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Article

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

Kristal Brent Zook

journalist and historian of the early West, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the eldest of five children of Daniel Beasley, an engineer, and Margaret (Heines) Beasley, a homemaker. Although little is known about her childhood, at the age of twelve Beasley published her first writings in the black-owned newspaper, the Cleveland Gazette. By the time she was fifteen she was working as a columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, becoming the first African American woman to write for a mainstream newspaper on a regular basis.

Beasley lost both parents as a teenager and was forced to take a full-time job working as a domestic laborer for the family of a white judge named Hagan. Her career then took several unusual turns as Beasley, who was described by biographer Lorraine Crouchett as short well proportioned and speaking in a shrill light voice perhaps because of a chronic hearing ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

explorer, the son of Colonel Joseph Burton and Martha Beckwith Burton was born on 19 March 1821 in Torquay, Devon, England. As a military officer in the British Army, Joseph Burton traveled regularly, and his son Richard grew up in France and different Italian states. He showed early in life a tremendous gift for learning languages, and he eventually mastered Arabic to the point he regularly passed for an Arab or Persian or an Indian Muslim. Burton was admitted to Oxford University in 1840, but his wild behavior eventually led to his dismissal in 1842. His taste for adventure led him to join the British colonial army in India, and he first visited Africa en route from England via the Cape of Good Hope to Mumbai (Bombay). From 1842 until 1849, Burton mastered Arabic, Farsi, and Hindustani as he served as a British intelligence officer.

Burton ...

Article

Ari Nave

Sir Richard Burton spoke twenty-five languages and multiple dialects, including Greek, Latin, English, French, Italian, Marathi, Punjab, Arabic, and Hindi. During his travels he observed an enormous range of cultural practices, which he documented in forty-three manuscripts. He also wrote two books of poetry and four volumes of folklore.

Born in Torquay, England, Burton was raised by his English parents primarily in France. He briefly attended Trinity College, Oxford, but was expelled in 1842 for insubordination. He then joined the Bombay army, and served in India (in present-day Pakistan) until 1850. Working as an intelligence officer, Burton learned to impersonate Muslim merchants. His reputation was called into question and his military career cut short, however, when a rival officer spread word that Burton had been investigating homosexual bathhouses in Karachi, failing to divulge that Burton had done so under orders from a senior officer.

After returning to France and ...

Article

David H. Anthony

adventurer, mariner, and African emigrationist, was born to Susan Cuffe and John Dean in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Harry Foster Dean followed the family profession when he decided to become a seafarer. By the age of thirteen he was on an around-the-world cruise captained by his Uncle Silas. A decade later he had made his way to Southampton, England, where he was mentored by a Captain Forbes. He later reported that he won his captain's license in that port, beginning a new phase in his life. According to Dean, his mother, Susan, was a granddaughter of the black Yankee Paul Cuffe As the progeny of the Cuffe family Dean considered himself a black aristocrat Since Cuffe was a merchant and back to Africa advocate Dean dreamed of reversing the effects and trajectories of the Middle Passage and removing himself to his ancestral continent of origin Much of what ...

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 ...

Article

Sharon Harrow

the first English woman to write and publish a narrative of her travels to West Africa, was born Anna Maria Horwood to Grace Roberts and Charles Horwood in Bristol.

In 1788 she married the physician and abolitionist Alexander Falconbridge; friends and family disapproved of the match. Alexander’s vehement abolitionist views resulted from his service as surgeon on four slave ships. The year of their marriage, he published An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa in order to publicize the horrors of the Middle Passage. He worked with Thomas Clarkson’s abolitionist campaign and was subsequently contracted by the St. George’s Bay Company (later renamed the Sierra Leone Company) to rescue the ailing colony of Sierra Leone. Earlier in the century, it had been a trading site for the Royal Africa Company, and it remained a country of economic interest to England. In 1787 the abolitionist Granville ...

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

Barbara Bair

pan-African activist, was born 18 January 1897 in Port Antonio, Jamaica. She was raised in Panama, where her father operated a print shop, but returned to Jamaica to attend the Baptist Westwood High School for Girls. Class conscious and politically involved, she also identified strongly with her Asante heritage. She met Marcus Garvey while participating in a debating society in Kingston, and she helped him found the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914.

In 1916 Garvey traveled to the United States, where he intended to raise funds to start a UNIA vocational school in Jamaica modeled on Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. Instead he began to build the grassroots Pan-African movement for which he would become famous, receiving mentorship from radical West Indian intellectuals, editors, and labor organizers in Harlem. Ashwood joined Garvey in New York in 1918 She served as UNIA secretary organized the ladies division ...

Article

Cynthia Staples

world traveler and writer, was born in Mississippi. Little is known of her early childhood except that her formal education ended at age ten. Like many African American girls of her generation, Harrison found employment as a domestic in the homes of white families. At age sixteen she left the South, traveling as far north as Canada and even making her way deeper south to Cuba, where she learned Spanish and French. Sometime during these years of work and travel, Harrison saw a magazine article depicting temple spires in a foreign land. That image fueled her lifelong desire to travel around the world.

While working in Denver, Colorado, Harrison managed to save $800 toward fulfilling her dream. Unfortunately the bank holding her savings failed. Harrison was left with just enough money to travel to California. There she secured a position with the family of George Dickinson a real ...

Article

Charles C. Stewart

traveler, travel writer, and historian, was born in Wadan (in present-day Mauritania). Talib Ahmad al-Mustafa, whose father’s name, translated literally, makes him the “son of the little bird of paradise” (ibn Twayr al-Janna), was the author of Mauritania’s most widely known example of nineteenth-century travel literature (rihla), but he was also an historian and widely versed author on diverse subjects, including his hometown of Wadan. His name in full is Ahmad al-Mustafa ibn Twayr al-Janna ibn ʿAbd Allah ibn Ahmad Sa’im al-Hajji al-Wadani or, in a shortened version, Ibn Twayr al-Janna.

In Wadan he became a student of the highly acclaimed scholars Sidi ʿAbd Allah ibn al Hajj Ibrahim al ʿAlawi d 1818 Ahmad Salim ibn al Imam al Hajji al Wadani d 1823 al Salik ibn al Imam al Hajji d 1830 Muhammadhan Fal ibn Mbarik al Yadmusi al Shamshawi d 1848 and Abu ʿAbd Allah Muhammad ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

antislavery activist and a pioneering African American settler in Sierra Leone, was born around 1760 to a slave family on a plantation located not far from Charleston, then the capital of the British colony of South Carolina. His father was born in Africa.

He worked as child as a domestic servant but then at the age of nine was reassigned to prepare cattle hide At the age of twelve King joined the growing evangelical fervor of the First Great Awakening movement promoting a personal and emotional tie to Jesus Christ and became a fervent Protestant Christian King s life as a young man was full of suffering as he worked as an artisan in Charleston He was assigned to watch over his master s tools and was regularly beaten by his owner During the American Revolution King s master chose to move King to an inland location out of fear ...

Article

Joanna Brooks

Born into slavery near Charleston, South Carolina, Boston King followed his parents into labor on the plantation. His father was a native-born African, kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child; his mother was a healer who learned herbal medicine from local American Indians. At the age of sixteen, King was bound as an apprentice to a carpenter, who subjected him to cruel beatings. King fled his master when the British captured the city of Charleston during the American Revolutionary War, and he won his freedom by taking refuge behind British lines.

Many thousands of enslaved African Americans like Boston King gained freedom by joining the Loyalist forces during the Revolutionary War. British colonial and military officials promised freedom to black defectors twice during the war—with the Dunmore Proclamation of November 1775 and the Philipsburg Proclamation of General Henry Clinton in June 1779 in the hope of encouraging ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Togolese writer and traveler, was born in the southern coastal town of Anecho, located 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the Togolese capital of Lomé. His father, a member of the Ouatchi ethnic community who followed indigenous spiritual traditions, was married to a number of wives. Kpomassie had over twenty siblings and half-siblings. Although his father was a bokonon priest who claimed he could heal, he had trouble accomplishing miracles and eventually promised his son to a priestess for training in return for help. Angry with his father and uninterested in working with the priestess, Kpomassie started to explore other options. He did not have many to choose from. In comparison to other internationally known Togolese writers, Kpomassie had a far more limited formal education. He only attended six years of primary school. In 1957 Kpomassie stumbled on a book about Inuit communities in Greenland The relative freedom of young ...

Article

Ariel Bookman

Kenyan pioneer, horse trainer, aviator, and memoirist, was born on 26 October 1902 in Ashwell, Leicestershire, England, to Charles Clutterbuck, a former army officer, and Clara, née Alexander. Her parents, attracted by the intensive British government effort to promote white settlement in Kenya (then British East Africa), moved there with Beryl and her older brother Richard in 1904. Beryl’s early life was thus shaped by the unique opportunities open to a white child in a frontier colony: she spoke Swahili nearly as early as she did English; learned hunting, games, and mythology from her father’s Nandi tenants; and grew to recognize herself as part of Africa. As she phrased it in her 1942 memoir West with the Night with characteristic, figurative simplicity, “My feet were on the earth of Africa” (134).

Her mother soon returned with Richard to England where she remarried According to one of Markham s biographers ...

Article

Thomas Burnell Colbert

politician and land agent, was born in Troy, New York. Not long after his birth his family moved to Fall River, Massachusetts, then Newport, Rhode Island, and Bangor, Maine. When his father died McCabe quit school to support the family. As a young man McCabe worked on Wall Street in New York City before going to Chicago, where he clerked for the hotel owner Potter Palmer until 1872, when he received a clerkship at the Cook County federal Treasury office. In 1878, with his friend Abraham T. Hall Jr., editor of the African American newspaper the Chicago Conservator, McCabe journeyed to Kansas to join the African American Nicodemus colony, for which he served as secretary. In 1880 he married Sarah Bryant. They had two daughters who lived to adulthood and a son who died in infancy.

McCabe entered Republican politics in Kansas and in ...

Article

Eric Young

The son of a former slave, Joseph Merrick first sailed to Africa in 1843, landing on the island of Fernando Pó in what is now Equatorial Guinea and later making his way to the mainland and the area that is now Cameroon. There he established the Baptist Cameroons Mission, associated with the Baptist Missionary Society of London, in Douala and Bimbia. For the next five years he was active as a minister and as a translator, teacher, craftsman, and explorer. Merrick set up a printing press at Bimbia and translated the Bible into Isubu, the local language, and wrote a primary-school textbook. In addition, he built a brick-making machine for the mission. Merrick explored the region extensively; he was the first non-African to visit the Bakoko people and one of the first to climb Cameroon Mountain. Dr. Alfred Saker an English Baptist minister presided over the ...

Article

Anthony Aiello

Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to free parents, Nancy Prince and the details of her life are known largely through her own autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince (1850). Nancy Gardner had as many as seven siblings and was the daughter of Thomas Gardner, a seaman from Nantucket who died before Nancy was three months old. Her mother, whose name Prince never gives in her autobiography, was the daughter of Tobias Wornton, or Backus, who was taken from Africa and, though he was a slave, fought at Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary army; Gardner's maternal grandmother, a Native American, was captured and enslaved by English colonists. Gardner's stepfather, Money Vose was her mother s third husband the other two having died He escaped a slave ship by swimming ashore but was later kidnapped and pressed into ship service During the ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

African American activist and an administrator in Liberia, was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, on 1 October 1799. His father was an American businessman of German descent who had worked in Port Antonio. Russwurm’s mother was an African-descended slave about whom there are no records. Some accounts claim Russwurm was the product of rape, while others asserted that Russwurm’s mother was a house servant of his father. It is also unclear if Russwurm was immediately freed by his father or if he was a slave during his childhood.

Russwurm seems to have received a primary school education until he moved to Quebec, Canada, around 1807. By 1812 Russwurm and his father had moved from Canada to Portland Maine There Russwurm s father married a widow named Susan Blanchard Russwurm developed a very close relationship with his stepmother and she insisted that his father name him John Brown ...

Article

Born John Brown to a slave mother and a white American merchant father in Jamaica, he became John Russwurm when his stepmother demanded that his father acknowledge by name his paternity. Sent to Quebec for schooling, Russwurm was taken by his father to Portland, Maine, in 1812. He attended Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine, and graduated in 1826 from Bowdoin College, one of the first black graduates of an American college. In his graduation speech he advocated the resettlement of American blacks to Haiti.

Moving to New York, New York, in 1827, Russwurm helped found Freedom's Journal with Samuel E(li) Cornish. It was the first black-owned and black-printed newspaper in the United States. The paper employed itinerant black abolitionists and urged an end to Southern slavery and Northern inequality. In February of 1829 he stopped publishing the paper and accepted a position ...