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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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Philip Nanton

Britishwriter best known for his books The French Revolution (1837) and Frederick the Great (1858–65). Born in Scotland, and settling permanently in London in 1834, Carlyle was the author of many other works, including essays and articles in periodicals. Among these was his ‘Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question’, originally published in Fraser's Magazine (London) in December 1849, and later rewritten and republished as a pamphlet called Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question (1853) and in some of the collected editions of the author's Latter‐Day Pamphlets (first published 1850).

In form, the Occasional Discourse is an imaginary report of a speech by a fictional orator and it would be unwise to assume that everything in the speech should be regarded as identical with the personal opinions of Carlyle who may have deliberately exaggerated some elements for effect The speaker ...

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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 ...

Article

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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Eric Gardner

writer, activist, minister, doctor, and businessman, was born in Washington, D.C., or nearby Maryland, probably to Thomas Detro (or Detrow), a stonemason, and his wife, Eleanor. Detter was educated in Washington, D.C., and was apprenticed to a shoemaker. Little is known of his early years. In 1852 he traveled aboard the steamer John L. Stephens to San Francisco, where he worked as a barber before moving to Sacramento. He quickly became active in northern California's black community and was Sacramento's delegate to the state Colored Conventions of 1855, 1856, and 1857; the 1855 Convention named him to the Executive Board.

Apparently frustrated by the lack of civil rights progress in California, he left the state in late 1857 Over the next decade he traveled throughout Idaho Washington and Oregon spending extended periods in areas around Boise Walla Walla Idaho City ...

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 ...

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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 ...

Article

Barbara McCaskill

enduring icon in America's imagination since abolition and Thomas Jefferson's alleged lover for thirty-eight years. Sally Hemings was emancipated in 1828, and her mystique subjected her to legend of the magnitude that posthumously hounds Elvis Presley. Hemings sightings proliferated in antislavery periodicals, and she was fictionalized in fugitive slave William Wells Brown's novel Clotel, or The President's Daughter (1853).

Hemings was half sister to Jefferson's wife, Martha, born to Martha's father, John Wayles, and Betty, a half-white slave. An inheritance from Wayles, the quadroon Hemings was house slave at Monticello. Published documentation of the Hemings-Jefferson affair began with a 1 September 1802 exposé by James Thomson Callender in Richmond's Recorder.

Biographers who dispute the relationship, including Dumas Malone and Virginius Dabney, oppose historian Fawn Brodie and novelist Barbara Chase-Riboud (Sally Hemings, 1979 who authenticate it Virtually dismissed ...

Article

Alice Knox Eaton

novelist, journalist, and editor, was born in Portland, Maine, the daughter of Northrup Hopkins and Sarah Allen. She grew up in Boston and graduated from Girls High School. At age fifteen Hopkins won the first prize of ten dollars in gold for her essay, “The Evils of Intemperance and Their Remedy,” in a contest sponsored by William Wells Brown. At twenty Hopkins wrote the play Slaves' Escape; or, The Underground Railroad and played the lead role alongside other family members in the Hopkins Colored Troubadours. The production received favorable reviews; in tours around the northeastern United States, the play varied in length from four acts to three and was sometimes titled Peculiar Sam; or, The Underground Railroad The Colored Troubadours also put on a variety of musical performances and Hopkins was noted for her singing indeed she was once referred to as Boston s ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Caryn Cossé Bell

writer, civil rights activist, and educator, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nothing is known of his personal life except that he married and had five children, four sons and a daughter. A brother, Numa Lanusse, also displayed considerable literary talent until his death at the age of twenty-six in a riding accident.

In New Orleans, the nation's nineteenth-century “Creole capital,” Lanusse belonged to a resident coterie of French-speaking Romantic writers whose ranks were reinforced by political refugees of revolutionary upheaval in France and the French Caribbean. Intensely hostile to Louisiana's slave-based racial hierarchy and inspired by the Romantic idealism of the democratic age, Lanusse joined with the native and émigré literati to press for change. In 1843 he played a leading role in the publication of a short-lived, interracial literary journal, L'album littéraire: Journal des jeunes gens, amateurs de littérature which began as a ...

Article

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 ...

Article

An anonymous novel published in 1790 expressing anti‐slavery sentiments. The narrator, the Mr Blenfield of the title, is a young man from a wealthy and genteel background who describes how he meets and is impressed by various young ladies, and eventually marries one of them. At the same time he offers the reader his views on a very miscellaneous range of subjects. The novel is not remarkable for strength of either characterization or plot. However, one of Mr Blenfield's friends is ‘Shirna Cambo, by birth an African’, who is recognizably based on Ignatius Sancho and described in a very favourable manner his philanthropy and integrity were the examples and admiration of his neighbourhood sensibility was a distinguished feature of his character his imagination was pure but unlimited his conceptions nervous and his conversation animated and engaging He is credited with making Mr Blenfield an opponent of slavery but this ...

Article

Novels  

Lena Hill

The novel is most simply defined as an extended work of fiction written in prose. In African American literature, the novel debuted during the middle of the nineteenth century as a direct descendent of the slave narrative. This legacy inspired the earliest black novelists to press their pens into the service of advocating for the abolition of slavery and attainment of equality. An overview of the roughly one hundred-fifty-year history of the African American novel reveals that even as the genre evolved, it remained remarkably consistent in its broad goals of representing the complexity of black humanity.

Article

Leyla Keough

Aleksandr Pushkin was of high birth: his father came from a long line of Russian aristocracy, and his mother was the granddaughter of Abram Hannibal, who proclaimed himself to be an African prince. Sold into slavery in the early eighteenth century, Hannibal became an engineer and major general in the Russian army and was a favorite of Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great).

Enchanted with his African ancestry, Pushkin often employed the subject in his poetry, to the point of exaggeration and obsession, according to his critics. In 1830Faddey Bulgarin berated Pushkin for bragging about a nobility stemming from a “Negro” who had been “acquired” by a skipper in exchange for a bottle of rum. Pushkin replied sharply to “Figliarin” (which translates roughly into “buffoon”) in a poem entitled “My Genealogy”:

Postscriptum

Figliarin, snug at home, decided

That my black grandsire, Hannibal,

Was for a bottle ...

Article

Floyd Ogburn

newspaper correspondent and storyteller, was born David Bryant Fulton in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of Benjamin Fulton, a public carter, and Lavinia Robinson Thorne. The oldest of fourteen children of Hamlet and Amy Robinson, Lavinia grew up a slave in Robeson County, North Carolina, in the absence of her parents but under the “indulgence of her master” (Thorne, Eagle Clippings, 7), who taught her to read the Bible at a very young age. At fourteen Lavinia married Benjamin. Raising ten children, Benjamin and Lavinia settled in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1867.

In 1887, after completing his education at the segregated Williston School and Gregory Normal Institute in Wilmington, Thorne moved to New York City but found it difficult to find meaningful employment. He obtained work in 1888 as a porter for the Pullman Palace Car Company spending nine years at the ...

Article

Eric Gardner

writer and educator, was born Frank Johnson Webb in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He may have been the son of Frank Webb, a china packer and community activist; his mother's name is not known. Little is known of Webb's life prior to his marriage to Mary Webb, whose maiden name is unknown, in 1845. Webb apparently lived on the fringes of Philadelphia's black elite, and he seems to have been related to the Forten family by marriage.

Webb and his wife worked in clothing-related trades, and he participated in the Banneker Institute, an African American literary and debating society. When their business failed around 1854, the Webbs attempted to move to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Webb was denied passage because of his race, and this event was reported in several abolitionist newspapers.

In the meantime Mary Webb began giving dramatic readings. Harriet Beecher Stowe noticed her and wrote ...

Article

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 ...