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Elizabeth Heath

During the mid-nineteenth century, Heinrich Barth traveled widely in northern Africa and the central Sudan and authored some of the earliest and most comprehensive works on North and West African history. The son of a German businessman, Barth earned a degree in classics and linguistics at the University of Berlin. He completed his studies in 1845 and subsequently spent two years traveling in northern Africa, where he perfected his Arabic and kept a detailed diary of his trip. After a disappointing experience teaching in Germany, he accepted an offer to join a British expedition to the central Sudan. At first led by James Richardson, the expedition left Tripoli in 1850. Within a year, however, Richardson died and Barth assumed command. During the next four years, Barth led the group through present-day Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, and Mali and visited all of the major towns ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

James P. Beckwourth, born of mixed-race parentage in Fredericksburg, Virginia, escaped an apprenticeship to a St. Louis, Missouri blacksmith and went west, taking a job with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He became an experienced trapper and fighter in the sparsely settled western territories. In 1824 the Crow Indian tribe adopted Beckwourth, who then married the daughter of the chief and earned such renown in battle that he was renamed Bloody Arm. Although he left the tribe after several years—and after earning honorary chief status—he continued a lifelong friendship with the Crows.

Criss-crossing the western and southern frontiers, Beckwourth worked as a guide, prospected for gold, served as a United States Army scout during the third Seminole War and was a rider for the Pony Express He also worked with California s Black Franchise League in an effort unsuccessful at the time to repeal a law barring blacks from ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

mountain man, fur trapper and trader, scout, translator, and explorer, was born James Pierson Beckwith in Frederick County, Virginia, the son of Sir Jennings Beckwith, a white Revolutionary War veteran and the descendant of minor Irish aristocrats who became prominent Virginians. Little is known about Jim's mother, a mixed-race slave working in the Beckwith household. Although he was born into slavery, Jim was manumitted by his father in the 1820s. In the early 1800s, Beckwith moved his family, which reputedly included fourteen children, to Missouri, eventually settling in St. Louis. Some commentators suggest that Beckwith, an adventurous outdoorsman, was seeking an environment less hostile to his racially mixed family.

As a young teenager, after four years of schooling, Jim Beckwourth as his name came to be spelled was apprenticed to a blacksmith Unhappy as a tradesman he fled to the newly discovered lead mines in Illinois s Fever ...

Article

William E. Burns

interpreter, was probably born in the sixteenth century in the region of West Africa under Portuguese influence. What is known of his career comes from legal cases and documents carried out in the Dutch Republic and France from 1607 to 1619. Da Costa's African Portuguese origin can be surmised from his Portuguese name, and the fact that a community of interpreters, some of African descent and some of mixed African and Portuguese descent, had formed in West Africa in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. That Da Costa appeared to his European contemporaries as black can be shown from the use of the word naigre to refer to him. However, his particular point of origin is not certain, nor is the way in which Da Costa's skills as an interpreter transferred from the African coast to that of North America.

Da Costa first appears in the historical record in 1607 ...

Article

Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable's biography combines conjecture and lore with a few established facts. He was probably born in St. Marc, Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) around 1750 to a French mariner and an African-born slave. He may have been educated in Paris and employed as a sailor during his young adult life. Du Sable entered North America through either Louisiana or French Canada, and first appeared in historical documents in 1779, when a British officer in the Great Lakes region reported that the local trader “Baptist Point de Sable” was “much in the interest of the French.”

The British detained Du Sable for suspected “intercourse with the enemy,” but he soon impressed his captors as a well-educated and highly capable frontiersman. British governor Patrick Sinclair sent Du Sable to the Saint Clair River region to manage trade and serve as a liaison between Native Americans and ...

Article

Richard C. Lindberg

explorer and merchant, was born in San Marc, Haiti, the son of a slave woman (name unknown) and Dandonneau (first name unknown), scion of a prominent French Canadian family active in the North American fur trade. Surviving historical journals record the name of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable (Pointe au Sable by some accounts), a Haitian of mixed-race ancestry, as the first permanent settler of Chicago. In her 1856 memoir of frontier life in the emerging Northwest Territory, Juliette Kinzie, the wife of the fur trader John Kinzie makes note of the fact that the first white man who settled here was a Negro Several of the voyageurs and commercial men who regularly traversed the shores of southern Lake Michigan in the last decade of the eighteenth century kept accurate records of their encounters in journals and ledger books One such entry describes du Sable as a ...

Article

Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable is reputed to be the founder of Chicago because he was the first non–Native American to build a home on the future site of the city. As an enterprising free black man on the Revolutionary frontier, Du Sable has become a symbolic figure of great importance to the modern-day African American community, especially in Chicago. The lack of much concrete evidence about his life seems only to enhance his mythic importance as a pioneering black settler and prominent frontiersman. Documents composed by English speakers spell his name variously as “Au Sable,” “Point Sable,” “Sabre,” and “Pointe de Saible.”

Du Sable s birth date is not known It is thought that he was born in the town of Saint Marc on the island of Saint Domingue in what later became the first free black republic in the Americas Haiti At the time of his birth Saint ...

Article

Esteban  

Penny Anne Welbourne

Also known as Estevan, Estevanico, Stephen the Black, and the Black Moor, Esteban was born in Azamor (or Azemmour), Morocco, between 1500 and 1503. By 1527 he had been taken from Africa, most likely by Spanish or Portuguese slave traders, and brought to Spain, where he became the “personal servant” (that is, slave) of Andrés Dorantes de Carranza.

In 1527 Dorantes volunteered himself and Esteban for a Spanish expedition to the New World, commanded by Don Pánfilo de Narváez. The purpose of the journey was to conquer and claim land from the Isle of Florida (discovered and named fifteen years earlier by Juan Ponce de León) to northeastern Mexico. At its start the exploration included approximately six hundred men aboard five vessels; of those men only four were still alive when they reached what is today Galveston Island, Texas: Esteban, his master, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca ...

Article

Esteban  

Dedra McDonald Birzer

explorer, enslaved North African, and the first representative of the so-called Old World to encounter peoples of today's American Southwest, was born in Azamor, Morocco. His career as an explorer began in 1528 with the journey to Florida of Pánfilo de Narváez.

This initial Spanish exploration of Florida ended in disaster. The Narváez expedition included four hundred men sailing on five ships. They departed Havana, Cuba, in April 1528 and reached present-day Tampa Bay on 1 May. There Narváez split his forces, ordering the ships to sail along the coast while he marched inward with three hundred men, searching for a fabled city of gold and its attendant riches. A series of attacks by natives reduced the Spanish forces, but they continued their explorations, reaching Apalachen, principal settlement of the Apalachee people (located near present-day Tallahassee) by July 1528 Overwhelmed by native forces defended by highly ...

Article

Elizabeth P. Stewart

Arctic explorer, science teacher, and newspaper correspondent, was born Herbert Milton Frisby in South Baltimore, the oldest of the seven children of Ida Frisby (née Henry) and Joseph S. Frisby, a keeper of grain tallies in the port of Baltimore. Born into poverty, young Herbert Frisby worked his way through school by selling peanuts, working as a butler, and playing jazz piano. He graduated from Baltimore Colored High School in 1908 and earned his BA in Liberal Arts from Howard University in 1912. He received an MA in Education from Columbia University in 1936. Frisby married Annie Russell in 1919; they had one son, H. Russell Frisby Sr.

As a sixth-grader Frisby was inspired by the accomplishments of the explorer Matthew Henson, the first African American to reach the North Pole in 1909 with Admiral Robert E. Peary. When Henson ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

Arctic explorer, was born in Charles County, Maryland, to Lemuel Henson, a sharecropper, and his wife, Caroline Gaines. As best as can be determined from the conflicting accounts of his life, Matthew's mother, Caroline, died when he was just two years old. His father then married Nellie, a neighbor with whom he already had a child. A few years later Lemuel died, leaving Matthew in the care of his abusive stepmother. Shortly after his eleventh birthday, Matthew left his five siblings and fled to Washington, D.C., where he worked for food and lodging at a restaurant owned by Janey Moore, whom he called “Aunt Janey.” He may have attended the N Street School in Washington before a seaman known as Baltimore Jack captured his imagination with tales of adventure upon the high seas.

At age twelve Henson signed on as cabin boy on the Katie ...

Article

Born in Charles County, Maryland, Matthew Alexander Henson began his career as a traveler when he was just a teen. He ran away from home after his parents' death and sailed around the world for six years as a hand aboard the merchant vessel Katie Hines.

Henson was working as a hat store clerk in Washington, D.C., in 1897 when Peary hired him as a valet. He traveled with Peary on a survey expedition to Nicaragua in 1897 and accompanied him on seven polar expeditions. Henson quickly proved indispensable to Peary as a navigator in the Arctic and as a translator among the Inuit (also known as Eskimos).

On April 6, 1909 an expedition made up of Peary Henson and four Inuit claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole Henson who usually broke trail while pulling a sled may have reached the Pole ...

Article

Kenyatta D. Berry

stowaway and thwarted polar explorer, was probably born and raised in Brunswick, Georgia, but had moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, by the mid 1920s. Little is known about his early life. Seeking to become the first African American to reach the South Pole, he hid for three days on the City of New York, the flagship of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition. The Byrd Antarctic Expedition was lead by Richard Evelyn Byrd, a native Virginian who was the brother of U.S. Senator Harry Floyd Byrd. The ship left Manhattan on 26 August 1929 with three stowaways, including Lanier. The two other stowaways were found in time to ship them back on a harbor tug. Lanier was discovered three days later in the forecastle head between a crate and a side of the ship. The New York Times chronicled his discovery in a series of articles on ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

one of the first slaves to enter the Kansas Territory, was born in Madison County, Kentucky. In her narrative dictated to the Scottish American abolitionist James Redpath in 1858, Noll does not name her parents but notes that she, like her mother, a cook, was owned by William Campbell, a prominent landowner, while her father was owned by a man named Barrett, who lived three miles away. Among the other slaves owned by Campbell were Lewis Garrard Clarke and John Milton Clarke, who both later escaped slavery and became prominent abolitionists in Boston in the 1850s. As of 1858 Noll incorrectly believed that Lewis Clarke, upon whom Harriet Beecher Stowe modeled the character George Harris in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851), had been caught and returned to slavery in Kentucky.

When Noll was fourteen her master moved to Clay County Missouri bringing with him ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Rodrigues was the first-known nonindigenous resident of Manhattan Island. His arrival in 1613 stemmed from the proprietary practices of early explorers of the New World. In June 1613Captain Thijs Volchertz Mossell, an experienced Dutch explorer, and the crew of his vessel, the Jonge Tobias began a journey from the West Indies along the eastern coastline of North America Mossell and his crew ventured up the Hudson River charted only four years before and sailed along the island of Montanges Manhattan After a brief sojourn on the island Mossell sailed away with all his crew but one Jan Rodrigues a Creole pilot Rodrigues may have stayed behind because of a wage dispute but it is just as likely that Mossell s leaving the pilot on the island was an example of a practice common among explorers as a means of claiming ownership of a coveted spot Rodrigues was ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

missionary, explorer, and human rights advocate, was born in Waynesboro, Virginia, the son of William H. Sheppard, a barbershop owner, and Sarah Francis “Fannie” Martin, a bath maid at a local spa, who had been born free. Because of his mother's free status, William, born just weeks before the end of the Civil War, was never classified as a slave, but his father may have been. Compared with most blacks in postbellum Virginia, the Sheppards lived in relative comfort, though William began full-time employment at eleven, first as a stable boy and then as a waiter. In 1881 Sheppard enrolled at the night school run by Booker T. Washington at Hampton Institute Virginia and financed his education by working on the institute s farm and in its bakery He also helped found a mission school for poor blacks nearby and wrote in his autobiography ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Sir Henry Morton Stanley was born John Rowlands in Denbigh, Wales. Beginning his career as a journalist, Stanley first traveled to Africa in 1869 on assignment for the New York Herald. The newspaper dispatched Stanley to find David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary who had gone to explore Africa and subsequently disappeared from the public eye. Traveling from Zanzibar into the interior of east Africa, Stanley finally met the ailing Livingstone at Ujiji, a town on Lake Tanganyika, on November 10, 1871. Stanley is said to have greeted Livingstone with the famous remark, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” After Livingstone was nursed back to health, they explored the northern end of Lake Tanganyika. Stanley returned to Europe in 1872 but was sent back to West Africa the following year to report on the British campaign against the Asante.

In 1874 the New York Herald and London Daily ...

Article

York  

James J. Holmberg

explorer, slave, and the first African American to cross the North American continent from coast to coast north of Mexico, is believed to have been born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of an enslaved African American also named York (later called Old York), owned by John Clark, a member of the Virginia gentry and father of the famous George Rogers Clark and William Clark. York's mother is unidentified; it is likely that she, too, was a Clark family slave. A slave named Rose is sometimes listed as York s mother but sources best identify her as his stepmother York is believed to have been assigned while a child to William Clark as his servant and companion Since such relationships were generally between children of about the same age with the slave sometimes a few years younger York may have been about two or ...