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Moya B. Hansen

noted farmer, was born to George Washington Bush (c. 1790–1863), a pioneer in the Oregon Territory, and Isabella James (c. 1809–1866), a German American. William was the eldest of five sons born in Missouri: Joseph Tolbert, Rial Bailey, Henry Sanford, and January Jackson.

William's grandfather Mathew Bush is believed to have been the son of a sailor from the British West Indies who married an Irish American woman named Maggie. William's father, George, was born in Pennsylvania and received a Quaker education from the Stevenson family for whom Mathew worked. The Bush family moved to Cumberland County, Tennessee, with the Stevensons and, as a free black man, Mathew was later able to inherit a portion of the Stevenson estate.

George Bush left Tennessee as a young man to join the U.S. Army. He fought at the 1812 Battle of New Orleans ...

Article

Kenneth Wiggins Porter

William Owen Bush was born in Clay County, Missouri, on July 4, 1832. He was the oldest son of George Washington Bush and Isabella James, born in Tennessee of German ancestry. The Bush family left Missouri in 1844 for the Oregon Territory. In 1845 the family settled in what became known as Bush Prairie, a few miles south of present-day Olympia, Washington. George Bush won esteem there as a progressive, innovative, and generous farmer. William Bush married Mandana Smith Kimsey on May 26, 1859, in Marion County, Oregon. Mandana was the daughter of Dr. J. Smith and Nancy Scott Wisdom Smith, and the widow (1858) of Duff Kimsey, who had been born in Howard County, Missouri, on June 1, 1826. She had crossed to Oregon with her husband and parents in 1847 William and Mandana had three children George O ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

building foreman and caretaker, U.S. mail coach driver, Montana pioneer, also known as Black Mary or Stagecoach Mary, was born a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee. Information about Fields's parentage and early life remain unconfirmed, although James Franks, whose grandparents knew Fields in the late 1800s in Montana, writes that Fields was the daughter of Suzanna and Buck, slaves of the Dunne family, owners of a Hickman County plantation. The Dunnes sold Buck immediately following Mary's birth. According to Franks, the Dunnes allowed Suzanna to keep her daughter with her in quarters behind the kitchen, and Mary enjoyed a relatively privileged childhood, even becoming friends with the Dunne's daughter Dolly, who was about the same age as Mary. This arrangement, Franks writes, lasted until Suzanna's death forced fourteen-year-old Mary to take over her mother's household duties.

Whether or not Franks s account is accurate it is ...

Article

Mary Fields was born a slave in Tennessee, but little else is known of her early life. Some historical accounts have placed her on the Mississippi River in the early 1870s, and at least one researcher claims that she was a passenger on the Robert E. Lee when it raced the steamer Natchez in June 1870. By 1884 Fields was living in Toledo, Ohio, where she worked as a handywoman for an order of Ursuline nuns. She became attached to the mother superior of the convent, Mother Amadeus, who is variously reported as a close friend or as the master in a master-servant relationship. Shortly after Fields arrived at the convent, Mother Amadeus left for Montana to open a school for Blackfeet Native American girls. When Mother Amadeus fell ill in Helena, Fields came to her aid and decided to stay in Montana.

Fields assisted the Catholic mission ...

Article

Kelli Cardenas Walsh

The story of Mary Fields is one of race, gender, and age. She was the antithesis of the nineteenth-century Victorian image of womanhood. In an age of domesticity, Fields lived a frontier life dependent upon no one and uninhibited by Jim Crow.

A former slave, in freedom Fields became an independent, gunslinging, liquor-drinking woman in the untamed frontier of Montana. She stood six feet tall and was stout. Details about the early life of Mary Fields are sparse, other than that she was born into slavery in 1832. Judge Dunn in Hickman County, Tennessee, owned Fields and presumably owned her family. She was befriended by her master’s daughter, Dolly, and remained with the family after Emancipation.

Once she left the Dunn family Fields spent an unspecified time in Ohio and along the Mississippi River During this time Dolly joined a convent of Ursuline nuns taking the name of ...

Article

Angela Bates

slave, pioneer minister, coroner, and politician, was born in Scott County, Kentucky. As a slave he was a carriage driver and house slave. It was against the law for slaves to learn to read and write, which was sometimes punishable by death, but Daniel took the risk. He learned by secretly listening to and watching his master read. He saved scraps of printed paper and taught others to read and in doing so almost lost his life after he was discovered by his master. After emancipation the Freedman's Bureau established schools to educate the formerly illiterate slaves. It was then that he could take full advantage of his freedom and spend time improving his reading skills.

In 1862, while still a slave, Hickman became a Christian, and in 1866 after emancipation he became a minister and the pastor of the Owens Baptist Church the ...

Article

Elizabeth Zoe Vicary

William Alexander Leidesdorff was born in St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, the son of William Leidesdorff, a Danish planter, and Anna Marie Sparks, an Afro-Caribbean slave. He was educated by his owner, who reportedly treated him more as a son than as a slave. As a young man he was sent to New Orleans to work for his uncle's cotton business as a master of ships sailing between New York and New Orleans. Both his father and uncle died soon after, leaving Leidesdorff a sizable inheritance. His newly acquired wealth enabled him to propose to a woman he had been courting, Hortense, who accepted. The engagement ended painfully, shortly before the wedding day, when Leidesdorff told his fiancée that he was of African descent through his mother. Hortense called off the wedding, and he, heartbroken, left New Orleans.

Arriving in California in 1841 aboard ...

Article

Elizabeth Zoe Vicary

pioneer, diplomat, and businessman, was born in St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, the son of William Leidesdorff, a Danish planter, and Anna Marie Sparks, an Afro-Caribbean slave. He was educated by his owner, who reportedly treated him more like a son than a slave. As a young man he was sent to New Orleans to work for his uncle's cotton business as a master of ships sailing between New York and New Orleans. Both his father and his uncle died soon after, leaving Leidesdorff a sizable inheritance. His newly acquired wealth allowed him to propose to a white woman he had been courting, Hortense, who accepted. The engagement ended painfully shortly before the wedding date when Leidesdorff told his fiancée of his partial African descent. She called off the wedding, and he left New Orleans.

Arriving in California in 1841 aboard his ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

also spelled Pearce or Pierce, was an early settler in Plimoth Plantations (Plymouth Colony) in what is now the state of Massachusetts, who, according to a good deal of research from contemporary documents, was probably African or of African descent. Some commentators vigorously insist that this is unlikely.

Whatever his national origin, complexion, or standing in the Plymouth community, most sources agree that an Abraham Pearse settled in the colony of New Plymouth around 1623, most likely arriving on the Anne, from England, as one of two servants of another “Mr. Perce,” both of whom were granted land that year. Plymouth scholar Robert Marten concluded that Pearse had most likely gone to England after working as an indentured servant in the British colony of Barbados at that time devoted to growing tobacco with indentured labor although most plantations later converted to sugar production using slave labor sold ...

Article

Lynn Downey

legendary woman of influence and political power in Gold Rush and Gilded Age San Francisco, was born, according to some sources, a slave in Georgia; other sources claim that her mother was a Louisiana slave and her father was Asian or Native American. Many sources agree that she lived in Boston, as a free woman, the wife of James W. Smith, a Cuban abolitionist. When he died in 1844 he left her his estate, valued at approximately forty-five thousand dollars.

Mary Ellen next married a man whose last name was Pleasant or Pleasants and made her way to California, arriving in San Francisco in 1849 Her husband s whereabouts after this time have never been made clear She started life in San Francisco as a cook for wealthy clients then opened her own boardinghouse Her guests were said to be men of influence and it was rumored ...

Article

Lynn Hudson

Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, probably sometime in 1852. For the next fifty years, she worked as cook, accountant, abolitionist, and entrepreneur in the bustling town on the bay. Histories of the West describe her as madam, voodoo queen, and prostitute. Pleasant herself requested that the words “she was a friend of John Brown’s” be printed on her gravestone, indicating her own desire to be remembered as an abolitionist. She was the target of what one historian has called an “avid conspiracy” that sought to silence her, and it was said that she harbored the skeletons of San Francisco’s elite in her closet.

The folklore about Pleasant reveals conflicting stories of her background (some say she was from Georgia, others Virginia), but Pleasant herself claimed she was born in Philadelphia She described her mother as a free colored woman and her ...

Article

One of San Francisco's most colorful and controversial characters in the late nineteenth century was Mary Ellen Pleasant, a former slave who moved to the city in 1849. She began managing a boarding house whose reputation for cards, liquor, and beautiful women—it is likely her services included procuring prostitutes—earned it a devoted following.

No mere businesswoman, Pleasant involved herself in both local and national politics. In 1858, she personally presented abolitionist John Brown with a $30,000 U.S. Treasury Bond, after which she traveled south to promote his upcoming revolt. When Brown was captured at Harpers Ferry, Pleasant returned to California under an assumed name, where she raised money for the Union cause in the Civil War, and continued her work for civil rights.

Throughout her life Pleasant helped escaped and former slaves find work in San Francisco mostly as domestic servants Some historians speculate that Pleasant ...

Article

William J. Harris

Revolutionary-era runaway slave, British Loyalist, and early settler in Sierra Leone, is believed to have been born in the Senegambia region of Africa. George Washington, then a colonel in the army of the British Empire, purchased Harry in 1763, along with Nan (believed to have been his wife) and four other slaves as a part of Washington's Great Dismal Swamp plan. According to this plan, Washington and five other planters would each provide five slaves to form a workforce to drain sixty square miles of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and establish a rice plantation. By 1766 Washington had moved both Harry and Nan to work on his Mount Vernon Plantation in Virginia.

In 1771 Washington sent Harry to work on the construction of a mill approximately three miles from the Mansion House Clearly not content with his lot as a slave Harry made his first ...