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Charles Rosenberg

landowner, businessman, and state legislator, was born enslaved in Dallas County Alabama, to parents named Sarah and Pete, who had been born in South Carolina. David, like his parents, was the property of a family named Abner. There is some dispute as to his birth date—some giving 1826 and others 1838—but the most reliable date appears to be December 1820, as suggested by a letter from his youngest daughter. It is not known when David took the Abner surname for himself, a common but by no means universal practice for formerly enslaved persons. He was sent to Texas in 1843, driving a covered wagon for the newly married daughter (Thelma) of the man who held title to him.

Her father considered his new son in law unreliable and entrusted David to get his daughter safely to her new home and manage ...

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Darshell Silva

a Quaker, was born a slave near Rancocas, New Jersey, and was sometimes known as William Bowen or “Heston.” His owner treated him well, and Boen was allowed to learn to read and write. As a boy, Boen was afraid of dying during an Indian attack because of all of the stories circulating among the neighbors about others that were killed by Indians. Whenever he worked in the woods alone, he was on constant guard for Indian arrows. He felt he was not yet ready to die until he accepted what was within him that made him do good and reject evil, as the Quakers he was growing up around had done. The Society of Friends is a Christian sect founded by George Fox in 1660 that rejects formal sacraments a formal creed priesthood and violence They are also known as Quakers and are recognized by their plain speech ...

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Penny Anne Welbourne

Born a slave in Rancocas, New Jersey, William Boen belonged to a Quaker master. As a young man he met and became friends with John Woolman, the Quaker minister known for his continuing efforts to end slavery. It was most likely Woolman who encouraged Boen to attend worship at the Mount Holly Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Anecdotes and Memoirs of William Boen, a Coloured Man, Who Lived and Died Near Mount Holly, New Jersey. To which is Added, The Testimony of Friends of Mount Holly Monthly Meeting Concerning Him was a memorial written by Quakers from Mount Holly for Boen, who was a member of the Society of Friends from 1814 until his death in 1824 The authors of the memorial stated that although they rarely felt called upon to record the virtues of any of this afflicted race of people they thought Boen ...

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Charles Rosenberg

was born in Charles City County, Virginia, the son of Abraham Brown, and his wife Sarah Brown. (The elder Abraham Brown called himself “Abraham Brown, Jr.” in a 1789 will, but Abraham Brown, Sr. was his uncle, not his father). The Browns were descended from William Brown, born around 1670, sometimes referenced in Virginia court records as “William Brown Negro.” Arthur Bunyan Caldwell, in History of the American Negro and his institutions, briefly refers to the family history being traceable back to England, but provides no details.

The Browns had been free for over a century, and many had owned enough property to be taxable, when Abraham Brown was born. Several had owned title to enslaved persons; Abraham owned three in 1810. His father at various times owned both slaves and indentured servants, including one John Bell, indentured in 1771 Abraham Brown Jr ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

merchant, public official, religious leader, and longtime state legislator, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the eldest son of free, mixed-race parents John Cail (Cale) and Elizabeth Mitchell, a homemaker, who were married in 1827. His father worked as a miller, later as a fisherman, and moved his large family—as many as nine children—to Edenton in nearby Chowan County in the 1850s. Little is known of Hugh Cale's early life or education, although he had learned to read and write by the end of the Civil War.

After the Union army occupied much of northeastern North Carolina in early 1862, Cale began working as a manual laborer for federal installations at Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island. In 1867 he moved to Elizabeth City North Carolina where he commenced a singularly successful career as a grocer and held a number of local offices during and after ...

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 ...

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Willard B. Gatewood

educator and clergyman, was born a slave in the District of Columbia. His mother was Laurena Browning Cook, but his father's identity is unknown. His mother's sister, Alethia Browning Tanner, was clearly a dominant influence in his early life. Although she was a slave, her owner allowed her to hire out her own time, and by operating a profitable vegetable market in Washington, D.C., she acquired the money to purchase her own freedom as well as that of her sister and about twenty-one other relatives and acquaintances, including her nephew. Freed at the age of sixteen, Cook apprenticed himself to a shoemaker in order to earn the money to repay his aunt.

He completed his apprenticeship in 1831 but abandoned shoemaking because of an injured shoulder. He secured a job as a messenger in the office of the United States Land Commissioner where a white employee, John Wilson ...

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

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

Charles Rosenberg

the son of a Revolutionary War veteran of the same name, was born in Wolcott, Connecticut, and served as the first clerk of the African Ecclesiastical Society in New Haven. Although sparse and sometimes conflicting accounts in published literature have confounded records of the father and son, recently genealogical research in Tompkins County, New York, has clearly identified and distinguished the two from original records.

On 18 July 1756 “Prince, the negro servant child of Samuel Riggs & Abigail his wife” was baptized, according to church records in Derby, Connecticut. Although the word “slave” was not routinely used during that period, he was a servant “for life,” valued at £50, and was inherited at Rigg's death by his daughter Abigail, married to a Reverend Mr. Chapman. Duplex enlisted 18 May 1777 in one of the Connecticut regiments commanded by Colonel Sherman and Colonel Giles Russell formed to fight ...

Article

Elizabeth A. Russey

Baptist minister and politician, was born a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina, to Jack and Dora (Pooler) Houston. His master, James B. Hogg, was a deacon in the First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, and brought him to live in Savannah at an early age. Houston, raised as a house slave, was baptized at the age of sixteen on 27 June 1841 and became an active member of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah.

Houston hired out his own time in Savannah, earning fifty dollars per month as a carpenter and working as a butcher in a wholesale meat business. Sailors in the Marine Hospital in Savannah taught him to read and write while he was employed there. Houston married his first wife, whose name is unknown, in 1848. In addition to singing in his church's choir, Houston was appointed as a deacon 3 November ...

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Richard J. Bell

Methodist preacher and seaman, was born in the port town of Old Calabar, in Nigeria, West Africa, to Margaret and Hambleton Robert Jea. At age two Jea and his family were captured in Old Calabar and transported to America on a slave ship. With his parents and several siblings he was immediately sold to the family of Oliver and Angelika Tiehuen, members of the Dutch Reformed Church who owned land outside New York City. This knowledge comes from Jea's narrative, The Life, History, and Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher, written and published in 1815; it is the only source of information about most of Jea's life and travels.

The newly enslaved family was set to work as field hands and quickly felt the hardship of poor conditions and physical abuse Jea found little comfort in the message of obedience and humility preached to ...

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John Saillant

Around 1816 he published two books, a Collection of Hymns and his Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings; from the latter is derived virtually all available information on his life. The autobiography, which was undoubtedly embellished in some of its particulars, recounts Jea's birth in Africa, his childhood in colonial New York, the abuses he suffered under slavery, his manumission, his family life, and the travels and religious exercises of his maturity.

Jea reported that after he became restive under slavery around the age of fifteen he was baptized in a Christian church a circumstance that he claimed to use to compel his master to liberate him He told of preaching in North America Europe and the East Indies as well as of marrying three women in succession one Native American one Maltese and one Irish His children all preceded him in death Like many early African American authors Jea ...

Article

Steve Strimer

Methodist minister, abolitionist lecturer, and self-emancipated slave, was born to slave parents, Grace and Tony Kirkwood, at the Hawes plantation in Hanover county near Wilmington, North Carolina. About 1815 he was sold to a storekeeper from whom he took his surname. After his escape to Massachusetts, Jones became a tireless speaker on the antislavery circuit in New England. The principal source of information for his early life is his widely circulated slave narrative, The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years. First published in 1850, his book went through at least nine printings.

Thomas succeeded in learning to read despite the disapproval of Mr. Jones, the storekeeper. Thomas was converted to Christianity around 1824. He attended services at a neighboring plantation against the objections of his irreligious owner. Upon Mr. Jones's death in 1829 Thomas began to ...

Article

Paul Walker

Baptist minister, was born the slave of Ann White, of Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee. His life narrative gives a detailed account of his struggle to redeem his family from slavery.

Kelley's brief autobiography gives little detail of his early life, experience of slavery, struggle for education and freedom. The majority of his narrative consists of details of his first owner, his marriage to Paralee Walker in 1839, his ordination as a Baptist minister in 1843, the attempt by the Concord Baptist Association to purchase him as a preacher in 1845, and the correspondence associated with his later struggle to purchase his family.

The narrative relates that the Concord Baptist Association first tried to purchase his freedom but the resolution to raise the money stated that Kelley was to be held in trust as the property of this Association Kelley felt that the resolution was objectionable ...

Article

Carol Parker Terhune

slave, minister, and religious activist, was born into slavery in Kentucky as Mary Frances Taylor. Known as “Fannie,” she was the fifth of sixteen children and the reported favorite of her parents, Mary and Jonathan Taylor Jonathan Taylor was the freeborn son of a slave mother and her white master while Fannie s mother Mary was a slave Although Mary and Jonathan were allowed by her owner to marry he spent only part of each week on the plantation where Mary and their children worked as slaves Fannie s family was not a religious family and although she had an understanding and acknowledgement of God she was anything but pious in her youth and took pleasure in dancing When Fannie was fourteen years old her aunt a religious woman challenged her behavior explaining the evils of dancing and its sinful implications This conversation ultimately led ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

craftsman, minister, and businessman, was born a slave in Virginia. The names of his father, a Baptist preacher, and his mother are unknown. A skilled carpenter and cooper, Meachum was allowed to save some of his earnings, and eventually he bought his freedom. Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, he married a slave, Mary, and then purchased her out of bondage; they had an unknown number of children. About 1815 he moved with his wife to St. Louis, reportedly with only three dollars in his pocket. There Meachum used his carpentry skills to find a job as a cooper. He established his own cooper's shop a few years later and began buying St. Louis real estate.

During the 1830s in order to help fellow African Americans become free Meachum started buying slaves training them in barrel making and letting them earn money to pay him back for their ...

Article

minister and author, was born in the area around Centerville, Queen Anne's County, Maryland. He was one of three children born to an enslaved woman from Virginia and a free black man from Maryland whose names are unknown. Offley's mother was freed by her master's will, and that document also ordered Offley and his sister freed at age twenty-five. Apparently, a codicil to the will required that Offley's younger brother be similarly freed at twenty-five, but Offley's mistress destroyed it before probate.

This complex but not uncommon arrangement a mix of free and enslaved people within a family could well have led to significant problems First it was likely that Offley s mistress and her children having already destroyed part of the will and so enslaving his brother for life might have attempted to sell off Offley and his sister Second Maryland like several states with strict black codes ...

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Nancy Gardner Prince's 1850Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, Written by Herself, chronicles the antebellum economic conditions of free blacks, her experience in the court of two Russian tsars, and the difficulties of missionary work in politically volatile, newly emancipated Jamaica. Prince's life, as told in this fascinating volume, reveals the opportunities available to and hindrances suffered by nineteenth- century black women.

Prince s early life as a free black in New England was marked by hunger hard work and racism She endured these harsh conditions by clinging to the dignity of her family history which included the exploits of an African grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War a Native American grandmother once enslaved by the British and an African stepfather who emancipated himself by jumping off a slave ship Despite her pride in her heritage her frustration with the social and ...

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Julia Sun-Joo Lee

slave, minister, and author, was born at Brandon Plantation in Prince George County, Virginia, one of eighty-one slaves owned by Carter H. Edloe. The names of his parents are unknown. Randolph's father was a black slave-driver owned by George Harrison, whose plantation was adjacent to Edloe's. His mother was a slave and a devout Christian.

Randolph's father died when he was ten years old, leaving his mother with five children. Randolph's oldest brother, Benjamin, unsuccessfully tried to run away and was eventually sold to a Negro-trader, who sent him south to work on the cotton and sugar plantations. Randolph never saw him again. Randolph was a sickly child who, at the age of ten or eleven, felt he was called by God to preach to other slaves. He taught himself to read the Bible and, eventually, how to write. Edloe died in 1844 ...