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Jane Poyner

Orphan from Dahomey (now Benin) reputed to be of royal lineage, who was brought as a slave to England, where she became Queen Victoria's protégée. Sarah was named, ignominiously, after the ship Bonetta on which she was transported to England. Ironically, she was given to Captain Frederick Forbes by King Gezo of Dahomey in a conciliatory gesture following Forbes's unsuccessful attempt to persuade the King to give up trading in slaves. Forbes, in his account of his travels Dahomey and the Dahomens (1851), used Sarah as an example of the potential for progress in the intellect of the African at a time when pseudo‐scientific enlightenment theories of race were rampant: as Forbes noted, ‘it being generally and erroneously supposed that after a certain age the intellect [of the African] becomes impaired and the pursuit of knowledge impossible’.

Sarah was presented to Queen Victoria and thereafter raised under her ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Atlantic slave-trade survivor presented as a gift to Britain's Queen Victoria, was born in the early 1840s in or near the southern Beninese town of Okeadon. Her birth name is not known, but her marriage certificate would list her name as Ina Sarah Forbes Bonetta, perhaps indicating that her original name was Ina. Southern Beninese states had fought for years against the inland kingdom of Dahomey for autonomy, as the slave-trading empire sought to force its southern neighbors to pay tribute and accept Dahomean control over the slaves that were often sold to European and South American merchants. In 1846 Dahomean soldiers seized her and killed her parents during the Okeadon War between Dahomey and its enemies in the Yoruba city of Abeokuta after a traitor had allowed Dahomean troops entry to the town Bonetta was fortunate she did not join the 600 or so town residents ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

explorer, the son of Colonel Joseph Burton and Martha Beckwith Burton was born on 19 March 1821 in Torquay, Devon, England. As a military officer in the British Army, Joseph Burton traveled regularly, and his son Richard grew up in France and different Italian states. He showed early in life a tremendous gift for learning languages, and he eventually mastered Arabic to the point he regularly passed for an Arab or Persian or an Indian Muslim. Burton was admitted to Oxford University in 1840, but his wild behavior eventually led to his dismissal in 1842. His taste for adventure led him to join the British colonial army in India, and he first visited Africa en route from England via the Cape of Good Hope to Mumbai (Bombay). From 1842 until 1849, Burton mastered Arabic, Farsi, and Hindustani as he served as a British intelligence officer.

Burton ...

Article

Ari Nave

Sir Richard Burton spoke twenty-five languages and multiple dialects, including Greek, Latin, English, French, Italian, Marathi, Punjab, Arabic, and Hindi. During his travels he observed an enormous range of cultural practices, which he documented in forty-three manuscripts. He also wrote two books of poetry and four volumes of folklore.

Born in Torquay, England, Burton was raised by his English parents primarily in France. He briefly attended Trinity College, Oxford, but was expelled in 1842 for insubordination. He then joined the Bombay army, and served in India (in present-day Pakistan) until 1850. Working as an intelligence officer, Burton learned to impersonate Muslim merchants. His reputation was called into question and his military career cut short, however, when a rival officer spread word that Burton had been investigating homosexual bathhouses in Karachi, failing to divulge that Burton had done so under orders from a senior officer.

After returning to France and ...

Article

Melvin D. Kennedy

Crogman was born in Philipsburg on Saint Martin, Leeward Islands, on May 5, 1841. Little is known of his first few years except that he was never a slave. He was orphaned at twelve and shortly thereafter was befriended by B. L. Boomer, of a New England shipowning family. Boomer took young Crogman to his home in Middleboro, Massachusetts. In 1855, at the age of fourteen, Crogman began an eleven-year career at sea on one of the Boomer ships. During this period he visited many ports in Europe, India, and South America. These experiences had a profound effect on the keenly observant young man.

With Boomer's encouragement Crogman began preparations in 1866 to secure an education Two years later he entered Pierce Academy in Middleboro He completed with distinction the four year course in English French and bookkeeping in half the time normally required His ...

Article

Mathias Hanses

sailor and classics professor, political activist and first black president of Atlanta's Clark University, was born on St. Martin's in the Caribbean, the son of William Crogman, Sr. and Charlotte Chippendale. A small tropical island in the West Indies' northern Leewards, St. Martin's was occupied jointly by two colonial powers in William Crogman's childhood days, and its sugar plantations had kept slave labor alive. While the French in the North abolished the “peculiar institution” in 1848, the Dutch in the South followed suit only in 1863 Observing slavery intact may have alerted young Crogman to the necessity of serving his race while the reality of at least a partial abolition increased his confidence that even the most adverse circumstances could be overcome However before an ambitious intellectual career catapulted W H Crogman to the top of the African American Talented Tenth he would roam the world ...

Article

Reidulf K. Molvaer

was an Ethiopian scholar and legendary wit, although very little is known about him with any great degree of certainty. Ethiopians are known by their own given name, followed by their father’s first name, but even that is not known with certainty: some sources give his father’s name as Gebre Mariyam, others as Desta Tegennye. His dates of birth and death are uncertain as well, variously given as 1804–1901, 1821–1905, and 1821–1915. Even his title, Aleqa, by which he is universally known (Aleqa Gebre Hanna seems of doubtful origin The title may refer to the head of a church or monastery or to a scholar in one of the four branches of learning in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Some think it was given to him by Empress Menen the wife of the later Emperor Menilek before she became empress However we do know that Gebre Hanna was ...

Article

Mathias Hanses

classicist, Congregationalist preacher, and the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the youngest child of Henry Moore and his second wife Rebecca (née Beasley). Louis would in his early years have witnessed the black community's enthusiasm toward such new freedoms as political participation. At the same time, he suffered the hardships besetting his family of twenty-eight in the transforming Deep South. Before Louis turned ten years old, his home state's race relations started slipping toward their “nadir.” Alabama endured Ku Klux Klan terrorism and voter intimidation; a “Redeemer” government rose to power in 1874 as black workers and sharecroppers fell into economic dependency on their former owners; and in 1876 federal Reconstruction efforts were sacrificed to political deal making which further impeded blacks access to polls and lecterns Still increasing numbers of African Americans came to ...

Article

Ezekiel Gebissa

Ethiopian linguist, historian, evangelist, and social reformer, was born in the village of Yefag in Begemder region, northwestern Ethiopia, on 30 March 1860. His father, a staunch Orthodox Christian and a wealthy landowner, sent Tayye to the traditional church school in the village. His mother died in 1867 while his father was on a business trip from which he never returned. Tayye ventured as far as Massawa on the Red Sea coast in search of his uncle. Sometime between 1875 and 1878, he applied for and was admitted to the Swedish Evangelical Mission School for boys at Emkullu near Massawa. Tayye avidly studied the traditions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, scrutinizing their scriptural foundation. In 1881, feeling that he had found the true faith, he became a communicant member of the Lutheran congregation in Imkulu.

Devoted to studying the heritage of his country Tayye returned to Begemder ...

Article

John Gilmore

Linguisticsscholar and polemicist born in Trinidad, the son of former slaves. Little is known of his early life, but he did well as a pupil at the Woodbrook Normal School (which would now be called a teacher training college), which was then on the outskirts of Port of Spain. In 1860 he was placed in charge of a remote rural school. He moved to another school on an increased salary in 1865, but in 1867 success in a recently introduced system of competitive examinations secured him a place in the local Civil Service. He rose through a succession of posts until he was forced by ill health to retire in 1879.

As a rural schoolmaster, Thomas came into close contact with and made a special study of the French Creole which was then the vernacular of most Trinidadians while at the same time studying French and ...