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Sean Patrick Adams

James Gillespie Birney was born in Danville, Kentucky, to a slaveholding family. He attended Transylvania University in nearby Lexington, Kentucky, and eventually graduated from Princeton University in 1810. After admittance to the bar, Birney returned to Danville to practice law and soon married into an influential Kentucky family. By the time he moved to Madison County, Alabama, in 1818, he already owned several slaves.

Following a brief stint in Alabama's General Assembly and some financial difficulties, Birney relocated to Huntsville, Alabama, to begin a law practice. After selling many of his slaves, he became involved with the colonization movement and supported the idea of restricting the internal slave trade. By 1832 Birney was an active agent for the American Colonization Society and made a lecture circuit around the South supporting the idea of emancipating slaves and transporting them to the new African colony of Liberia He ...

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Russell Duncan

abolitionist and Georgia politician, was born free in Middlebrook, New Jersey, the son of John Campbell, a blacksmith, and an unknown mother. From 1817 to 1830 he attended an otherwise all-white Episcopal school in Babylon, New York, where he trained to be a missionary to Liberia under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. Rebelling against his training and calling himself “a moral reformer and temperance lecturer,” Campbell moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, converted to Methodism, joined an abolition society, and began to preach against slavery, colonization, alcohol, and prostitution. He joined Frederick Douglass on speaking tours and participated in the Colored Convention Movement, a new nationwide organization that aimed at racial uplift and black voting rights.

From 1832 to 1845 Campbell lived and worked in New York City as a steward at the Howard Hotel Later for an undetermined period he worked at the Adams House ...

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Shirley J. Yee

educator, journalist, editor, and lawyer, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Abraham Doras Shadd and Harriet Parnell. Although she was the eldest of thirteen children, Mary Ann Shadd grew up in comfortable economic circumstances. Little is known about her mother except that she was born in North Carolina in 1806 and was of mixed black and white heritage; whether she was born free or a slave is unknown. Shadd's father was also of mixed-race heritage. His paternal grandfather, Jeremiah Schad, was a German soldier who had fought in the American Revolution and later married Elizabeth Jackson a free black woman from Pennsylvania Abraham Shadd had amassed his wealth as a shoemaker and his property by the 1830s was valued at five thousand dollars He was a respected member of the free black community in Wilmington and in West Chester Pennsylvania where the family had moved ...

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Leila Kamali

British barrister who came to prominence in the Somerset case. Hargrave was born in London, and entered Lincoln's Inn as a student in 1760. Having written to the abolitionist Granville Sharp offering his services, Hargrave was the most prominent of the five lawyers who appeared on behalf of James Somerset, a slave who was brought from Boston, Massachusetts, then a British colony, to England in 1769. Somerset escaped, but was recaptured and imprisoned on a ship bound for Jamaica, also a British colony. At Sharp's intervention, hearings began in February 1772.

In this Hargrave s first appearance in court he argued that while colonial law might permit slavery those laws did not apply in England and further that English law did not allow for any person to enslave himself by contract Somerset was freed and Hargrave s argument was decisive in Lord Mansfield s ruling ...

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Zoe Trodd

a free resident of Oberlin, Ohio, was one of the five black men who joined abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in mid-October 1859. Leary was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to free black parents Julie Memriel, the French-born daughter of a Guadeloupian, and Matthew Leary, a harness-maker. On his father's side, Leary's Irish grandfather and free black great-grandfather had fought against the British during the Revolutionary War. Leary attended a school for free blacks in Fayetteville and learned the trade of harness making from his father.

In 1856, at the age of twenty-two, Leary moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where he joined his two sisters, Henrietta and Delilah. Leary worked as a saddler and harness maker and learned to play several musical instruments. In 1858 he met and married Mary Simpson Patterson an Oberlin College graduate The couple had a ...

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Paul Finkelman

probably the second black attorney to be admitted to practice law in the United States, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to York Morris, a waiter, and Nancy Thomas. His grandfather, Cumons Morris, was brought to the United States from Africa while York Morris gained his freedom in 1781 and moved to Salem, working as a waiter. There he married Nancy Thomas, who gave birth to Robert and ten other children. Morris attended a private school in Salem and then became a waiter like his father. At age thirteen he moved to Boston under the patronage of the abolitionist attorney Ellis Gray Loring. Initially he was a servant in the Loring home; then he became a clerk in Loring's office, mostly copying documents. In 1844 be began reading law in Loring's office, and in 1847 shortly after his twenty first birthday he passed the Massachusetts bar ...

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Alonford James Robinson

John Sweat Rock, the son of free blacks, was born in Salem, New Jersey. He attended common schools in his hometown until the age of nineteen, when he was given the opportunity to study medicine with two white physicians in the area. After being trained by a white dentist, Rock earned his medical degree in 1852 from the American Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

By 1855 Rock relocated to Massachusetts, where he became one of the first African American members of the Massachusetts Medical Society. While in Boston, Rock supported the abolitionist movement, providing medical treatment to Fugitive Slaves. He was a participant in the 1855 abolitionist campaign to desegregate the city's public schools and spoke at the 1858 Faneuil Hall commemoration of Crispus Attucks Day.

Rock later earned a law degree and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar on September 14, 1861 As an active ...

Article

Eric Gardner

fugitive slave and litigant, was born to unknown parents in the late 1820s. In court documents tied to his famous 1851 fugitive slave case, Sims maintained that he was born in Florida, but both the agents of the slaveholder claiming him and the later public records listed Georgia as his place of birth. Sims also asserted that his father had purchased his freedom as a child, but Massachusetts courts never accepted this claim and instead found him to be the slave of James Potter If Sims was Potter s slave it is unlikely that the two ever interacted personally the South Carolina born Potter owned massive plantations outside of Savannah as well as several hundred slaves and he generally left their management to various agents Potter also had strong affinities for the North he graduated from Yale all of his children were born in Philadelphia and the family ...

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Paul Finkelman

slave who challenged his status in an English court and in the process undermined the legality of slavery in Great Britain, was born in Africa. Captured as a young boy, he was taken to America on a British slaver, arriving sometime in the spring of 1749. In-August, Charles Stewart or Steuart purchased Somerset, who was between eight and ten years old. Stewart, a Scottish-born merchant, later became the chief of customs for all of Britain's North American colonies from Virginia to Canada. Somerset lived in America for about two decades and then was taken to England in November 1769 Unlike most bondsmen in Virginia Somerset did not work in the tobacco fields Rather he was Stewart s personal servant and valet Stewart purchased fine clothing for Somerset including silk stockings and gave him some spending money Scattered records suggest that Stewart had some affection for ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Christian abolitionist who worked closely with William Wilberforce. Stephen was born in Poole, Dorset, and educated in Winchester. He became a barrister and had a law practice in the West Indies. As a consequence of viewing the horrors of slavery and the extreme ill‐treatment of slaves on the islands, he started a correspondence with the abolitionist William Wilberforce and provided him with information on the practice of slavery in the West Indies. Under Wilberforce's influence, he joined the Clapham Sect, constituted of Christians working with Wilberforce, and eventually became its leader. He wrote a number of books that attacked the slave trade and several significant pamphlets such as War in Disguise or the Frauds of the Neutral Flags and The Slavery of the British West India Colonies Delineated Stephen also offered a few proposals for the ending of the slave trade Among them was the registration of slaves ...

Article

John Gilmore

The subject of one of the earliest important legal cases relating to slavery in Britain. Strong was brought to England from Barbados, where he had been a slave and which may have been his place of birth, by his master, a Barbadian merchant and planter called David Lisle. In 1765 Granville Sharp met Strong in London, at the house of his brother William Sharp, a surgeon who gave free medical advice and treatment to the poor. Lisle had beaten Strong about the head with a pistol and turned him out into the street, and Strong had found his way to William Sharp's house in search of help. William Sharp arranged for Strong to be treated at St Bartholomew's Hospital, but his injuries were so severe that it was more than four months before he was discharged.

The Sharp brothers then found employment for Strong with a London apothecary ...

Article

Nell Irvin Painter

Sojourner Truth, born a slave in Ulster County, New York, a symbol of women's strength and black women's womanliness, is summed up in the phrase “ar'n't I a woman?” Known as Isabella VanWagener until 1843, she changed her name and became an itinerant preacher under the influence of Millerite Second Adventism.

In the 1840s Truth encountered feminist abolitionism during her stay in the Northampton (Mass.) Association of Education and Industry. There she met Olive Gilbert, who recorded The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondswoman of Olden Time, which Truth published in Boston in 1850. During the 1850s and 1860s sales to antislavery and feminist audiences of this narrative provided Truth's main source of income. Truth attended the 1851 Akron, Ohio, convention on women's rights in order to sell her book. The chair of that meeting, Frances Dana Gage wrote the most popular version of ...

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James Sellman

Sojourner Truth was one of the best-known black women of her time, rivaled only by African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, yet her life remains surrounded by mystery. Truth, who was illiterate, left no written record apart from her autobiographical Narrative of Sojourner Truth, dictated to white abolitionist Olive Gilbert in the late 1840s. Much of what we know about her was reported or perhaps invented by others. More so than Frederick Douglass, her prolifically autobiographical contemporary, Truth has been transformed into myth. Feminists emphasize her challenge to restrictive Victorian codes of femininity; Marxist historians proclaim her solidarity with the working class. Her spirit has been invoked on college campuses in the United States in struggles to create African American and Women's Studies programs. Yet most interpretations of Truth fail to understand the centrality of her evangelical religious faith.

In their writings, both Harriet Beecher Stowe and ...

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Nell Irvin Painter

Sojourner Truth is one of the two most widely known nineteenth-century black women; the other, Harriet Tubman, was also a former slave without formal education. While Tubman is known as the “Moses of her people” for having led hundreds of slaves to freedom, Truth is remembered more for a few memorable utterances than for her acts. Before the Civil War, she was a feminist abolitionist; after the war, she worked in freedpeople’s relief. Truth is closely identified with a phrase she did not utter, “and ar’n’t I a woman?” She often made the point that women who are poor and black must be included within the category of woman, but not in these precise words. A white feminist journalist, Frances Dana Gage, invented these particular words in 1863 Truth s twentieth and twenty first century persona worked most effectively within the politically minded worlds of black ...

Article

Alfreda S. James

By the time Sojourner Truth met Frederick Douglass in the early 1840s she had evolved from a fugitive slave to a Pentecostal preacher and a member of the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, an egalitarian community in Massachusetts that honored work and rejected slavery and other class distinctions. In the twenty years since Truth had liberated herself from slavery, she had developed a reputation as a simple yet razor-sharp commentator on religion and people.

Her name at birth was Isabella, and she was the youngest child of two Dutch-speaking slaves, James and Elizabeth Baumfree (or Bomefree). The Baumfrees lived in the town of Hurley in Ulster County, New York, and were the human property of Johannis Hardenbergh, a Revolutionary War veteran. When Hardenbergh died in either 1807 or 1808 his estate sold Isabella to an English speaking family in Ulster County The early circumstances of Isabella s life ...

Article

Nell Irvin Painter

abolitionist and women's rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont's slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York State law in 1827, but she did not marry again.

In the year before her emancipation Isabella left her master Dumont of her own accord and went to work for the ...