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Brian Tong and Theodore Lin

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as “Catherine Brown,” “Katherine Brown,” “Kate Brown,” or “Kate Dodson.” In the New York Times article “Washington, Affairs at the National Capital,” her name appears as “Kate Dostie.” Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had a colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843 Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton ...

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Julie Winch

writer, adventurer, and perennial litigant, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the grandson of Jacques Clamorgan, a French entrepreneur and land speculator. Jacques died in 1814, leaving as his heirs the four children he had fathered with his various slaves whom he then emancipated. One of those children, Apoline, was Cyprian Clamorgan's mother. Apoline never married. Instead, she lived with a series of white “protectors.” A Catholic by upbringing in a deeply Catholic community, she presented each of her children for baptism at the Old Cathedral and revealed to the priest the name of the father so it could be entered in the baptismal register. However, she did not live long enough to have Cyprian baptized, and the identity of his father died with her.

Clamorgan and his siblings, Louis, Henry, and Louise, were left in the care of a white neighbor, Charles Collins ...

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María Eugenia Chaves Maldonado

was born near the city of Guayaquil, on the Pacific coast of present-day Ecuador, but then part of the Royal Audience of Quito, in the Viceroyalty of Peru. When María Chiquinquirá was around 45, she decided to legally claim her own and her daughter’s freedom in a major legal battle that lasted nearly five years, from 1794 to 1798. She was the daughter of an African woman brought as a slave to Guayaquil, presumably in 1730 Named María Antonia she was one of the many slaves belonging to the Cepeda family among the most influential and richest in Guayaquil Some years before Díaz was born María Antonia had become infected with leprosy Expelled from the family house she finally died abandoned in a miserable hut by the Baba River in the mountainous outskirts of the city Her illness did not prevent her from becoming pregnant with several offspring ...

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Xiomara Santamarina

civil rights litigant, known as Mum Bett, was born a slave in Claverack, New York, most likely to African parents. Mum Bett and her sister were owned by the Dutch Hogeboom family in Claverack. At an uncertain date, the sisters were sold to the family of John Ashley, a judge in the Massachusetts Court of Common Pleas and a prominent citizen of Sheffield, Massachusetts. Little is known about Mum Bett's life with the Ashleys, but it probably resembled the life of many northern slaves during the eighteenth century. Most slaves lived in small households in close proximity to their owners and performed a wide range of tasks to support the North's diversified economy.

Mum Bett's decision to sue for freedom was sparked by an incident of cruelty that is prominent in accounts of her life. When her mistress, Hannah Ashley struck Mum Bett s sister in ...

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Taunya Lovell Banks

in Massachusetts in 1781. “I heard that paper read yesterday that says, ‘all men are born equal, and that every man has a right to freedom.’ I am not a dumb critter; won’t the law give me my freedom?” According to Catherine Sedgewick, Elizabeth Freeman said this to Theodore Sedgewick, a young Massachusetts lawyer who was Catherine’s father.

Elizabeth Freeman, an enslaved black woman also known as Mum Bett (or Mumbet), was born in Claverack, New York, and sold to Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield Massachusetts She approached Theodore Sedgewick after hearing the Declaration of Independence read at the village meetinghouse in Sheffield Another account claims that Freeman overheard talk about the Massachusetts state constitutional provision while waiting on tables There is at least one possible explanation for the conflict over the legal source of Freeman s claim She may have asked about the Declaration of ...

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Elizabeth Freeman was born either in New York or Massachusetts, the daughter of parents probably born in Africa. She apparently became the slave of Pieter Hogeboom of New York quite early. The only trace of her parents is Freeman's bequest to her daughter of two articles of clothing—a black silk gown given to Freeman by her father as a gift, and another gown that supposedly belonged to Freeman's mother. During her lifetime and even after her death, she was known as “Mum Bett” or “Mumbet,” a name derived from “Elizabeth.” Lacking a surname for most of her life, she sued for freedom under the name “Bett” and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman” after winning her lawsuit in 1781.

The proposed dates for her birth, which range from 1732 to 1744 are derived from an estimate carved on her tombstone suggesting that she was about eighty five ...

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Former slaves whose kidnapping case was fought by the 18th‐century abolitionist Granville Sharp. John Hylas and his wife, Mary, were both born in Barbados. In the year 1754 they were each brought to England—John by his mistress, Judith Aleyne, and Mary by her master and mistress, Mr and Mrs Newton. They met in England, and married with the consent of their owners in 1758. After their marriage John Hylas was set free, and the couple lived happily together until, in 1766, Mary was kidnapped by her former owners and sent to the West Indies to be sold as a slave.

Having heard of Granville Sharp's fight for the liberty of Jonathan Strong, in 1768 John Hylas approached Sharp, who prepared a memorandum enabling him to begin an action against Newton.

The court found in favour of Hylas, who was awarded 1s nominal ...

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Alexander J. Chenault

former slave, slave owner, and pioneer for the legal rights of free blacks, was born a slave in 1802, probably in Virginia, although the precise place of his birth is unknown. Court records show that he was once owned by William Chenault Jr., a prominent lawyer and a member of the lower house of the Kentucky legislature. Prior to emancipation Jones resided on the Chenault family's farm, near Richmond, Kentucky, which was purchased in 1787 from the brother of Kentucky pioneer and settler Daniel Boone. Four years before Chenault died he emancipated Jones (31 May 1830). At the time Jones was married, although not legally, to Sally Ann, a slave woman, with whom he had four children. Although the date of Levi and Sally Ann's union is unknown, marriage between free blacks would not even become legal until 1825 Moreover ...

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Martha A. Sandweiss

wife of the eminent geologist, explorer, and writerClarence King and litigant, was born in or around West Point, Georgia. Though little is known of her early life, she was almost certainly born a slave and as a young girl acquired the name Ada Copeland. In the mid-1880s she migrated to New York City and found work as a nursemaid. In late 1887 or 1888 Copeland met a man who introduced himself as a Pullman porter named James Todd. They were married in September 1888 by the Reverend James H. Cook a prominent minister with the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church Although Todd represented himself to Ada as a Marylander of African American descent this was a false identity He was in fact Clarence King a socially and politically prominent white man from Newport Rhode Island educated at Yale who had led the Fortieth Parallel Survey ...

Article

Stephen Mullen

was born in West Africa. He was taken from Guinea as a child by a Captain Knight and later adopted the surname of the slave trader who sold him into chattel slavery in the West Indies. Although Joseph remembered nothing of this sale, a planter John Wedderburn purchased him soon after the human cargo landed in Jamaica around 1766. Neither could have known that Joseph Knight would become a litigant in one of the most celebrated court cases in Scottish legal history.

As a Jacobite loyal to the Stuarts, Wedderburn had fled from Scotland to the West Indies after the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745. In Jamaica, he acquired profitable sugar plantations, including Glenisla in Westmoreland. In a triumphant return home around 1768 he purchased the Ballindean estate in Perthshire As he had developed a liking toward Joseph he took him back home to work as a ...

Article

Nicole S. Ribianszky

free woman of color, property holder, and washerwoman, was born into slavery in Natchez, Mississippi. The exact date of her birth is not now known. She was born to an enslaved woman, Hannah Frey, and to J. S. Miller, a white planter who lived outside of Natchez near the small town of Washington. Mrs. Margaret Overaker, a white woman, and her husband, George, owned Leiper and her mother. While Leiper was still a young girl, her mother was manumitted, but Leiper herself remained enslaved. Sometime around 1831, when Leiper was approximately twenty or twenty-one, she was freed, reportedly at the insistence of her father, who paid her owner $300. In 1834 or thereabouts, following the instructions of her white father, she was taken by boat up the Mississippi River to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the footsteps of her mother.

As was the case with ...

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David Brodnax

slave and civil rights litigant, was born Rafe Nelson in Virginia and renamed after his master in infancy; nothing is known about his parents. In 1834 Montgomery, then a slave in Marion County, Missouri, heard stories of fortunes to be made in the lead mines of Dubuque, a rough frontier village of about two thousand people located on the upper Mississippi River in the Iowa Territory. Montgomery's sister Tilda was already living in Dubuque, where she was one of seventy-two other African Americans and sixteen slaves recorded in the county in the 1840 census, although slavery was illegal in Iowa. Ralph and his master Jordan Montgomery drew up an agreement allowing him to work in the mines for five years, after which he would pay $550 for his freedom; he may have hoped to purchase his sister's freedom as well.

When the five year period ended Montgomery had barely ...

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Donald Yacovone

abolitionist, printer, journalist, and civil rights litigant, was born in the heart of Boston's black community on Beacon Hill, the second of Sarah Easton Roberts and Robert Roberts's twelve children. Both parents were active abolitionists—his mother was the daughter of James Easton, the successful black Massachusetts businessman and reformer, and his father was an author and household manager for the elite white families of Christopher Gore and Nathaniel Appleton. Roberts's father had been born in Charleston, South Carolina; he moved to Boston in-1805 and married in 1813. His second son, named-for the famed Benjamin Franklin, reflected the family's commitment to the principles of the American Revolution and foretold his career as a printer.

As a young man Roberts became a shoemaker s apprentice but after completing his training whites refused to hire him They refused I suppose merely on account of ...

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Walter Ehrlich

slave and plaintiff in the 1857 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sanford, was born of unknown parentage in Southampton County, Virginia, the property of plantation owner Peter Blow. After brief sojourns in Huntsville and Florence, Alabama, in 1830 the Blow family settled in St. Louis where, strapped for funds, Blow sold Scott to Dr. John Emerson. In 1833 Emerson's career as an army surgeon took him, among other places, to Illinois and to what was then a part of Wisconsin Territory (now Minnesota). Scott accompanied him into these areas, one a free state and one a territory that had been declared free by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1836 or 1837, while at Fort Snelling in Wisconsin Territory, Scott married Harriet Robinson, whose master, Major Lawrence Taliaferro transferred her ownership ...

Article

Eric Gardner

litigant, slave, and laundress, was born probably in Virginia to enslaved parents about whom nothing is known. By the 1830s, she had become the slave of Lawrence Taliaferro, an Indian agent and a major in the U.S. Army. When Taliaferro, a Virginian who had transplanted to Pennsylvania, was stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, he brought Harriet with him. There she met Dred Scott soon after his master, Dr. John Emerson, was also posted at Fort Snelling. Though such weddings were exceedingly rare, Taliaferro, also a justice of the peace, performed a formal marriage ceremony between Scott and Robinson in 1836 or 1837. After the marriage, Harriet Scott was either given or, more likely, sold to Emerson.

Emerson hired the Scotts out to various officers at Fort Snelling before he married Irene Sanford on 6 February 1838. After a brief period at the Jefferson ...

Article

Eric Gardner

fugitive slave and litigant, was born to unknown parents in the late 1820s. In court documents tied to his famous 1851 fugitive slave case, Sims maintained that he was born in Florida, but both the agents of the slaveholder claiming him and the later public records listed Georgia as his place of birth. Sims also asserted that his father had purchased his freedom as a child, but Massachusetts courts never accepted this claim and instead found him to be the slave of James Potter If Sims was Potter s slave it is unlikely that the two ever interacted personally the South Carolina born Potter owned massive plantations outside of Savannah as well as several hundred slaves and he generally left their management to various agents Potter also had strong affinities for the North he graduated from Yale all of his children were born in Philadelphia and the family ...

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John Gilmore

The subject of one of the earliest important legal cases relating to slavery in Britain. Strong was brought to England from Barbados, where he had been a slave and which may have been his place of birth, by his master, a Barbadian merchant and planter called David Lisle. In 1765 Granville Sharp met Strong in London, at the house of his brother William Sharp, a surgeon who gave free medical advice and treatment to the poor. Lisle had beaten Strong about the head with a pistol and turned him out into the street, and Strong had found his way to William Sharp's house in search of help. William Sharp arranged for Strong to be treated at St Bartholomew's Hospital, but his injuries were so severe that it was more than four months before he was discharged.

The Sharp brothers then found employment for Strong with a London apothecary ...

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Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva

a prominent African free woman and fish vendor, whose lengthy judicial case would reach Mexico City’s high court and the Spanish king’s Royal Chancellery circa 1625. Although incorrectly identified in some legal documents as María de San Tomé, the African woman in question self-identified before Puebla’s courts as María de Terranova. María opted for the Terranova surname and toponym as a cultural and geographical identifier, which located her land of origin in present-day Nigeria, where she had been born around 1592. São Tomé, then, would have merely been the island and slaving port from which María was sent to New Spain as part of the massive African slave influx of the early seventeenth century. As a result, she formed part of the slave galleons that reached the port of Cartagena, before disembarking at the port-fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, Veracruz.

María de Terranova reached Puebla circa 1613 ...

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Michael W. Pipkin

wrongly seized free woman, litigant in the case Emeline, a free woman of color v. Jesse P. Bolls (May 1847), was born around 1822 on the farm of John and Patsy Martin outside of Nashville, Tennessee, to a woman named Rhoda and an unknown father. Although there is little information about Emeline's early life, evidence suggests that she was never educated because the original petition filed much later by her attorney, Peter W. Gray, only displays a scratch for Thompson's signature. The nature and status of her employment with the Martins is unclear. After an unknown length of time Thompson traveled to Louisiana with a daughter of the Martins, Eliza, and Eliza's new husband, John Seip. While in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, Thompson gave birth to two boys, John and William the father of one of the boys was an unidentified biracial slave ...

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Nell Irvin Painter

abolitionist and women's rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont's slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York State law in 1827, but she did not marry again.

In the year before her emancipation Isabella left her master Dumont of her own accord and went to work for the ...