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Mohammah Baquaqua was born in 1824 in Zoogoo, (probably a small village in present-day Angola) in central Africa, to a fairly prosperous family. He was raised in an Islamic household and was sent by his father to the local mosque to study the Qur'an (Koran), the sacred text central to Islamic worship. Unsatisfied with school, he left to learn the trade of making needles and knives with his uncle in another village. Baquaqua was captured and enslaved after a struggle for the succession of the local throne. His brother managed to find someone who was able to purchase Baquaqua's freedom. Baquaqua returned to his hometown and became a bodyguard to the local king, where he noted the corruption of the royal armed forces that looted the citizens of the city.

A group of individuals apparently envious of his close association with the king engineered Baquaqua s capture and ...

Article

Roy E. Finkenbine

was an abolitionist and community activist. Nothing is known of the circumstances of his birth, early life, or education, although his surname may indicate West Indian origins.

Barbadoes emerged as an important figure in the small but influential African American community in Boston's West End by the mid-1820s. From 1821 to 1840 he operated a barbershop in Boston. He was a prominent member of the African Baptist Church and of African Lodge #459, the preeminent black fraternal organization in the nation. An amateur musician applauded for both his vocal and his instrumental talents, he performed regularly before local audiences. But he was best known as an “indefatigable political organizer.”

In 1826 Barbadoes joined with the controversial essayist David Walker and several others to organize the Massachusetts General Colored Association MGCA which over the next few years led local protests corresponded with race leaders throughout the North supported the emerging ...

Article

Bertis English

political activist and journalist, was a slave who belonged to an influential antebellum lawyer from South Alabama. Little else is known about his life prior to the Civil War; however, it is known that during the early years of the Civil War, Berry was sent to toil in a hazardous saltworks that the Confederacy operated in Clarke County. Berry survived three years of intense labor there, and he emerged from the ordeal more experienced, as well as more militant, than many of the other African Americans he knew. After moving to the Gulf Coast city of Mobile, Berry became a member of the vanguard of black leaders who would help the state's black masses achieve legal and psychological freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War.

The Union victory and the federal effort to alter the legal status of black people deepened white Alabamians resistance to change State lawmakers were ...

Article

Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor

farmer, patriarch, and founder of the Sully County Colored Colony, Dakota Territory (South Dakota became a state in 1889), was born in slavery, probably in Tennessee, and was freed at Emancipation. He married Mary Elizabeth Bagby Blair, reported to be half Cherokee. With their six adult children they founded South Dakota's only successful black agricultural colony. Five years out of slavery the family was farming near Morris, Illinois, about fifty miles southwest of Chicago. With substantial personal property, they held their land “free and clear.” An oral tradition among South Dakota African Americans suggests that Blair's successful bloodline of fast horses, his unseemly prosperity, and his interest in expanding his lands aroused jealousy among his white neighbors in Illinois, prompting him to consider relocating to Dakota Territory.

Sully County, just east of present‐day Pierre, South Dakota, opened for settlement in April 1883 The following year Norval Blair ...

Article

Thea Gallo Becker

educator, was born Emmeline Victoria Brown in Georgetown, District of Columbia, the daughter of John Mifflin Brown, a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Emmeline (maiden name unknown), a dressmaker. Emma Brown and her siblings were born and raised in what the racial climate of the period called a “better class of colored.” When Brown was still a young girl her father died, and her mother worked to support the family. Brown attended Miss Myrtilla Miner's School for Colored Girls, which opened in 1851 with the goal of training teachers for public schools in the Washington, D.C., area. Brown soon distinguished herself as an outstanding student. When illness forced Miner to take a leave of absence, Brown was recruited to stay on and assist Emily Howland, who had moved from New York to be Miner's replacement. In 1858 Brown ran the school during Howland s temporary ...

Article

Penny Anne Welbourne

William Wells Brown was the son of Elizabeth, a slave on a plantation near Lexington, Kentucky. Because of his mother's status, William was also a slave, even though his father was the white half brother of the plantation's owner. While William was still an infant, his master, Dr. John Young, acquired a farm in Missouri, and the boy and his mother were taken there. At the age of eight, William worked as an assistant in Young's medical practice, where he continued to work until he was twelve. At that point the doctor was elected to the state legislature, and the young slave was forced to work in the fields.

Because Young was frequently in need of money he would lease William to other masters many of whom had overseers who beat and humiliated the young man One who did treat him well was Elijah P Lovejoy who published a ...

Article

Henry B. Lovejoy

Free black creole of the Lucumí nation, and leader of the famous Mutual Aid Society of the Lucumí Nation of Santa Bárbara, remembered among modern-day practitioners of Cuban Santería as Ṣàngó tẹ̀ dún.

Little documentation exists for Maria Francisca Camejo, and from birth she could have been enslaved or free. The name “Camejo” was common throughout Spain’s empire, and to this day remains popular in the tobacco-growing region of the Piñar del Rio region in western Cuba. Since the eighteenth century, if not earlier, this family engaged in tobacco production for the royal monopoly based at the factory in Havana. By the 1790s a branch of this family residing and trading tobacco in the capital city likely owned María Francisca as a domestic slave. Camejo identified as Lucumí, but baptism records from the early nineteenth century indicate she identified as a “black creole” (morena criolla Like so many ...

Article

Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

John Anthony Copeland, Jr., was born free in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of John Anthony Copeland, a carpenter and joiner emancipated in childhood at the death of his white owner-father, and a free-born mulatto, Delilah Evans, a domestic worker. In 1843, impelled by the increasing proscription of free blacks in North Carolina, the Copelands moved to abolitionist Oberlin, a key station on the Underground Railroad, in northern Ohio. Taking advantage of the exceptional egalitarianism, his parents acquired their own home and reared eight children. The eldest, Copeland attended the preparatory department of Oberlin College in 1854–1855 and pursued his father's trades. A newspaper editor in a neighboring town wrote that young Copeland was regarded as an “orderly and well-disposed citizen.”

Regularly attending meetings of blacks in Oberlin to hear fugitive slaves narrate their histories Copeland expressed by the deep scowl of his countenance the ...

Article

Amos J. Beyan

Crummell was born March 1819, the son of Charity Hicks, a freeborn African American woman and a resident of Long Island, New York, and Boston Crummell, an emancipated African from the Temne ethnic group of what became known as Sierra Leone in West Africa. Although the conditions under which he became emancipated have not been documented, it has been maintained that Crummell’s father gained his freedom by escaping his owner when he became an adult in New York. The family thereafter established a small oyster store in the black section of New York. Despite the fact that they had limited means and lacked formal education, Crummell’s parents decided to enroll him in the Mulberry Street School and further employed qualified individuals to tutor him.

Following his basic education Crummell together with his black colleagues Thomas Sidney and Henry Highland Garnet went to Canaan New Hampshire to study at Noyes ...

Article

Deborah Garfield

Born to slaves, Lucy Delaney cherished her St. Louis childhood. Like Frederick Douglass and Harriet A. Jacobs, however, she soon witnessed the breach between its “joyful freedom” and slavery's later realities. When owner Major Taylor Berry, who had arranged for the family's emancipation, was killed in a duel, and his widow died, the family remained enslaved. With Lucy's father sold South, mother Polly fiercely urged her two daughters’ escape. While Nancy fled to Canada and Polly to Chicago, the latter returned to bondage to protect Lucy. Polly successfully petitioned the St. Louis courts for her own liberation, and later for Lucy's in 1844 Visiting Nancy in Toronto Lucy wed Frederick Turner soon to be killed in a steamboat explosion her second marriage to Zachariah Delaney in St Louis endured at least forty two years When their four children died young Delaney tempered her mourning with a liberationist ...

Article

Eric Gardner

African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, activist, and Freemason, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Robert and Hannah Dickson. Little is known of his youth. His Virginia-born parents died before he reached adulthood, though he was able to attend school for a time and learned barbering. Accounts of Dickson's early adulthood blend myth and revolutionary promise; the root of most such accounts appears to be anonymous reports included in late-nineteenth-century black Masonic and neo-Masonic ritual books that were either written or influenced heavily by Dickson. These reports claim that Dickson found work aboard a steamer in his late teens, traveled across the South, saw the horrors of slavery, and began raising a hidden army of slaves awaiting his call to revolt. The army supposedly grew as Dickson interacted with free blacks in the Midwest, which he reportedly traversed between 1844 and 1846 By the 1850s there were supposedly several ...

Article

Paul J. Polgar

abolitionist and Union soldier, was born a slave in Virginia. Little is known about Douglass's early years except that he escaped slavery and fled to Louisiana in the late 1840s. He spent the 1850s in the upper Midwest, where he worked as a barber and an abolitionist. There he gave emphatic speeches calling for immediate emancipation and became known for his persuasive speaking style and oratorical prowess. He took his surname from his fellow abolitionist and mentor, Frederick Douglass, with whom he traveled on the abolitionist speaking circuit.

Ford Douglass was a radical figure who viewed the United States as an inherently racist nation. He believed that the Constitution systematically endorsed the institution of slavery, while the nation's politicians acted insidiously to spread the sin of bondage. An excerpt from a speech he gave at the State Convention of the Colored Citizens of Ohio in 1851 captures ...

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

Lois Kerschen

Clinton Bowen Fisk, the sixth son of Benjamin and Lydia Fisk, was born in Livingston County, New York. His father had been a captain in the army, and his grandfather served as a major general under George Washington. The Fisk family moved to a settlement they called Clinton in Lenawee County, Michigan, while Clinton Bowen was still an infant. Benjamin Fisk died when Clinton was six, however, and Lydia was not able to hold onto the property. At age nine, Clinton Fisk apprenticed himself to a local farmer, but one year later he had to return home because his younger brother died. When Fisk was thirteen, his mother married William Smith, a successful farmer from Spring Arbor, who sent Fisk to Albion Seminary, a Methodist school in Michigan.

Fisk later went into business as a clerk for L. D. Crippen of Coldwater Michigan and married Crippen s ...

Article

Maria Elena Raymond

, Underground Railroad conductor, barber, and businessman, was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of a Mr. Darington (given name unknown), a slaveholder and plantation owner, and Phoebe (surname unknown), one of Darington's slaves. Called “Barney” at birth, he adopted the name Barney Launcelot Ford as an adult to please his soon-to-be wife and to provide himself with a “complete” name.

Ford spent the first quarter-century of his life enslaved. His mother is said to have planted the seeds of education in him as a child by secreting him out of camp at night to meet with sympathetic people who taught him the basics of reading and writing. She may have put herself in mortal danger on many occasions by smuggling in a section of newspaper or a Bible page so that he could practice his studies. Upon his mother's death around 1837 Ford was enslaved on a ...

Article

Linda Allen Bryant

caretaker of the historic Mount Vernon home of President George Washington, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the eldest son of Venus, a house slave owned by George Washington's brother, John Augustine, and his wife, Hannah. Though some reports suggest that Ford was the son of President Washington—and that Venus told her mistress that George Washington was her child's father—historians dispute Ford's paternity, suggesting instead that one of Washington's nephews may have been his father.

From 1785 until 1791 George Washington frequently visited the Bushfield Plantation. As he grew older Ford served during these visits as Washington's personal attendant. Washington took him riding and hunting, and Ford often accompanied him to Christ Church, where he was provided with a private pew. After Washington became president of the United States, his open visits with Ford ceased.

Following the death of their father, John Augustine Washington's sons, Bushrod and Corbin ...

Article

Donovan S. Weight

entrepreneur, pioneer, and town founder, was born near the Pacolet River in Union County, South Carolina, the son of an enslaved woman named Juda. His paternity is a bit murky, but most evidence points to his owner George McWhorter. Little information exists about the West African–born Juda other than that she had been a slave to the McWhorters since 1775. Oral family tradition holds that although George McWhorter sent Juda to the woods with orders to kill the baby at birth, Juda protected Frank, preserved him, and brought him home alive the next morning. The boy who would become Free Frank spent his-formative years learning how to farm in the backwoods country of South Carolina. At eighteen Frank moved with his owner to a temporary homestead in-Lincoln County, Kentucky. In 1798 George McWhorter bought some farmland in newly formed Pulaski County Kentucky In ...

Article

Russell W. Irvine

educator and emigrationist, was born in bucolic Rutland, Vermont. Freeman's life can be divided into two periods: his thirty-seven-year residence in America and his twenty-five-year stay in Liberia, Africa. In Rutland, he attended the predominantly white East Parish Congregational Church, whose pastor recognized Freeman's precocity and volunteered to prepare him for college. Freeman was accepted into Middlebury College and graduated class salutatorian in 1849. He taught briefly in Boston before accepting an invitation to join the faculty of the newly established Allegheny Institute and Mission Church (later Avery College) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1850. Freeman's appointment at the first state-chartered degree-granting institution for blacks distinguished him as the first college-educated black professor in America. In recognition of his advanced study in mathematics and natural philosophy, Middlebury College voted to award him an M.A. degree in 1852. In 1856 when Avery College s first white president ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

lieutenant‐governor of South Carolina and the leading nineteenth century African American freemason, was born in Philadelphia to parents whose names have not been recorded. His father was a free person of color from Haiti and his mother was a white Englishwoman. Gleaves was educated in Philadelphia and New Orleans, and as a young man worked as a steward on steamboats along the Mississippi River.

Gleaves first came to prominence as an organizer of Masonic lodges in Pennsylvania and Ohio. While black freemasonry had gained a foothold under Prince Hall in Massachusetts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, by the 1840s, Pennsylvania was the center of black fraternalism, and Gleaves would become one of the Order's leading evangelists before the Civil War. In 1846 the year he was first initiated as a brother mason the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge of Prince Hall Masons appointed Gleaves a District Deputy Grand ...

Article

Shirl Benikosky

former slave, abolitionist, and blacksmith, was born Samuel Green Jr. to Samuel Green and Catherine (Kitty) Green of Dorchester County, Maryland. Although born into slavery, Green's father served as a Methodist exhorter (lay preacher), farmed, and acted as an agent for the Underground Railroad and Philadelphia Vigilance Committee. The 1830 census data of Dorchester County reveals that separate individuals owned Green s parents Green s mother is listed as the head of a household with three other slaves and a male slave of the elder Samuel Green s age is listed under the household of his owner Henry Nicols Hence when the younger Green was born he and his mother lived in a household separate from his father Slave owners considered slaves as chattel much like farm animals Consequently in the census data reports slaves were inventoried as male or female with an approximate age and rarely by name ...