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Article

Kathleen Sheldon

queen mother in Ghana, where she served as asantehemaa from around 1809 until about 1819, when she was removed from office after being involved in a failed rebellion against Osei Tutu Kwame. Her father was Apa Owusi, who held the position of mampon apahene, or chief of the locality of Mampon; her mother, Sewaa Awukuwa, was a member of the Asante royal family. It appears from some sources that Adoma Akosua was married to a son of Asantehene Osei Kwadwo.

When the ruling queen mother, Asantehemaa Konadu Yaadom, died in 1809, there were two women with a strong genealogical claim to succeed her. One was Konadu Yaadom’s own daughter, Yaa Dufi, and the other was Adoma Akosua. Adoma Akosua was a matrilateral cousin of Asantehene Osei Tutu Kwame (their mothers were sisters); as such she was eligible to be named asantehemaa and she was selected for ...

Article

Amina  

LaRay Denzer

sarauniya (queen) of Zazzau (present-day Zaria, Nigeria), was the legendary warrior and state builder who established the kingdom of Zazzau as a major Hausa state in the sixteenth century. Also known as Aminatu, she may have been born about 1533, but this is uncertain. She was the eldest daughter of Bakwa Turunku, the twenty-second sarki (ruler) of Zazzau (now Zaria). There are conflicting accounts about the gender of this ruler. Historian Abubakr Saʾad believes that she was a woman and argues that she very likely was the sarauniya of Kufena, the predecessor kingdom to Zazzau. Among the estates under her authority was Turunku. When an interregnum occurred, she was either appointed ruler or seized control of Kufena and in 1537 moved her capital to Zazzau which she named after her second daughter to secure land for expansion and better water supplies Her reign was mostly peaceful except for ...

Article

Tiffany M. Gill

Black is beautiful This familiar cry of the Black Power movement was revolutionary in its celebration of the culture style politics and physical attributes of peoples of African descent Symbols of the black is beautiful aesthetic most notably the Afro not only conjured up ideas about black beauty but also highlighted its contentious relationship with black politics and identity This tension between beauty standards and black politics and identity however did not first emerge in the late twentieth century with the Afro or the Black Power movement In fact blacks particularly black women have been struggling to navigate the paradoxical political nature of black identity and beauty since their enslavement in the Americas Despite this strained relationship black women have actively sought to define beauty in their lives and in the process created and sustained one of the most resilient and successful black controlled enterprises in America the black beauty ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Black women have been the cultural, social, and economic support of black towns in America for centuries. There were Senegalese enclaves in Louisiana in the 1700s. In the late eighteenth century, Star Hill, Delaware, was created by free blacks on land they acquired from the Quaker community in Camden. Brooklyn, Illinois, was founded by free blacks and fugitive slaves in 1820. As early as 1830, Frank McWhorter, or “Free Frank,” had founded the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois. Sandy Ground, New York, was created by black oyster fishermen fleeing the restrictions on free blacks in Maryland.

In 1825Elijah Roberts and his wife Kessiah led a group of free African Americans, many of whom were part Cherokee, from North Carolina to Hamilton County, Indiana, to start a settlement. Many of the settlers were members of the Roberts family, which had been free since 1734 ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

slave and later servant, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Perry Blake, a free African American, and his wife Charlotte, a slave in the household of a prominent merchant, Jesse Levering. The couple had several other children. In 1897 Jesse's daughter Sarah R. Levering published a booklet about Margaret Jane Blake's life through the Press of Innes & Son in Philadelphia. As of 2011 other sources concerning Blake s life were unknown Thus we should read this account with care recognizing that it provides only one perspective on Blake s life and that it comes from a member of the family who once owned her It nonetheless offers several insights on the life of an urban African American woman in slavery and freedom Levering designated the proceeds from the booklet s sale to a Presbyterian affiliated manual labor school for the benefit of the ...

Article

John French

former slave from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was born on 10 July 1850 in Hickman County, Tennessee. She was aged eighty-seven years in 1937, when she was interviewed as part of the New Deal Works Progress Administration's Slave Narrative project. She was interviewed by Mary D. Hudgins a grand niece of the woman for whom Blakeley had worked in Fayetteville Arkansas Thus as with other WPA narratives Blakeley s testimony should be interpreted within the context of the unequal relationships between blacks and whites under slavery and in the Jim Crow South According to her interviewer she had become quite assimilated into white society and spoke with no discernable dialect She also occupied a relatively high position within the inner social circle of the woman for whom she worked as a servant as the friends and acquaintances of her deceased employer Mrs Hudgins regularly came to visit Blakeley whom ...

Article

Verity J. Harding

community activist and founder of the Friends Association for Children, was born a slave in Richmond, Virginia, to Judith Goode and an unidentified white male. Born Lucy Goode, she learned to read while a slave by listening secretly to the lessons taught to her master's children.

Lucy Goode learnt one of slavery s harshest lessons early in life With few formal legal rights slaves lives were largely controlled by their masters as was the fate of their families A master could dictate the rules of any attempt at intimacy marriage or reproduction between slaves so the forming of durable love and relationships became one of the greatest challenges facing slaves Even if a family bond could be created under such circumstances mothers and fathers lived in fear of the not uncommon possibility that their children would be sold away from them This was another horror that Lucy had to ...

Article

Yasmine Ali

a literate domestic servant, grew up in Philadelphia and in New York City with her family. While her parents' names remain unknown, in one of her 1859 letters, she revealed that her father owned a restaurant. Brown severed ties with her family after her father's death in October 1862. In her letters to Rebecca Primus, her beloved friend, she discussed how her mother had remarried a man whom Addie described as often present in her nightmares.

Brown is known today primarily because of her relationship to Rebecca Primus of Hartford, Connecticut. Primus was the only African American among the five teachers selected by the Freedman's Society in 1865 to head to the south and start schools for freed blacks. She relocated to Royal, Maryland, and founded a school there, working until 1869 She was an inspirational figure and a close friend to Addie Brown and seems ...

Article

Brian Tong and Theodore Lin

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as “Catherine Brown,” “Katherine Brown,” “Kate Brown,” or “Kate Dodson.” In the New York Times article “Washington, Affairs at the National Capital,” her name appears as “Kate Dostie.” Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had a colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843 Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

escaped slave, was named Dinah, but was better known as Di. She was born on a plantation near Petersburg, Virginia, to Priscilla, a house servant, and Henry Hope, a slave owner, planter, and a partner in a clothing warehouse. Hope—a pseudonym provided by Browne in her dictated narrative—was understood to be Browne's father. He also fathered another child with Priscilla who died before Dinah's birth. Although Browne did not know her date of birth, researchers place Browne's birth year around 1815. After the death of Browne's mother from consumption when Browne was only six months, she was raised by her grandparents. Little is known about Browne's childhood; she started working at her slave owner's house when she was ten. Browne was repeatedly beaten for the littlest offense. For example, when Browne did not retrieve Hope's boots in a satisfactory period, he kicked her on her right thigh.

When Browne ...

Article

Nicole S. Ribianszky

free woman of color, property holder, and slave owner, was a resident of Natchez, Mississippi. Nothing is known about her early life. Her status at the time of her birth, free or enslaved, as well as her parentage, is undetermined. Butcher lived in Natchez for at least twenty years of her life and accrued property during that time due to a relationship with a white man, John Irby. She then came close to losing it when another white man, Robert Wood, attempted to wrest it from her by exploiting her vulnerability as a free woman of color.

In 1834John Irby wrote his last will and testament which clearly named Butcher as the administrator of his estate which consisted of the White House Tavern surrounding land buildings two horses and buggy household and kitchen furniture his bank deposits and two slaves Alexander and Creasy Two years later ...

Article

Robert Olwell

The 1740 South Carolina slave code allowed slaves to attend the Charleston marketplace only if they carried tickets from their masters detailing precisely what they were to buy or sell and at what price However many of the enslaved parlayed this small de jure permit into a much larger de facto liberty by which they purchased goods coming to market and resold them for a profit In effect they acted as independent marketeers while still enslaved Customarily after paying their master an agreed upon wage such enslaved marketeers could keep any surplus they earned for themselves Such extra legal arrangements allowed individual slave owners to collect a steady income from their slaves labor and from the market even when they had no work for the slaves to do or produce of their own to sell But as enslaved marketeers came to dominate the marketplace slaveholders collectively expressed their resentment ...

Article

Sharla M. Fett

The history of African American women’s childbearing is one of cultural resilience and profound structural oppression. Far more than a mere biological event, childbirth has been an important social and religious experience in African American communities. At the same time, slavery, poverty, and discrimination have strongly shaped the social realities of childbearing for many black women. Despite important changes in birth practices over the last three centuries, the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth continue to be closely connected to the broader political and economic struggles of African American women.

From the many cultures of West and Central Africa captive women carried their understandings of birth into the slave societies of the New World Though widely varied African gender systems emphasized the importance of motherhood and fertility to women s social identity and family lineage Captivity by slave traders brought African social institutions of childbirth into a collision with slavery s ...

Article

Wilma King

A variable social construction, the concept of childhood barely existed in early America. In fact, this special period of growth and development experienced before accepting adult responsibilities was not an entrenched American institution until the twentieth century. The time at which this protected segment of the lifecycle ends is debatable. Some scholars and public officials have used twelve as the cutoff while others set it at age sixteen or eighteen. Still others claim childhood lasts until twenty-one years of age.

Age limits aside, other factors, including color, class, status, and the embracing shield of loved ones, are significant in determining if girls enjoy a protected period in their formative years. There are also concerns about their psychological well-being and freedom from emotional devastation, which may mature girls beyond their chronological years.

Article

Frank McGlynn

The examination of concubinage the ownership of females by males for sexual and reproductive purposes calls forth a radical contexualization of slavery particularly domestic slavery with kinship and gender In much of sub Saharan Africa the traditional productive systems were marked by extensive hoe cultivation of slash and burn fields while the political landscape was often characterized by a checker board pattern of states with economies based on booty and trade rather than on internally generated surplus agricultural products The remaining sociopolitical blocks were kinship domains where one s opportunities and access to resources were embedded in the corporate kin group these polities external relations were grounded in the politics of ratios of persons to land The accumulation of marital ties and dependents were the capital of this kinship domain Therefore existing inequalities such as those of age and gender were reinforced by the concentration of reproductive power in the ...

Primary Source

Though the 1781 constitution of the state of Massachusetts declared, in the spirit of the American Revolution, that citizens were to be regarded as equal and free, the document did not explicitly outlaw the practice of slavery. It would take a series of court cases to lead to the final abolition of the institution. The most famous of these involved a slave named Quok Walker, who fled his master’s estate only to be recaptured; a jury later found his master guilty of assault, a ruling that spelled the end of legal protection for slaveholders.

Less well known is the case of Elizabeth Freeman c 1742 1829 a slave living at the Sheffield estate of John Ashley Ironically Ashley helped to author the Sheffield Declaration a document protesting British rule and calling for independence and a bill of rights Freeman then known as Mum Bett or Mumbet was apparently influenced by ...

Primary Source

Born to a white mother and a father of African descent, Jenny Slew (1719–?) lived as a free woman in Massachusetts until being kidnapped and forced into slavery in 1762. Three years later, Slew was allowed under Massachusetts colonial law to file a civil suit against her captor in a case recorded as Jenny Slew, Spinster, versus John Whipple, Jr., Gentleman The title was a misnomer as Slew was in fact married As a result the suit was dismissed On appeal a year later Slew again argued her case This time her status as a spinster was upheld on the grounds that her marriage to a slave was nullified under the law Ironically this technicality granted Slew the right to pursue the case as an individual as a married woman she would have surrendered her legal rights to her husband With this hurdle cleared Slew was able to convince ...

Article

Michael Pasquier

Roman Catholic nun and founder of a religious order, was born in New Orleans, the daughter of Marie Josephe Diaz, a free woman of color, and Jean Baptiste Delille-Sarpy a wealthy white aristocrat Legally categorized as a person of mixed race Delille attended a school for free children of color under the direction of Catholic sisters in New Orleans Her father did not support the family in any measurable fashion and her mother suffered from mental illness all of which required that Delille and her two surviving siblings support themselves at a young age As a teenager she began to identify less with the aristocratic society of free people of color and more with the religious lives of Catholic sisters She became a catechist to free people of color and a lay leader in Catholic confraternities Legal and social standards however limited the extent to which she was ...

Article

Jane E. Dabel

From the period of slavery onward, African American women have labored outside of the home in many roles, and most prominently as domestic servants. Because employment has been the key to their survival, and though racism and sexism have limited their employment opportunities, black women have always attempted to make the best of their employment situation. Throughout their wage-earning experiences, black women have always sought to control and shape their lives as laborers.

Article

Juliet E. Walker

African American women have a long tradition of participation in business, including entrepreneurial activities. In colonial America, their initial economic activities, primarily gender-based household manufacturing, farming, trade, and marketing ventures, were derived from activities that had been important to women in precolonial Africa. By capitalizing on culturally familiar agriculture techniques, African women were able to enter the colonial American economy as truck farmers and market women. By the nineteenth century, food trading by African women was so substantial that, as one diarist noted in Louisiana, “The market places are filled with c…. They have control of the markets in New Orleans [and] bring their products to the market very neatly.”

Urban areas such as New Orleans offered the most opportunities for black women both enslaved and free to establish business ventures Throughout the period of slavery food marketing and preparation constituted the largest occupational category among black women in business ...