John Adams, the future second president of the United States and the defense attorney for the British troops charged with Attucks's murder, accused him of being a rabble-rouser and the instigator of the confrontation that resulted in the now famously known “Boston Massacre” of 1770. John Hancock, a Boston merchant and, like Adams, a member of the Sons of Liberty, celebrated Attucks as a defiant patriot. Attucks's true role remains unclear—much like his life prior to 1770.

Attucks was most probably born a slave in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1723. He was likely of mixed African and Native American parentage (attuck is the Natick Indian word for “deer”). In 1750, at about age twenty-seven, Attucks ran away from his master, most likely a William Brown For the next twenty years he worked as ...

Article

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

David Dabydeen

African‐American seaman, probably a slave, who was injured and treated in London while fighting the French in the Napoleonic Wars. The years of Hammon's birth and death are unknown. Hammon published a narrative of his life, Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Suprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man, in 1760. Nothing is known of his life apart from what is recorded in the narrative.

The question of whether he was a slave or not is not entirely known, although he was the servant of a General John Winslow of Marshfield, Massachusetts. He was separated from his master in 1747 and became a captive of the Spanish on his many sea travels He travelled for almost thirteen years enduring various hardships such as imprisonment and enslavement During his travels Hammon held various jobs Notably he worked as a cook aboard a slaver that was bound for ...

Article

Roland L. Williams

(?-?), autobiographer. The Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man (1760), which recounts almost thirteen years of Hammon's adventures at sea, contains all that is known about Briton Hammon. Covering a mere fourteen pages, Hammon's account opens with a humble introduction expressing the hope that the reader will overlook any flaws in the text, since the author's “Capacities and Condition of Life are very low.” It turns into a tale of amazing events that occur after Hammon obtains permission from his master, General Winslow, to leave Marshfield, Massachusetts, to go to sea. On Christmas day 1747 he sails from Plymouth on a sloop bound for Jamaica in due course he arrives safely on the island Returning from it however his vessel catches on a reef off the coast of Florida Hostile natives attack the ship and kill everyone on board ...

Article

Joanna Brooks

Briton Hammon wrote A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man (1760), the first black-authored text published in America. The Narrative recalls Hammon's adventures for twelve years as a sailor, castaway, captive, prisoner, and slave around the Atlantic littoral. His story began on Christmas Day in 1747, when Hammon left the home of his master, John Winslow, in Marshfield, Massachusetts, to ship himself aboard a vessel bound from Plymouth for the Caribbean.

When the ship foundered on a reef off the Florida coast sixty American Indians attacked killing most of the crew and taking Hammon captive Hammon s captors soon released him to the captain of a Spanish ship headed for Havana Cuba In Cuba Hammon landed in the employment of the Spanish colonial governor and the local Catholic bishop then was impressed into the Spanish navy and imprisoned ...

Article

David Dabydeen

African preacher who travelled around England and Ireland sermonizing. Jea was born in Old Callabar, Africa, and at the age of 2½ was taken, along with his family, to North America, where they became the slaves of Oliver and Angelika Triebuen. They were ill‐treated and not properly clothed and fed. Working hours were long and intense, as Jea records in his narrative The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher (1815).

The text captures his life as a slave his rebellion against Christian hypocrisy the finding of his faith his travels and the significance of his sermonizing Laden with quotations from the Bible it is itself a piece of Jea s preaching often questioning the virtues and beliefs of his readers Following his discovery of Christianity at the age of 15 when as he writes the Lord was pleased to remove gross darkness superstition ...

Article

Richard J. Bell

Methodist preacher and seaman, was born in the port town of Old Calabar, in Nigeria, West Africa, to Margaret and Hambleton Robert Jea. At age two Jea and his family were captured in Old Calabar and transported to America on a slave ship. With his parents and several siblings he was immediately sold to the family of Oliver and Angelika Tiehuen, members of the Dutch Reformed Church who owned land outside New York City. This knowledge comes from Jea's narrative, The Life, History, and Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher, written and published in 1815; it is the only source of information about most of Jea's life and travels.

The newly enslaved family was set to work as field hands and quickly felt the hardship of poor conditions and physical abuse Jea found little comfort in the message of obedience and humility preached to ...

Article

John Saillant

Around 1816 he published two books, a Collection of Hymns and his Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings; from the latter is derived virtually all available information on his life. The autobiography, which was undoubtedly embellished in some of its particulars, recounts Jea's birth in Africa, his childhood in colonial New York, the abuses he suffered under slavery, his manumission, his family life, and the travels and religious exercises of his maturity.

Jea reported that after he became restive under slavery around the age of fifteen he was baptized in a Christian church a circumstance that he claimed to use to compel his master to liberate him He told of preaching in North America Europe and the East Indies as well as of marrying three women in succession one Native American one Maltese and one Irish His children all preceded him in death Like many early African American authors Jea ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Rodrigues was the first-known nonindigenous resident of Manhattan Island. His arrival in 1613 stemmed from the proprietary practices of early explorers of the New World. In June 1613Captain Thijs Volchertz Mossell, an experienced Dutch explorer, and the crew of his vessel, the Jonge Tobias began a journey from the West Indies along the eastern coastline of North America Mossell and his crew ventured up the Hudson River charted only four years before and sailed along the island of Montanges Manhattan After a brief sojourn on the island Mossell sailed away with all his crew but one Jan Rodrigues a Creole pilot Rodrigues may have stayed behind because of a wage dispute but it is just as likely that Mossell s leaving the pilot on the island was an example of a practice common among explorers as a means of claiming ownership of a coveted spot Rodrigues was ...

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

Barton A. Myers

abolitionist, activist, soldier, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennysylvania, to William and Mary Stephens, free African Americans who had fled Virginia's eastern shore in the wake of the Nat Turner rebellion. Little is known of Stephens's early education, but he likely attended a combination of segregated primary schools in Philadelphia and the Sunday school of the First African Baptist, a fervently abolitionist church that his parents attended. Prior to the war Stephens worked as a cabinetmaker, a skilled position that offered him elite status in the urban Philadelphia black community.

Stephens's antebellum exploits included a wide range of civic and political activities. In 1853 he helped found the Banneker Institute, an African American literary society and library, honoring Benjamin Banneker the African American scientist and inventor While working with the society he met influential white leaders including General Oliver Otis Howard later head ...

Article

Mark Andrew Huddle

fugitive slave, memoirist, and sailor, was born into slavery on the Wagar plantation in southern Maryland, the son of two field slaves whose names remain unknown. Although there is little information about Thompson's life beyond his memoirs, his descriptions of his experiences in slavery as well as his adventures as a black seaman are important contributions to our knowledge of both those worlds.

John Thompson's recollections of his early years are vague at best. His realization that he was a slave came at age six, when he witnessed the sale of his oldest sister. Even at that early age, as Thompson recounted in his memoirs, he was engaged in backbreaking work in the corn, wheat, and tobacco fields of the Wagar plantations. Like many slave-narrative authors, including Harriet Jacobs, Henry Bibb, Solomon Northup, William Parker, Solomon Bayley, James Mars, and William ...

Article

John R. Van Atta

Vesey, Denmark (1767?–02 July 1822), slave insurrectionist, was born possibly in Africa. His family roots and early childhood are unknown. As a fourteen-year-old in a cargo of 390 slaves bound for St. Domingue (Haiti), his engaging appearance somehow caught Captain Joseph Vesey’s eye. Sold on arrival to a French planter, Denmark remained on that sugar- and cocoa-producing colony only a few months before being returned as “unsound and subject to epileptic fits.” Afterward, Captain Vesey kept the young slave for himself and in 1783 adopted Charleston, South Carolina, as a permanent home.

Literate multilingual and worldly Denmark Vesey s experience both as a slave and later as a free man differed radically from the ordinary Aboard his master s vessels he traveled around the Atlantic and became a skilled carpenter In an amazing stroke of fortune he won $1 500 in the Charleston East Bay lottery of ...

Article

Tiwanna M. Simpson

mariner, carpenter, abolitionist, was born either in Africa or the Caribbean and probably grew up as a slave on the Danish colony of St. Thomas, which is now a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. When Denmark was about fourteen years old, the slave trader Captain Joseph Vesey purchased him to sell on the slave market in Saint Domingue (Haiti). The identity of Denmark Vesey's parents and his name at birth are unknown, but Joseph Vesey gave him the name “Telemaque.” He became “Denmark Vesey” in 1800, after he purchased his freedom from lottery winnings. Vesey's family life is difficult to reconstruct. He had at least three wives and several children, including three boys—Sandy, Polydore, and Robert—and a girl, Charlotte. His first and second wives, Beck and Polly, and their children lived as slaves. His third wife, Susan was a free woman of color ...

Article

Douglas R. Egerton

The man later known as Denmark Vesey was born about 1767, probably on the Caribbean sugar island of Saint Thomas. In 1822Captain Joseph Vesey, who was Denmark's second and fourth owner, recalled that when he first purchased the boy at the port of Charlotte Amalie in 1781, he appeared to be “about 14 years” old. Although the port functioned more as a transit slave station then an entrepôt to the island's sugar plantations, during the eighteenth century no more than 10 percent of all Africans carried to the Americas were children. Most likely the boy, whose original name and ancestry is lost to history, had simply reached an age and height that would fetch a goodly sum in the coastal barracoons.

Joseph Vesey, a Carolina-based slaver, purchased the boy in September or October of 1781 as part of a cargo of 390 bondpeople During ...