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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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Carla J. Jones

slave litigant, was born Charlotte Stanley on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the daughter of Rachel and George Stanley. Charlotte, commonly known as Lotty, spent her childhood enslaved, along with her mother and two siblings, by Daniel Parker in Dorchester County, Maryland. Whether George Stanley was born a slave is uncertain, but he was free by 1792 when he purchased Rachel and Charlotte's siblings Leah and Jonathan. He immediately manumitted his wife and stipulated the freedom of the two children upon their reaching the legal age. Charlotte, for reasons that are still unclear, remained enslaved in Parker's household until age nine, when she was sold to James Condon for one hundred dollars Condon was a tradesman who lived nearby with his wife and at least one other slave Rachel paid her daughter frequent visits and the Condons may have promised Charlotte eventual freedom Condon s ...

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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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Steven J. Niven

servant and legal pioneer, was born Joao Geaween in Africa, probably in Angola, and was among the first generation of Africans captured and brought to the English colony of Virginia in the late 1620s and early 1630s. At that time, indentured servants from the British Isles vastly outnumbered the few hundred Africans in the colony. Graweere worked as a servant near James City for a white colonist, William Evans It is not clear whether Graweere was a servant for life or for a fixed term but like most early Virginia settlers white and black he probably helped to cultivate and harvest his master s tobacco which became the colony s staple export commodity in the 1620s Court records show however that Evans also allowed his servant Graweere to keep hogs and make the best benefit thereof to himself provided that Evans might have half the increase of any ...

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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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Steven J. Niven

early legal petitioner for freedom, was born near present-day Newport News, Virginia, to an unknown slave woman and Thomas Key, a white Englishman. Key served as a burgess in Virginia's colonial assembly. That Elizabeth's mother is described in colonial records simply as a “slave” is significant for two reasons. First, it means that she was probably not a Christian, since African-born or descended slaves and servants who followed that faith were usually characterized as such in the legal record. Second, it suggests that at least some Africans were being classified as lifetime chattel in Virginia as early as the 1620s, when there were only a few hundred blacks in the colony.

Like that of her mother and of others of African descent in seventeenth century Virginia the precise legal status of Elizabeth Key was not clearly defined Was she free like her father Or a slave like her mother ...

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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 ...

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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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Anthony Gerzina

freed black slave, New England property owner, and husband of Lucy Terry, is thought to have been born in or near Wallingford, Connecticut, near New Haven. He was the slave of the Reverend Benjamin Doolittle, and accompanied Doolittle and his wife, Lydia Todd, from Connecticut to Northfield, Massachusetts, in early 1718, when Doolittle, after graduating from Yale, was named minister of that town. Based on what is known of other nearby towns, the nature of Prince's years in Northfield can be surmised. Northfield, in the Connecticut River Valley just south of the modern Vermont border, was then a small frontier town. Originally settled in 1673, it was abandoned soon afterward, following strife with the native population during King Philip's War. Resettlement began around 1685, but in 1718 it held perhaps only a dozen households none of which owned slaves Although slaveholding ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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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Sara Kakazu

slave who sued for freedom, was born to a white mother and a father of African descent, most likely a slave. Slew lived as a free woman until 1762, marrying several times. At the age of forty-three she was forcefully kidnapped from her Massachusetts home and enslaved by John Whipple Jr.

Three years after her capture Slew filed a civil suit, Jenny Slew, Spinster, versus John Whipple, Jr., Gentleman against her would be master asserting through her counsel that as a child s legal status follows that of the mother she was like her white mother a free woman Though at the time most colonies denied slaves legal protection Massachusetts allowed an enslaved individual though still recognized as property to bring a civil suit As one of the first slaves to sue for freedom Slew faced a panel of judges who had no precedent to follow She accidentally ...

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Paul Finkelman

slave who challenged his status in an English court and in the process undermined the legality of slavery in Great Britain, was born in Africa. Captured as a young boy, he was taken to America on a British slaver, arriving sometime in the spring of 1749. In-August, Charles Stewart or Steuart purchased Somerset, who was between eight and ten years old. Stewart, a Scottish-born merchant, later became the chief of customs for all of Britain's North American colonies from Virginia to Canada. Somerset lived in America for about two decades and then was taken to England in November 1769 Unlike most bondsmen in Virginia Somerset did not work in the tobacco fields Rather he was Stewart s personal servant and valet Stewart purchased fine clothing for Somerset including silk stockings and gave him some spending money Scattered records suggest that Stewart had some affection for ...

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Alfred L. Brophy

businessman, lawyer, and civil rights litigant, was born John the Baptist (“J. B.”) Stradford (also sometimes spelled “Stratford”) probably in slavery at Versailles, Kentucky, the son of Julius Caesar Stradford. Little is known about Stradford's childhood. He studied at Oberlin College from 1882 to 1885 and Indianapolis Law School (later Indiana University–Indianapolis. He married Augusta, and they lived in Lawrenceberg, Kansas, among other places, before moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1899. Stradford owned and operated a rooming house, the Stradford Hotel, in Greenwood, the black section of Tulsa. Like other leaders of the Greenwood community (including fellow lawyers A.-J. Smitherman and Buck Colbert Franklin, the father of John Hope Franklin), Smitherman was concerned with aggressively preventing lynching and other violence. In 1909 Stradford challenged Oklahoma s statute that permitted unequal treatment on segregated railroad cars The statute permitted railroads to provide ...

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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

Sojourner Truth, born a slave in Ulster County, New York, a symbol of women's strength and black women's womanliness, is summed up in the phrase “ar'n't I a woman?” Known as Isabella VanWagener until 1843, she changed her name and became an itinerant preacher under the influence of Millerite Second Adventism.

In the 1840s Truth encountered feminist abolitionism during her stay in the Northampton (Mass.) Association of Education and Industry. There she met Olive Gilbert, who recorded The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondswoman of Olden Time, which Truth published in Boston in 1850. During the 1850s and 1860s sales to antislavery and feminist audiences of this narrative provided Truth's main source of income. Truth attended the 1851 Akron, Ohio, convention on women's rights in order to sell her book. The chair of that meeting, Frances Dana Gage wrote the most popular version of ...