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Charlton W. Yingling

abolitionist and black rights activist, was born to a woman of African descent, probably named Eugenie, who was from French Saint‐Domingue (later Haiti). He was allegedly the unrecognized son of Aaron Burr, U.S. Senator from New York and the third vice president of the United States, and he was likely not the only child of this relationship. John P. Burr was also known as Jean‐Pierre Burr, which was probably his birth name. His mother was, by all accounts, a governess for the Burr family who was hired to care for their children during their stay in Saint‐Domingue. The majority of sources indicate that Burr–s mother was Caribbean‐born and of African descent, though one later source says she was originally from Calcutta. John P. Burr may have been born in New Jersey, and he was described as being very fair‐skinned.

By 1818 Burr had made his home in Philadelphia ...

Article

Richard J. Bell

philanthropist and founding benefactor of the oldest continuously operating black Catholic school in the United States, was born Justine Fervin in Guinea, West Africa. In early childhood she was brought to San Domingue and enslaved. Little is known about her youth or at what stage in her life she began calling herself Marie. What is known is that she received no formal education and was brought to New Orleans as a slave before securing her freedom. By the 1820s she was living as a free woman in the Faubourg Marigny district of the city, the wife of a carpenter, a free black man named Gabriel Bernard Couvent.

A devout Catholic, Couvent and her husband regularly attended Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. There she established a relationship with Constantine Manehault, a priest who was to become her lifelong friend and religious director.

With no children to support the Couvents lived ...

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Susan B. Iwanisziw

activist, was named Oronoco (variously spelled Oronoke, Oranque, or Oronogue) in the earliest documents that record his early life as a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, slave. In 1749 he was inherited upon the death of his master, Henry Dexter, by Dexter's son, James. When James died in debt in 1767, the trustees of the estate freed Oronoco for the price of £100. In his manumission papers he is identified as “Oronoko royal Slave,” presumably an allusion to the African prince in Aphra Behn's novella Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave (1688) or in Thomas Southerne's dramatic transformation of the story entitled Oroonoko, a Tragedy (1696 which remained one of the most popular dramas staged in Britain throughout the eighteenth century If he was indeed born into African royalty Oronoco nevertheless changed his name upon gaining his freedom and he is usually noted in ...

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William E. Burns

, educator and philanthropist, was born Catherine Williams as her mother, Katy Williams, a slave, was in transit from Virginia to New York City. Nothing is known of her father. When she was only eight years old Katy was separated forever from her mother, who was sold by their master. She later credited her own compassion for children to the pain she suffered at the loss. Katy underwent a conversion experience at the age of fourteen or fifteen and shortly afterward, in 1789, joined New York's Scotch Presbyterian Church (later the Second Presbyterian Church), possibly causing some controversy among the white members of the church, which spatially separated white and black worshippers.

When Katy was sixteen or seventeen she was purchased by a New York woman for $200 The woman s plan was to allow Katy her freedom after six years work in compensation for the payment However ...

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Julie Winch

businessman and social reformer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Forten, a freeborn sailmaker, and Margaret (maiden name unknown). James's parents enrolled him in the African School of abolitionist Anthony Benezet. When James was seven, his father died. Margaret Forten struggled to keep her son in school, but he was eventually forced to leave at age nine and work full time to help support the family. His family remained in Philadelphia throughout the American Revolution, and Forten later recalled being in the crowd outside the Pennsylvania State House when the Declaration of Independence was read to the people for the first time.

In 1781, while serving on a privateer, Forten was captured by the British and spent seven months on the infamous prison ship Jersey in New York harbor.

After a voyage to England in 1784 as a merchant seaman Forten returned ...

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Ama Gyimah

laborer and philanthropist, was born in Connecticut. Goodman's life is largely a mystery, and she only appears once in public records. The 1850 U.S. Census shows her living alone at the age of forty-three in New Haven, Connecticut. She appears to have been a laundress, but even in 1850 she reported savings of $1,500; she was the only person in her African American neighborhood to declare property in any amount.

Goodman does not appear in any other record until the execution of her will in 1871. When she died in 1872, the New Haven Palladium reported that Mrs Mary A Goodman a colored woman of this city died recently leaving her whole property about $5 000 to the scholarship fund of the Yale Theological School here with the idea of aiding colored young men in their studies for the ministry This woman has given the savings ...

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Chernoh M. Sesay

abolitionist and founder of the first black Freemasonic lodge, probably received his manumission from William Hall, a Boston leather-dresser, and his wife Susannah in 1770. No extant material confirms Hall as the Barbados son of a white father and a mother of mixed racial heritage, as most of his published biographies state, or as an emigrant to Boston any time before 1760, or as a preacher in a Cambridge church. The slave released by William Hall, only described as Prince, probably went on to become Prince Hall, a Boston leather worker, who, having organized the first black Freemasonic lodge, garnered respect from Boston luminaries and deference from his northern black peers and organized one of the country's oldest African American institutions.

Marriage records show that one or several Prince Halls had several wives. Hall, while a servant to William Hall, married Sarah Richie also ...

Article

Fiona J. L. Handley

slave, wealthy landowner, and community leader, was born Nicholas Augustin Metoyer in Natchitoches, in the Spanish colony of Louisiana. His mother was Marie-Thérèse Coincoin, a slave and later a free woman and successful agriculturalist, and his father was Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, a wealthy French merchant and planter with whom his mother had a nineteen-year liaison. Marie-Thérèse was enslaved when Augustin and his twin sister Marie Susanne were born, and he was subsequently bought by his father on 31 May 1776 from Madame de St Denis along with three of his siblings for 1 300 livres He grew up as the oldest male child in a wealthy household where in an unusual situation an enslaved woman and a white man cohabited almost completely openly Although Pierre Metoyer never explicitly acknowledged his children with Marie Thérèse as his own most of them took ...

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Fiona J. L. Handley

slave, wealthy landowner, and community leader was born in Natchitoches, in the Spanish colony of Louisiana. His mother was Marie-Thérèse Coincoin, a slave who became a free woman and a successful agriculturalist, and his father was Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, a wealthy French merchant and planter with whom his mother had a nineteen-year liaison. Marie-Thérèse was enslaved when Louis was born, and he was subsequently bought by his father on 31 May 1776 from Madame de St Denis along with three of his siblings for 1 300 livres Louis Metoyer s upbringing was unusual for its day His parents shared a household in a scarcely disguised fashion and unlike most other mixed race families in the Louisianan upper classes there was no white family to compete for the financial and emotional affection of the father Pierre Metoyer reunited his children with Marie Thérèse under one ...

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Harvey Amani Whitfield

slave, minister, and community leader, was born in Virginia in the early 1790s. Almost nothing is known about his childhood or young adulthood except that he had been a slave preacher. Preston's life changed during the War of 1812 when his mother and approximately four thousand black American refugees escaped to the safety of British ships that had conducted raids along the American eastern seaboard. About half of these former slaves migrated, via the British Royal Navy, to Nova Scotia. Admiral Alexander Cochrane had offered freedom to African Americans in an effort to disrupt the economy and terrorize local whites Preston did not escape with his family but he purchased his freedom after the conclusion of the war Preston left the United States and traveled to British North America in search of his relatives Eventually he found his mother in Nova Scotia at Preston a small ...

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Chaitali Korgaonkar and Robert Smieja

porter, clerk, and civic leader in Hartford, Connecticut, was born in Guilford, Connecticut, the son of Ham Primus, a sailor, and Temperance Asher. His grandfather, named simply Primus, is recognized in one local history as a servant and apprentice to a Dr. Wolcott in East Windsor, Connecticut, in the mid-eighteenth century. Later on, inspired by Dr. Wolcott's work, this Primus became a doctor himself, setting up his own office. We know little about Holdridge Primus's early life, but we do know he was earning a living by age twelve. In his early teenage years, he made his way to Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked and apprenticed for William Ellsworth, (later governor of Connecticut from 1838 to 1842). When Ellsworth served in Congress around 1840 he chose to take Primus with him based on his merit intelligence and dedicated service Primus was employed in a ...

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Leslie H. Fishel

businessman and minister, was born near Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, the son of an unknown father and Nancy Smith (maiden name unknown), a Cochran family servant. On 10 July 1801Thomas Boude, a former revolutionary war officer from Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, purchased the boy's indenture. As Smith grew to manhood he proved so able that Boude eventually made him manager of his entire lumber business.

On 3 January 1816 Smith borrowed fifty dollars to purchase his freedom from Boude. Later that year Smith married Harriet Lee, a domestic servant in the Jonathan Mifflin home; they had no children. Free of his indenture, Smith entered the lumber business for himself, while his wife ran an oyster house. In 1820 his one and a half lots were valued at three hundred dollars thirteen years later he owned six houses and lots worth three thousand dollars stocks and ...