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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Revolutionary War sailor, is known for his service on the Continental navy sloop Ranger under Captain John Paul Jones. A story passing as truth has been written about Scipio Africanus stating that he was a slave owned by Jones and accompanied him on the ships he commanded. In fact virtually nothing is known about Africanus except for the fact that he was a free man when he enlisted to serve on board the eighteen-gun Ranger for one year while she was building at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sometime between March and July 1777.

While we know little about Scipio Africanus the man some guesses as to his servitude and character may be ventured That he was a slave prior to his naval service as suggested by his first name is likely Classical Roman names such as Scipio Cato and Caesar were commonly given at birth by owners to slaves ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

sailor, was one of eight African American seamen to earn the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Likely in his early twenties when he enlisted as a landsman (for which he was tasked with the simplest sail-handling and duties like manning the yardarm) in the Union navy from Pennsylvania, Anderson was probably born a free black and, because he was rated a landsman, had little or no prior seafaring experience.

Though few details of Aaron Anderson's military service are known, and virtually nothing of his private life, his exemplary service nonetheless serves to highlight the importance of the African American contribution to the Union navy in what was, up to that time, the nation's bloodiest war. Along with such men as Joachim Pease, Robert Smalls, and John Lawson, Aaron Anderson was one of approximately eighteen thousand African Americans eleven of them women to serve ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Medal of Honor winner, was born into slavery in Santee, South Carolina. When war came he was a slave on the Arthur Blake Plantation on the South Santee River, McClellanville, South Carolina, possibly the same plantation on which he was born. The Blake Plantation, one of many rice plantations in the area, was no small affair; according to the 1860 census it had 538 enslaved men and women and was the twelfth largest plantation in the country. When the Union navy invaded the coastal areas of South Carolina, it not only created widespread panic among slave‐holders but also influenced many of those who were enslaved to emancipate themselves and flee to freedom. In May 1862, with the Union navy off the coast of South Carolina, Robert Blake and four others, Prince, Michael, Jack, and Captain Blake fled the Blake Plantation All were picked up by ...

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Steven J. Niven

sailor, Civil War veteran, and laborer, was born in Liverpool, England, to James Bond, a carter in that city's dockland, and Eliza Kelly. As one of the British Empire's major port cities, Liverpool was home to many migrants. James Bond was of African descent, though it is unclear how long he and his family had lived in England. Kelly was an immigrant from Ireland, probably of the Roman Catholic faith, but the child was baptized as an Anglican, the established state church in England, which was perhaps also James Bond's faith.

Though we know few details of his early life it is probable that Bond witnessed discrimination and violence against both black and Irish immigrants Shortly after Bond s birth the family moved to the Toxteth section of Liverpool then as now the city s most ethnically diverse and desperately poor neighborhood It is not known whether he ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

a soldier and sailor during the War of 1812, was born in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the war he likely served in a Pennsylvania militia regiment, but sometime after March 1813 he was sent for duty at sea aboard the Lake Erie squadron under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry. Short on manpower during the outfitting of his fleet at Erie, Pennsylvania, including the twenty-gun brigs Lawrence and Niagara, Perry was forced to plead with his superior, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, to send him more men. After much wrangling, Chauncey finally sent Perry 150 men in two separate drafts, including African Americans Robert Brown, Jesse Walls, and James Brown Unfortunately Perry was unhappy with the caliber of the men he received complaining to Chauncey that The men that came are a motley set blacks Soldiers and boys I cannot think that you saw them after they ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

sailor and Medal of Honor recipient, was a native of Kingston, Jamaica, who immigrated to America prior to 1877. Little is known of his life before his naval service, except that he resided in Virginia, was there married to his wife Maria, a native of Virginia, in 1877, and that his daughter Emily was subsequently born in 1879.

Like so much else about the life of John Davis, just when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy is uncertain. Though Davis was aboard the screw steamer U.S.S. Trenton when he earned the Medal of Honor in 1881, he was not aboard that ship, the flagship of the navy's European Station, when it departed New York for France in March 1877. John Davis likely enlisted in the navy in Virginia in 1877 about the time he was married and was subsequently assigned duty ...

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Kathryn L. Beard

soldier, sailor, and shipbuilder during the War of Independence, was born free in the British colony of St. Kitts of mixed race parentage. Little is known about his early life. Prior to adulthood he became literate, fluent in French and English, and he trained as a skilled craftsman in building dwellings and ships. As a free person of color in one of the older sugar colonies, he would have benefited from an increasing emigration of whites and, by 1745, a plantation system characterized by a high level of absenteeism by white landowners. These factors contributed to the growth of a small colored elite, financed largely by credit given by white relatives but still facing legal and de facto discrimination. For example, until 1830 the laws of St Kitts prohibited free people of color from attending the colony s few public schools although they paid taxes to ...

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Shani Roper

was born on the island of St. Kitts in the British West Indies. Little is known about how he came to be in Falmouth, Virginia, in the 1770s. However, both the towns of Falmouth and Fredericksburg sat on the banks of the Rappahannock River and were bustling eighteenth-century port cities. Many ships leaving the Rappahannock traded goods and provisions in the West Indies. Jeffery Bolster (1997) argues that in the eighteenth century, enslaved Africans worked extensively on ships and schooners, thereby participating in the complex shipping network in the Americas. Many of these enslaved Africans were skilled seamen who were familiar with the geography of major ports throughout the region. Norman Schools (2010 suggests that it is possible that John DeBaptiste was one of many enslaved Africans from the Caribbean who arrived on these ships visiting the port and who either escaped or took residence in ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War sailor and Medal of Honor nominee, was born in San Antonio, Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Africa. Nothing is known of Dees's family background or life, except that he was practicing the trade of a sailor when he arrived in the United States at Eastport, Maine.

Dees enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Eastport, Maine, on 6 June 1864, joining the crew of the newly commissioned U.S.S. Pontoosuc, a side-wheel gunboat built in Portland, Maine. Dees, who enlisted for a term of two years, was one of a dozen men who enlisted at Eastport, and was credited to the town's draft quota. While serving aboard the Pontoosuc in the first months of its service Dees saw service in Southern waters as the ship performed blockade duties and then in Northern waters as far as Halifax Nova Scotia during its pursuit of the Confederate ...

Article

Brian R. Roberts

diplomat, editor, and author, was born in Manhattan to Henry and Nancy (Collins) Downing. His family operated an oyster business and restaurant, and his uncle was George Thomas Downing, a Rhode Island businessman and civil rights leader. Nothing is known of Henry Downing's education before he entered the U.S. Navy at age eighteen.

Serving from 1864 through 1865 he worked on three vessels, the North Carolina, Pawtuxet, and Winooski. Afterward he traveled widely, spending three years in Liberia, where his cousin, Hilary Johnson, later became president (1884–1892). In Liberia, Downing worked as secretary to the Liberian secretary of state. Upon his return to New York he reenlisted in the navy, serving from 1872 to 1875 on the Hartford in the Pacific.

After his discharge Downing again returned to New York City and married Isadora (maiden name unknown) on 8 ...

Article

George Boulukos

slave, sailor, writer, and activist (widely known in his time as Gustavus Vassa), became the most famous African in eighteenth-century Britain as the author of his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789 While the scholar Vincent Carretta has found some evidence placing his birth in South Carolina Equiano identifies his birthplace as Essaka a small ethnically Igbo town in present day Nigeria His parents remain unknown but Equiano s family was prominent he expected to undergo a scarification ritual but was kidnapped by slavers as a young boy He experienced slavery in a variety of West African communities until he was brought to a seaport and sold to European slavers Neither Essaka nor the name Equiano has been definitively identified although both have plausible Igbo analogs such as Isseke and Ekwuano Both his African origin and his exact ...

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Vincent Carretta

The most important and one of the most widely published authors of African descent in the English‐speaking world of the 18th century. Equiano helped to found the genre of the slave narrative when he published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African: Written by Himself in London in March 1789. The Interesting Narrative is a spiritual autobiography, captivity narrative, travel book, adventure tale, slavery narrative, economic treatise, apologia, and argument against the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. From its first appearance the Interesting Narrative has also been recognized as the classic description of an African society before contact with Europeans, as well as of the forced transatlantic transportation of enslaved Africans known since the 18th century as the Middle Passage.

By his own account, Equiano was born in 1745 in Eboe in the kingdom of Benin in what is now south ...

Article

Leyla Keough

First published in Britain in 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, became a best seller in Equiano’s lifetime, with nine English editions and one American as well as translations in Dutch, German, and Russian. Though Ottobah Cugoano, an African abolitionist in England, had published an autobiographical account in 1787 it was probably heavily edited Thus The Interesting Narrative is considered the first autobiography of an African slave written entirely by his own hand This places Equiano as the founder of the slave narrative a form central to African American literature In the book Equiano describes his abduction in Africa his enslavement in the West Indies and his manumission in Britain as well as the legal insecurity and terror faced by enslaved and free West Indian blacks Equiano s autobiography greatly influenced the rhetorical strategies content and presentation of ...

Article

E. Thomson Shields

Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography.

After Pascal rejoined the British navy Equiano accompanied him on several voyages traveling to Holland Scotland ...

Article

Angelo Costanzo

slave and spiritual autobiographer, creator of the first internationally famous slave narrative, and abolitionist leader. Olaudah Equiano (also known by his slave name Gustavus Vassa) was about eleven years of age when, according to his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), he was kidnapped in the African country that is now known as Nigeria. Recent scholarship by Equiano's biographer, Vincent Carretta, has raised questions about whether Equiano was born in Africa, rather than in “Carolina,” as his February 9, 1759, baptismal record in Westminster, England, attests. The Interesting Narrative states that Equiano was taken to a slave ship on the west coast of Africa aboard which he endured the atrocity that was the Middle Passage Sent to Barbados and then to Virginia Equiano escaped plantation slavery when he was purchased by a lieutenant in the ...

Article

John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...

Article

Laura Murphy

writer, sailor, soldier, teacher, and minister, was one of ten children born in North Carolina to Abel Ferebee, a slave and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, and Chloe (maiden name unknown), a slave. When London was young his mother was sold, apparently because of her unwillingness to submit to her master and her ability to beat him in a fight. She was sold to a speculator, who offered to sell her to her husband or his master, who had allowed Ferebee to hire himself out to a local farmer so that they both profited from his labor. When she was subsequently bought by one of the two men—it is unclear which—London and two of his siblings were allowed to move with her, though they all remained enslaved.

Once he was old enough to begin laboring London was immediately set to ...

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William B. Gould

Union navy sailor in the Civil War and journalist, was presumably born into slavery, in Wilmington, North Carolina, to Elizabeth “Betsy” Moore of Wilmington, a slave, and Alexander Gould, who was white. William had at least one sibling, Eliza Mabson, who acquired her last name by virtue of a publicly acknowledged relationship with George Mabson, a white man in Wilmington. She eventually became the mother of five children by Mabson, including her son George L. Mabson, the first black lawyer in North Carolina.

Little is known about William B. Gould's early life. As a young man he acquired skills as a plasterer or mason, and he learned how to read and write, although those skills were forbidden by law to slaves. His initials are in the plaster of one of the Confederacy's most elegant mansions, the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington. Among his young friends were George Washington ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

sailor, clerk, attendant, author, and mason, is believed to have been born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, even though there is no substantial proof of that location. Various sources cite the District of Columbia or Maryland as his possible birthplace; nevertheless, it seems more probable that he was born in Virginia due to his family background. Grimshaw's parents were Juliet Grimshaw, a slave, and Robert Tyler, a slave owner. Even though there are limited facts on his personal childhood and education, a historical essay, “Winney Grimshaw, A Virginia Slave, and Her Family” by Richard Dunn, provides a detailed history on the Grimshaw family's enslavement and life on the Mount Airy plantation in Virginia. Grimshaw's surname, which was unusual in nineteenth-century Virginia, may have come from Samuel Grimshaw, who immigrated to Virginia in 1795 from England or from Thomas Grimshaw who lived near Alexandria and later ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

U.S. Navy sailor and Medal of Honor recipient, was a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known about his life, but he is probably the same man that enlisted in the navy at Philadelphia during the Civil War, serving as a landsman aboard the U.S.S. Suwanee for three years from 10 February 1865 to 31 March 1867. At the time of his enlistment in 1865, his occupation was listed as that of a waiter and barber. Johnson's activities after the war are uncertain; he may have returned to his peacetime occupation, but it seems likely that he continued serving in the navy, rising from landsman, to ordinary seaman, and thence to the rating of seaman.

Johnson was serving aboard the gunboat U.S.S. Kansas when it departed New York for Cuba on 29 November 1871, arriving in Havana early in December. The Kansas with about one ...