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John Gilmore

Writer, art collector, and owner of plantations in Jamaica. He was the son of William Beckford, on whose death in 1770 he inherited an enormous fortune. This came under his control when he attained his majority in 1781 and for many years enabled him to travel extensively in Europe, to fund his enthusiasm for building Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire as a Gothic extravaganza to house himself and the books, pictures, and works of art that he collected on a prodigious scale. In the 1790s his income was estimated at well over £100,000 a year, and in 1809 the poet Lord Byron hailed him as ‘England's wealthiest son’. From the 1820s the income from his Jamaican estates declined significantly, and he was forced to sell Fonthill and major parts of his collections. Beckford is remembered as the author of the novel Vathek an Orientalist fantasy published in ...

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David Alvin Canton

journalist and historian, was born in Piscataway, Maryland, the son of Martha Allen Clark and Robert Bruce, who were both enslaved Africans. In 1859Major Harvey Griffin, Robert Bruce's owner, sold Robert to a Georgia slaveholder. Raised by his mother, John lived in Maryland until 1861, when Union troops marching through Maryland freed him and his mother, taking them to Washington, D.C., where John lived until 1892. In 1865 John's mother worked as a domestic in Stratford, Connecticut, where her son received his early education in an integrated school. One year later they returned to Washington, D.C., where John continued his education. Although he did not complete high school, he enrolled in a course at Howard University in 1872. John married Lucy Pinkwood, an opera singer from Washington, D.C. In 1895 he married Florence Adelaide Bishop, with whom he had one child.

Bruce began ...

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Eric Gardner

writer and activist, was probably born in New Orleans or New York with the given name Mary Jane, although information surrounding her parentage and youth is limited. She seems to have spent time in Illinois, New York, and Kentucky, and worked as a teacher as well as, briefly, a governess; she also claimed some involvement aiding fugitive slaves escaping from Missouri via the Underground Railroad. She moved west with her first husband, a Mr. Correll, who is believed to have been a minister, in the early 1860s. It is only after her 29 August 1866 marriage to the musician, educator, and activist Dennis Drummond Carter in Nevada City, California, that Carter's biography begins to come into focus.

In June of 1867, under the name “Mrs. Ann J. Trask,” Carter wrote to Philip Alexander Bell, the editor of the San Francisco Elevator and suggested ...

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Mitch Kachun

novelist, essayist, and teacher, was the married name of an African American woman whose maiden name and place and date of birth are unknown. Collins is best known for her novel The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride, which was originally serialized in the Christian Recorder, the weekly newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, between February and September 1865. Some scholars regard The Curse of Caste as the first non-autobiographical novel written by an African American woman to appear in print.

Nothing is known of Collins's life before April 1864, when a letter to the Christian Recorder mentioned that she was to serve as schoolteacher for the African American children in the small north-central Pennsylvania city of Williamsport. The same issue of the newspaper also printed Collins's first known published work, a nonfiction essay titled “Mental Improvement.” By January 1865 she had ...

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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 ...

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Cassandra Jackson

poet, novelist, activist, and orator, was born Frances Ellen Watkins to free parents in Baltimore, Maryland. Her parents' names remain unknown. Orphaned by the age of three, Watkins is believed to have been raised by her uncle, the Reverend William Watkins, a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and a contributor to such abolitionist newspapers as Freedom's Journal and the Liberator Most important for Watkins her uncle was also the founder of the William Watkins Academy for Negro Youth where she studied A well known and highly regarded school the academy offered a curriculum included elocution composition Bible study mathematics and history The school also emphasized social responsibility and political leadership Although Watkins withdrew from formal schooling at the age of thirteen to begin work as a domestic servant her studies at the academy no doubt shaped her political activism oratorical skills ...

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Eric Gardner

writer, was born Amelia Etta Hall in Canada to free black parents who had emigrated from Maryland. Little is known of her youth. Her death certificate puts her place of birth as Toronto; other sources say Montreal. Her father's name remains unknown, though there is evidence that he probably died before 1880. Her mother's given name was Eleanora, though she sometimes appears as Eleanor or Ellen; little is known of her other than a birth date of May 1828. Amelia was educated in Canada and settled in Baltimore, Maryland, with her family in the early 1870s. (Most sources agree that it was in 1874, though some documents suggest that it was as early as 1872.)

There Hall met the Reverend Harvey Johnson the son of an enslaved Virginia couple and an honors graduate of Wayland Theological Seminary who was appointed pastor of ...

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John Gilmore

English writer born at Lichfield in Staffordshire. After an unsettled and somewhat aimless youth, which included a period of just over a year (1728–9) at the University of Oxford, he made his home in London in 1737. In the capital he slowly established himself as a man of letters, and the appearance in 1755 of his Dictionary of the English Language gave him widespread recognition. This, and the astonishing variety of literary work that he continued to produce until his death, made him probably the best‐known British writer of the later 18th century.

Unlike many of his contemporaries—and unlike his rather younger friend and biographer James Boswell (1740–95)—Johnson was a staunch opponent of slavery and the slave trade. Johnson had taken this stance long before it became fashionable; for example, his review of his friend James Grainger'sThe Sugar‐Cane: A Poem (1764 complained ...

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It is now conventional to trace black British writing back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and the autobiographical slave narratives of Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772), Ignatius Sancho (1782), Olaudah Equiano (1789), and Mary Seacole (1857 However the more distinct genres of black ...

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John Gilmore

In her novel Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave (1688), the English writer Aphra Behn (c.1640–1689 describes how the title character an African prince was treacherously kidnapped by slave traders and sold as a slave in Suriname during the brief period in the 1660s when it was an English colony Here he is reunited with his lover Imoinda Although Oroonoko is treated with the respect due to his royal birth and suffer d only the Name of a Slave and had nothing of the Toil and Labour of one fear that his child by Imoinda will be born into slavery causes him to plan and lead a slave revolt which proves unsuccessful Oroonoko surrenders on the promise of good treatment but is then whipped He later kills Imoinda to free her from slavery He fails to commit suicide and is tortured to death by some of ...

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Erin D. Somerville

Archetypal colonial novel by Daniel Defoe first published in 1719. Friday, a noble savage enslaved by Crusoe, is often read along with The Tempest's Caliban as the first fictional account of a colonized person.

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner is based on the true story of the shipwrecked seaman Alexander Selkirk, who related his experience to Defoe after returning to England in 1712. In Defoe's story Robinson Crusoe is a middle class Englishman who decides to find adventure on the sea rather than obey his father s wish to study law A trip on a merchant ship turns to disaster when Moorish pirates capture Crusoe s vessel and he is sold into slavery in North Africa He and a young slave Xury escape their captors and sail to freedom along the African coast where Crusoe eventually buys his ...

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Lisa E. Rivo

servant and writer, was born Harriet Adams to parents whose names and occupations remain unidentified. Very little is known about the woman who, in 1859, published Our Nig, the first novel published by an African American in the United States and one of the first novels published by a black woman in any country. Harriet was probably born in 1827 or 1828 in Milford, New Hampshire, according to her marriage record and federal census records. Although there is no record of Harriet's education, the quality of writing in Our Nig and the skillful use of epigraphs, including excerpts from Shelley, Byron, and Thomas Moore indicate that she received some schooling Evidence suggests that Harriet spent her childhood and adolescence living with and in service to the Nehemiah Hayward family Following nineteenth century trends in poor relief Harriet would have been bound out to the ...