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Kane Cross

was possibly born in Connecticut, but other than that he was born into slavery, nothing is known about his parents or his early years. Baker enlisted to fight in the Revolutionary War on 24 May 1777, in the town of New Haven. His name appears as both Bristol and Brister in multiple documents, presumably due to his being a slave before enlisting in the army. His discharge papers list the name as Brister.

Baker served during the years 1777–1783 until he was discharged in 1783; his discharge letter was signed and approved by General George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army, and does not indicate that he was a black soldier. It seems Connecticut recruiters had a difficult time bringing in soldiers, because by March 1777 Brigadier General Samuel Parsons reported that of the nine Connecticut regiments only two had 250 men far short of the ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

a sailor during the War of 1812, served with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie. A native of Maryland, Brown was a free man and resident of Somerset, Pennsylvania, when he married his wife Elizabeth, also from Maryland, in April 1812. Although details are lacking, Brown may have served in a local militia unit in 1812–1813 before being sent to serve in Perry's newly formed Lake Erie squadron in the spring of 1813. When Perry arrived at Erie, Pennsylvania, to finalize the construction of the twenty-gun brigs Lawrence and Niagara the mainstays of his fleet he found that he was severely lacking in manpower and requested more men from his superior Commodore Isaac Chauncey After some dispute and delay a disappointed Perry finally received 150 men commenting that The men that came are a motley set blacks Soldiers and boys Altoff ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

a soldier and sailor during the War of 1812, was born in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the war he likely served in a Pennsylvania militia regiment, but sometime after March 1813 he was sent for duty at sea aboard the Lake Erie squadron under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry. Short on manpower during the outfitting of his fleet at Erie, Pennsylvania, including the twenty-gun brigs Lawrence and Niagara, Perry was forced to plead with his superior, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, to send him more men. After much wrangling, Chauncey finally sent Perry 150 men in two separate drafts, including African Americans Robert Brown, Jesse Walls, and James Brown Unfortunately Perry was unhappy with the caliber of the men he received complaining to Chauncey that The men that came are a motley set blacks Soldiers and boys I cannot think that you saw them after they ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

a sailor during the War of 1812, fought in the Battle of Lake Erie with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Little is known about Collins's personal life although it is possible he was born into slavery in Newport, Rhode Island, or the surrounding area. As of the 1790 Census there were still over nine hundred slaves in the state, which pursued a policy of gradual emancipation after 1784. Hannibal may have been a slave for less than a decade of his life, although this is not certain. The 1810 Federal Census does detail two white Collins families in Newport that either owned slaves or had black persons residing in their household; the entry for John Collins details just one person of color in his household, whereas that of Job Collins details seven Although not specifically identified as such these individuals may have been slaves However the same census ...

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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

Charles Rosenberg

one of at least 289 people of African descent who enlisted in the Connecticut Line during the American Revolutionary War, was born in Southington, Connecticut, where by the laws of that time he was the property of Samuel Riggs, a status inherited from his mother. He was baptized on 18 July 1756. Historical sketches published in 1875 mention that he had a brother named Peter, whose later life is unknown.

Prince's mother and father were later assigned as servants for Reverend Benjamin Chapman, pastor of Southington Congregational Church, who had married Riggs's daughter Abigail in 1756. When Riggs died in 1770, probate of his property listed “a negro boy Prince £50,” who presumably was part of Abigail's share of her father's estate. The young men's parents may be the Peter and Hannah initially bequeathed by Riggs to his wife The entire family eventually ...

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

Marlene L. Daut

the first black soldier in the American Revolution and slave to Benjamin Estabrook, was born around 1740 in an unknown locale and of unknown parentage. Estabrook was the first known African American soldier to fight in the American Revolution and earned his freedom by serving throughout most of the War of Independence, but he is most famous for his involvement at the inaugural battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, where he is said to have fought beside his master's eldest son, Joseph Estabrook, then only seventeen years old. Little is known of how Prince ended up in the Lexington area, but he had reportedly lived with the Estabrook family since at least 1773.

Estabrook was a part of Captain John Parker's Company in West Lexington, referred to as the Lexington Minutemen, and may have joined the militia as early as 1773 ...

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

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

Charles Rosenberg

was the first African American and perhaps the first of any color to become a millionaire in Texas. His life reflects substantial changes in the social and legal implications of skin color from the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteeth century, distinct from, but closely related to, changes in the institution of slavery.

His father was a “free colored” man named William Goyens Sr. (or Goin), born in 1762, who enlisted in a company of the Tenth North Carolina Regiment May 1781–May 1782 for the Revolutionary War. After discharge from the militia, Goyens Sr. married an unknown woman referred to as “white,” who was the mother of the younger William Goyens. Goyens Sr. then remarried a colored woman named Elizabeth in 1793. Goyens Sr. received an invalid pension for North Carolina militia service in 1835, at the age of seventy-two (Research of Cindy Goins Hoelscher ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

a sailor during the War of 1812, was a crewman aboard the brig Niagara during the Battle of Lake Erie. Little is known of Hardy's life prior to the war, except that he was a free man and resident of Philadelphia when he was married to his wife Diane by Reverend John Gloucester of the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia sometime between 1807 and 1813. Hardy, his name also given as “Harely,” was almost certainly working as a sailor prior to the war and probably sailed on vessels operating from the port of Philadelphia. It is unknown when Hardy enlisted in the United States Navy, but it was likely sometime in 1812 to early 1813 with the commencement of the war the merchant shipping trade in the Northeast came to a sudden halt and many sailors black and white were suddenly unemployed Driven by the necessity ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was a native of St. Mary's County, Maryland. Though nothing certain is known of Harris's early life, he was likely born into slavery and may have remained enslaved until the Civil War. Harris enlisted in the Union Army on 14 February 1864, joining the 38th U.S. Colored Troop Regiment (USCT) at Great Mills, Maryland, stating his age as thirty-six years and his occupation as that of a farmer. A number of USCT regiments recruited men, many of them formerly enslaved, from the Tidewater region of Maryland and Virginia. Among the other new recruits of these regiments were fellow St. Mary's County resident William H. Barnes, as well as Christian Fleetwood, Alfred B. Hilton, and Charles Veale (4th USCT), Decatur Dorsey (39th USCT), and Miles James (36th USCT). All of these men, like James Harris and a number ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Hull was born free in Northampton, Massachusetts. In later years, according to Thomas Egleston, General Paterson's biographer, Hull would say that he was the son of an African prince. He was taken to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, when he was six years old by a black man named Joab. On 1 May 1777, when he was eighteen, he enlisted in the Massachusetts Line, the state militia, as a private. For the next two years he was Paterson's orderly, known among those with whom he served for his intelligence and wit. He was almost certainly among the more than eight hundred African Americans at the battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778, since he was serving under Paterson at the time and Paterson's brigade fought in the battle. The historian Richard S. Walling includes Hull in a list of those whose presence at the battle is probable but not ...

Article

Paul Devlin

professional musician and soldier in the French and Indian War and War of Independence, was the freeborn progenitor of a large Groton, Massachusetts, family. The family later spent time in Dracut and Pepperell, where they owned land. His father, Primus Lew, was a skilled artisan (a cooper, or barrel maker) and it is unclear if he was ever a slave and later freed, or was himself freeborn. The historian Benjamin Quarles claimed that Barzillai Lew was also a cooper, and it has been claimed that Primus was also a musician. His mother was named Margret; nothing else about her is known. Father and son both served in the French and Indian War, with Barzillai (also known as “Zeal”) serving for thirty-eight weeks in 1760 under the command of Thomas Farrington. In 1768 he married Dinah Bowman whose freedom he bought for $400 They later had at ...

Article

Jane G. Landers

Spanish militia captain, corsair, and founder of the first free black town in what became the United States, was born in “Guinea” (a name used by Europeans and Americans for the slave-trading coast of West Africa) to unknown parents. Menéndez's birth date and birth name are also unknown, but when he was baptized a Catholic he took the name of his Spanish godfather, the royal accountant in St. Augustine, and Menéndez's former owner.

Enslaved as a young man, Menéndez was transported to South Carolina by British traders to work alongside large numbers of Africans already herding cattle, cutting timber, and producing naval stores, indigo, and, later, rice. Soon Carolina was said to be “more like a Negro country” (Wood, 132), and planters began to fear retaliation from the slaves who now outnumbered them. Slave revolts rocked Carolina periodically in the first decades of the eighteenth century.

Then ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

seaman in the U.S. Navy and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. Nothing certain is known of his early life or his family background, though it may be speculated that, based on his origin in one of Canada's maritime provinces, he may have been a sailor in the merchant trade and that, if so, his activities in this area likely facilitated his arrival in the United States.

Joseph Noil's arrival in the United States is also undocumented, but by 1872 at the latest he had enlisted in the U.S. Navy at New York. While serving aboard the sidewheel steam frigate U.S.S. Powhatan at Norfolk, Virginia, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor when he saved a fellow crewman, Boatswain J. C. Walton, from drowning on 26 December 1872 Noil was undoubtedly an experienced sailor this is not only indicated by his action ...

Article

Storm Butler

a laborer, shoemaker, and member of the Union Army, was born in 1807 in Granby, Connecticut. He was the son of a newly freed black slave, Earl Percy, who served under Ozias Pettibone, a colonel in the Revolutionary War. Colonel Pettibone was one of the richest men in Granby and one of only a few slave owners. A 1790 census showed that Pettibone had five slaves, three of whom were children. One of these slaves was a thirty-six-year-old woman. This original census does not list an adult male or father among Pettibone's slaves; a later census lists the children as “mulatto,” but does not provide the name of the father. One of the children, Earl Pettibone, was born in 1784 the year in which the legislature passed an act ending lifetime slavery for children born to slave women after 1 March of that ...

Article

Jacob Doerfler

Revolutionary War soldier, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, to unknown parents. On 19 August 1753 he was baptized in the Norwich First Congregational Church. Quy was an enslaved African American. Until the Revolutionary War, his master was Daniel Brewster of Norwich.

Libbeus Quy was recruited into General Israel Putnam's Third Regiment, probably between May and April of 1775. He was one of a few African Americans who served in the Patriot cause in the Revolutionary War before 1777. It is not known whether Quy served in place of his master, a common practice in the Revolutionary War. But it is known that Daniel Brewster did not enlist in the military. Quy served under Colonel John Durkee in the Third Company, and in May 1775, the Third Company marched to and camped around Boston, Massachusetts. Quy was stationed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until December 1775 when the ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born the son of an African slave named Hannah and a white father in James City County, Virginia, on the farm of Nathaniel Hankins. Two years later, when Alexander Hankins inherited his father's 400-acre farm, he also inherited the slaves that worked it and their families, including the infant Edward. Married before the war to a woman, also a slave, named Grace, Ratcliff continued as a slave until one day in early 1864 when he “laid down his hoe in the field” and walked the distance to Yorktown to join the Union camp there as a contraband (Virginia State Senate Joint Resolution, 484). He joined the 38th U.S. Colored Troop Regiment (USCT) when it was organized in Virginia on 28 January 1864 thereby becoming a free man and hoping that soon his family would also be free ...