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Article

Caroline M. Brown

aviation mechanic and pilot, was born in Quitman, Wood County, Texas, the youngest of three children; both of his parents were teachers. Allen's father died when Thomas was three months old. His mother, Polly, continued to teach school and to run the family farm.

Allen became interested in flying in 1918, when an airplane made a forced landing in a pasture. The pilots paid the two young Allen brothers to guard the plane overnight so that its fabric and glue would not be eaten by cows. From this experience, Thomas Allen decided to become either an aviator or a mechanic.

In 1919 when Allen was twelve the family moved to Oklahoma City where his mother resumed teaching school Allen often bicycled to a nearby airfield In his teens he persuaded the field owner to take a $100 saxophone as partial trade for flying lessons He worked off the ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor winner, was born in Mexico, Oswego County, New York. Unrecorded in the 1850 federal census, the names of Anderson's parents are confirmed to be unknown. However, likely candidates are Samuel and Mary Anderson, the only black or “mulatto” family recorded living in Oswego County in the 1840 (town of Granby) and 1850 (town of West Oswego) censuses. Samuel Anderson was a native of Bermuda, and his wife, Mary, was a New York native. Bruce Anderson does appear in the 1860 census, listed as a fourteen-year-old “mulatto” residing in Johnstown, New York, on the farm of Henry Adams and his daughter Margaret; he was likely a simple laborer. How he came to live with the Adams family is unknown, but Anderson would remain a resident in the area—except during the time of his Civil War service—for the remainder of his life.

While some ...

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Robert C. Hayden

physician, was born in New York City, the son of George DeGrasse, a prosperous landowner, and Maria Van Surly. After obtaining his early education in both public and private schools in New York City, he entered Oneida Institute in Whitesboro (near Utica), New York in 1840. Oneida was one of the first colleges to admit African Americans, nurturing a strong antislavery stance. In addition to welcoming black students to its campus, the institute invited abolitionists as lecturers and provided both a manual arts and an academic program.

In 1843 DeGrasse attended Aubuk College in Paris, France. Returning to New York City in 1845, he started medical training through an apprenticeship with Dr. Samuel R. Childs. After two years of clinical work and study under Childs, DeGrasse was admitted into the medical studies program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1847 Finishing his ...

Article

Jane Poyner

British colonel turned revolutionary, and African‐Caribbean wife (also described as African‐American in origin). In 1790, when Colonel Despard arrived in London after nearly twenty years of British military service in the Caribbean, he brought with him his wife, Catherine, and their young son James. Catherine's background remains unclear: by some accounts she was the daughter of a Jamaican preacher, by others an educated Spanish Creole. The couple had married some time between 1786 and 1789, while Edward was Superintendent of the newly created British enclave of Belize. The Despards' mixed‐race marriage was perhaps the only such example in Britain at the time.

In London the Despards, turning their backs on respectable society, threw themselves into radical politics, Catherine focusing her energies on abolitionism and prisoners' rights. Edward's political views fell under government suspicion and Catherine took an increasingly public role in defending him against charges of ...

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Robert L. Harris

abolitionist and military officer, was born in Virginia, the son of a white man, William Douglas, and a slave, Mary (surname unknown). The initial in his name stood for Hezekiah. Sometime after his fifteenth birthday, he escaped from slavery and settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked as a barber. Self-educated, he became an active member of the antislavery movement and the Ohio free black community in the 1850s. He served as the Cleveland agent for the Voice of the Fugitive, a black newspaper published in Canada that was devoted to the “immediate and unconditional abolition” of slavery.

Douglas became a leader in the black state convention movement of Ohio. He supported William Lloyd Garrison's position that the U S Constitution was a proslavery document that recognized the slave trade approved slavery and provided for the recapture of fugitive slaves Unlike those abolitionists who sought ...

Article

Vincent Carretta

The most important and one of the most widely published authors of African descent in the English‐speaking world of the 18th century. Equiano helped to found the genre of the slave narrative when he published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African: Written by Himself in London in March 1789. The Interesting Narrative is a spiritual autobiography, captivity narrative, travel book, adventure tale, slavery narrative, economic treatise, apologia, and argument against the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. From its first appearance the Interesting Narrative has also been recognized as the classic description of an African society before contact with Europeans, as well as of the forced transatlantic transportation of enslaved Africans known since the 18th century as the Middle Passage.

By his own account, Equiano was born in 1745 in Eboe in the kingdom of Benin in what is now south ...

Article

Leyla Keough

First published in Britain in 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, became a best seller in Equiano’s lifetime, with nine English editions and one American as well as translations in Dutch, German, and Russian. Though Ottobah Cugoano, an African abolitionist in England, had published an autobiographical account in 1787 it was probably heavily edited Thus The Interesting Narrative is considered the first autobiography of an African slave written entirely by his own hand This places Equiano as the founder of the slave narrative a form central to African American literature In the book Equiano describes his abduction in Africa his enslavement in the West Indies and his manumission in Britain as well as the legal insecurity and terror faced by enslaved and free West Indian blacks Equiano s autobiography greatly influenced the rhetorical strategies content and presentation of ...

Article

E. Thomson Shields

Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography.

After Pascal rejoined the British navy Equiano accompanied him on several voyages traveling to Holland Scotland ...

Article

John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...

Article

Julie Winch

abolitionist, businessman, and Civil War soldier, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fifth of nine children of James Forten, a sailmaker and Revolutionary War veteran, and Charlotte Vandine. He was named for the white craftsman who befriended his father and gave him his start in business. Of his siblings, Margaretta Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, Sarah Forten Purvis, James Forten Jr., and William Forten became active in the antislavery movement. Robert Forten received his early education at a school his parents and other affluent black Philadelphians established because of the failure of the city's board of education to provide adequate schooling for their children. Eventually Robert and his brothers transferred to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society's Clarkson School, although they may also have studied with the private tutors their parents hired to teach their sisters at home.

Growing up Forten developed a wide range ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

fugitive slave, abolitionist, Union spy, and state senator, was born in Smithville (now Southport), Brunswick County, North Carolina, the son of Hester Hankins, a slave, and John Wesley Galloway, the son of a white planter who later became a ship's captain. In 1846 Hester Hankins married Amos Galloway, one of John Wesley Galloway's slaves. Abraham Galloway later recalled that his biological father “recognized me as his son and protected me as far as he was allowed so to do” (Still, 150), but John Wesley Galloway did not own Abraham. Abraham's owner was Marsden Milton Hankins a wealthy railroad mechanic from nearby Wilmington who may also have owned Hester Hankins Abraham considered Marsden Hankins a fair master but he was less forgiving of Hankins s wife who was overly fond of the whip Abraham apprenticed as a brick mason and as was common ...

Article

Gordon  

Frank H. Goodyear

escaped slave and Union soldier, was likely born on the plantation of John Lyon near Washington, Louisiana, an important steamboat port before the Civil War. Lyon was a cotton planter whose property was located on the Atchafalya River. The names of Gordon's parents and details about his youth are not known.

Gordon received a severe whipping for undisclosed reasons from the plantation's overseer in the fall of 1862. This beating left him with horrible welts on much of the surface of his back, and for the next two months Gordon recuperated in bed. Although Lyon discharged the overseer who carried out this vicious attack, Gordon decided to escape.

In March 1863 Gordon fled his home heading east toward the Mississippi River and Union lines Upon learning of his flight his master recruited several neighbors and together they chased after him with a pack of bloodhounds Gordon had anticipated ...

Article

William B. Gould

Union navy sailor in the Civil War and journalist, was presumably born into slavery, in Wilmington, North Carolina, to Elizabeth “Betsy” Moore of Wilmington, a slave, and Alexander Gould, who was white. William had at least one sibling, Eliza Mabson, who acquired her last name by virtue of a publicly acknowledged relationship with George Mabson, a white man in Wilmington. She eventually became the mother of five children by Mabson, including her son George L. Mabson, the first black lawyer in North Carolina.

Little is known about William B. Gould's early life. As a young man he acquired skills as a plasterer or mason, and he learned how to read and write, although those skills were forbidden by law to slaves. His initials are in the plaster of one of the Confederacy's most elegant mansions, the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington. Among his young friends were George Washington ...

Article

Nick Nesbitt

Victor Hugues was the son of a baker from Marseilles, France. At the age of twelve, he joined his uncle in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) at the height of that island's colonial prosperity. After sailing the Caribbean as a corsair in search of English ships, in 1784 Hugues settled in Port-au-Prince, where he opened a bakery. In 1788, when the French King Louis XVI convened the Estates General in Versailles in an attempt to defuse rising antimonarchical sentiment, Hugues was elected and returned to France to represent the petit blancs, or white shop owners and traders. Hugues also became embroiled in the conflict between petits blancs and a mulatto class striving for legal recognition: in February 1791 Port-au-Prince was burned by armed members of the mulatto class, and Hugues, by his own estimation, lost seven-eighths of his worldly goods.

When the French monarchy was overthrown in ...

Article

Patricia J. Thompson

Methodist minister, antislavery activist, and chaplain in the Civil War, was born in Norfolk, Connecticut, the son of former slaves, Jupiter and Fannie Mars.

Since his parents had escaped from their master, a Presbyterian minister, prior to his birth, John N. Mars grew up as a free man and was able to obtain six months of formal schooling. His brother James, however, born before their parents escape, remained a slave until his twenty-first birthday.

At age nineteen Mars left Connecticut and traveled to Spencertown and Ghent, New York, where he lived and worked for a number of years. Around 1824 he married Silvia Gordon and they had two sons, John S. (born c. 1832) and George (born c. 1835).

While living in the area Mars was converted in the Methodist Episcopal Church MEC and soon began to experience a call to preach He ...

Article

Nazneen Ahmed

First Baron Barham, British naval administrator, and politician active in the campaign to abolish slavery. Middleton entered the Royal Navy in 1741, passing his lieutenant's examination in 1745. He was appointed to the illustrious position of Comptroller of the Navy in 1778, despite a lack of experience of naval administration. He proved to be adept at his role, creating numerous structural and administrative reforms to increase the efficiency of the Navy, for example, the introduction of lemon juice into navy victuals to prevent scurvy, and the introduction of the carronade cannon. His attention to strategic details at ship level contributed significantly to the victory at Trafalgar. His achievements as naval Comptroller were publicly recognized when he was created a baronet in 1781. Middleton and his wife held profoundly evangelical Anglican beliefs. During the 1780s, and through the influence of the clergyman James Ramsay a former ...

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Kyle Prochnow

enslaved Muslim African from the region of Senegambia in West Africa, was born in the village of Niani-Maru, state of Niani (present-day Gambia), on the north bank of the Gambia River. He was later known as Felix Ditt, a “liberated African” soldier in the British West India Regiments. His parents, Abu-Békr [Abu Bakr] and Aiseta [Aisha], were Muslim Mandinka people. Mohammed spent much of his childhood away from home at a Koranic school called Dar Salaami [House of Peace]. There he learned to read and write Arabic, and later returned to his village a highly educated teenager. Soon after his return, he married and established a school in his home village.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Senegambia region experienced frequent warfare and violence, as slaving armies raided communities and Islamic leaders declared a series of jihads. Around 1810 these forces turned Mohammed s life upside down For ...

Article

Debra Jackson

abolitionist, Civil War veteran, African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, and doctor of divinity, was born in New Bern, North Carolina. He was one of several children born to an enslaved father and a free black woman. Although Newton inherited his mother's legal status as a free person, he nonetheless developed a hatred of the slave system. While still a teenager he aided an acquaintance, Henry Bryan in a daring escape from bondage Newton first disguised Bryan in female clothing and led him to a hiding place in the attic of a local slaveholder this plan was of course implemented with the help of the enslaved people of the household Offers of a reward for the capture and return of Bryan yielded nothing and with Newton s further help he safely left the attic hideaway and made his way to freedom in the North Newton recounted ...

Article

Vickey Kalambakal

soldier, ranchero, and politician, was born at the Presidio of San Diego, one of the twelve children of María Eustaquia Gutierrez and José María Pico. His father, like many immigrant men, was a soldier at the Presidio or fort, and he died when Andrés was nine. After his death, the Presidio helped support his widow and children. Andrés Pico's maternal and paternal grandparents had arrived in California in 1776 with two hundred immigrants in an expedition led by Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de la Anza. Like most families who journeyed from New Spain (Mexico), they were poor and of mixed race: African, Indian, and possibly Spanish. Census records classified Andrés Pico's grandmother and uncles as “mulatos.”

After working as a customs official and managing his brother's ranch, Pico chose a military career in the 1830s and rose through the ranks, becoming a captain in 1844 ...

Article

John Gilmore

Clergyman of the Church of England and critic of Caribbean slavery born in Scotland. Originally trained as a surgeon, he spent six years in the Royal Navy in that capacity. On one occasion during this period he visited a slave ship where there was an epidemic on board in order to provide treatment to the victims. Ramsay eventually decided to leave the Navy because of an accident that had left him lame. In 1762 he was ordained by the Bishop of London, and returned to the Caribbean island of St Kitts (St Christopher), which he had previously visited while in the Navy. He spent most of the next nineteen years in St Kitts, as rector of two parishes there, and married the daughter of a local planter.

Ramsay s attempts to preach Christianity to the slaves and his involvement in local political issues made him unpopular with his white parishioners ...