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Kelly Boyer Sagert

Aaron Anthony was the seventh and youngest child of James and Ester Anthony. Neither parent could read or write, and the family eked out a living farming a plot of marshy land on the two-hundred-acre Hackton plantation, owned by relatives. The land was east of Tuckahoe Creek in the town known as Tuckahoe Neck, in Talbot County, Maryland.

Anthony's father died in 1769, leaving Ester and her seven offspring—five of whom were still children—to fend for themselves. Unlike his parents, Anthony learned to read, write, and calculate simple sums. As a young man working on cargo boats on the Choptank River and in Chesapeake Bay, he earned enough money to invest in property. In 1795 he gained employment as a captain at a salary of two hundred dollars per year, hauling and transporting both goods and people for the wealthy colonel Edward Lloyd IV who owned hundreds ...

Article

Clarence Maxwell

was born on the island of Antigua in 1788. He moved to Bermuda in 1807, settling in the island’s former capital of St. George’s. Whether he arrived in Bermuda as either bond or free, he was certainly free by 1821 when he made one of his earliest appearances in the local records. The St. George’s Vestry noted him among the parish’s “free persons of colour” in 1828.

Between 1807 and 1821 Athill established himself as a shipwright a skill he may have learned living in Antigua There was a market for such in his new home Bermuda had experienced since the late 1600s a maritime and commercial economic revolution dominated by the carrying trade and including ancillary industries such as shipbuilding and boatbuilding As one of the few Bermuda residents classified as Free Coloured the 41 year old Athill purchased a freehold in St George s ...

Article

Jeannine DeLombard

Ball, Charles (1781?–?), fugitive slave, soldier, and memoirist, was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of slave parents whose names are unknown. When Ball was four years old his mother and siblings were sold to slave traders to settle their late master’s debts; he never saw them again. Ball was sold to John Cox, a local slaveowner, and continued to live near his father and grandfather. After the sale of Ball’s mother, his father sank into a deep depression, eventually escaping from slavery on the eve of his purchase by a slave trader. Ball became close to his octogenarian grandfather, a former African warrior who had arrived in Maryland around 1730.

Cox died when Ball was twelve and the young slave worked for his late master s father until he was twenty years old During this time Ball married a slave named ...

Article

Jeannine DeLombard

fugitive slave, soldier, and slave narrative author, was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of slave parents whose names are unknown. When Charles was four years old, his mother and siblings were sold to slave traders to settle their late master's debts; he never saw them again. Charles was sold to John Cox, a local slave owner, and continued to live near his father and grandfather. After the sale of Charles's mother, his father sank into a deep depression, eventually escaping from slavery on the eve of his purchase by a slave trader. Charles grew close to his octogenarian grandfather, a former African warrior who had arrived in Maryland about 1730.

Cox died when Charles Ball was twelve and the young slave worked for his late master s father until he was twenty years old During this time Ball married a slave ...

Article

Sharon E. Wood

former slave, entrepreneur, steamboat worker, nurse, and church founder, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1801 or 1804. Although her father was a white man and also her master, his name is unknown. Her mother, Lydia, was his slave. While she was still a child, Baltimore's father sold her to a trader who carried her to the St. Louis area. Over the next few years, she passed among several masters, including the New Orleans judge Joachim Bermudez, working as a house servant for French, Spanish, and Anglo-American households in Louisiana and eastern Missouri.

In New Orleans Baltimore joined the Methodist Church Her piety so impressed one preacher that he purchased her then allowed her to hire her own time and buy her freedom Baltimore worked as a chambermaid on steamboats and as a lying in nurse According to tradition it took her seven years to earn the ...

Article

Jane Poyner

Mixed‐race American sea captain who, as a champion of the abolition movement, journeyed to Britain in 1811 to meet sympathetic friends from the African Institution. Cuffee (also spelt Cuff, Cuffe, Cuffey) was born in Massachusetts to a manumitted slave, Cuffee Slocum, and a Native American, Ruth Moses. A committed Quaker, Cuffee was impassioned about the redemption of Africa: he aligned himself with the Colonization Society of America and the idea of a return to Africa of free African‐Americans. To this end, as a means of cutting off the slave trade at its source, Cuffee made two trips to Sierra Leone (see Sierra Leone settlers). To discuss his views on abolition and colonization with friends from the African Institution, Cuffee sailed to Britain, docking in Liverpool in 1811 Here and in London he met fellow abolitionists including the Duke of Gloucester who was president of the African ...

Article

David Dabydeen

African preacher who travelled around England and Ireland sermonizing. Jea was born in Old Callabar, Africa, and at the age of 2½ was taken, along with his family, to North America, where they became the slaves of Oliver and Angelika Triebuen. They were ill‐treated and not properly clothed and fed. Working hours were long and intense, as Jea records in his narrative The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher (1815).

The text captures his life as a slave his rebellion against Christian hypocrisy the finding of his faith his travels and the significance of his sermonizing Laden with quotations from the Bible it is itself a piece of Jea s preaching often questioning the virtues and beliefs of his readers Following his discovery of Christianity at the age of 15 when as he writes the Lord was pleased to remove gross darkness superstition ...

Article

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

John Garst

“steel-driving man” and legendary hero, may have been a historic person born a slave in Mississippi, Virginia, or some other Southern state. In ballad and legend he is simply “John Henry,” but “John Henry” is a common combination of given names, so Henry may not have been his surname.

Songs about John Henry were collected as early as 1905. In 1916 the former West Virginia governor W.-A. MacCorkle confused him with John Hardy, an African American gambler and murderer who was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894 and is the subject of his own ballad. By the mid-1920s the ballad “John Henry” was being recorded commercially by Riley Puckett (1924), Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), and other white “hillbilly” performers, and shortly thereafter recordings by such African American bluesmen as Henry Thomas (1927) and Mississippi John Hurt (1928 began ...

Article

Donald J. Ratcliffe

Riley, James (27 October 1777–18 March 1840), mariner, slave, and author, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Asher Riley, a farmer of reduced means, and Rebecca Sage, the daughter of an old Wethersfield family. Riley received a limited education, and from the age of eight he had to earn his keep helping local farmers. When he was fifteen, “tall and stout for my age,” Riley went to sea, working his way up until he gained command of his own ship at the age of twenty and subsequently acquired responsibility for trading the cargoes. Sailing mainly from New York, he made “voyages in all climates usually visited by American ships” and gained “a fair share of prosperity” ( Narrative, pp. 16–17). In January 1802 he married Phebe Miller, daughter of Hosea Miller and Mary Stow, with whom he had five children.

Like most American merchants ...

Article

Barton A. Myers

abolitionist, activist, soldier, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennysylvania, to William and Mary Stephens, free African Americans who had fled Virginia's eastern shore in the wake of the Nat Turner rebellion. Little is known of Stephens's early education, but he likely attended a combination of segregated primary schools in Philadelphia and the Sunday school of the First African Baptist, a fervently abolitionist church that his parents attended. Prior to the war Stephens worked as a cabinetmaker, a skilled position that offered him elite status in the urban Philadelphia black community.

Stephens's antebellum exploits included a wide range of civic and political activities. In 1853 he helped found the Banneker Institute, an African American literary society and library, honoring Benjamin Banneker the African American scientist and inventor While working with the society he met influential white leaders including General Oliver Otis Howard later head ...

Article

John R. Van Atta

Vesey, Denmark (1767?–02 July 1822), slave insurrectionist, was born possibly in Africa. His family roots and early childhood are unknown. As a fourteen-year-old in a cargo of 390 slaves bound for St. Domingue (Haiti), his engaging appearance somehow caught Captain Joseph Vesey’s eye. Sold on arrival to a French planter, Denmark remained on that sugar- and cocoa-producing colony only a few months before being returned as “unsound and subject to epileptic fits.” Afterward, Captain Vesey kept the young slave for himself and in 1783 adopted Charleston, South Carolina, as a permanent home.

Literate multilingual and worldly Denmark Vesey s experience both as a slave and later as a free man differed radically from the ordinary Aboard his master s vessels he traveled around the Atlantic and became a skilled carpenter In an amazing stroke of fortune he won $1 500 in the Charleston East Bay lottery of ...

Article

Douglas R. Egerton

The man later known as Denmark Vesey was born about 1767, probably on the Caribbean sugar island of Saint Thomas. In 1822Captain Joseph Vesey, who was Denmark's second and fourth owner, recalled that when he first purchased the boy at the port of Charlotte Amalie in 1781, he appeared to be “about 14 years” old. Although the port functioned more as a transit slave station then an entrepôt to the island's sugar plantations, during the eighteenth century no more than 10 percent of all Africans carried to the Americas were children. Most likely the boy, whose original name and ancestry is lost to history, had simply reached an age and height that would fetch a goodly sum in the coastal barracoons.

Joseph Vesey, a Carolina-based slaver, purchased the boy in September or October of 1781 as part of a cargo of 390 bondpeople During ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Peter Wheeler was born enslaved to unknown parents on the farm of Job Mathis, a prominent farmer and shipbuilder in Egg Harbor, a coastal shipping town in New Jersey. During a childhood spent working on Mathis's farm, Wheeler learned to read and write at a Quaker school. Although Mathis's will provided for Wheeler's emancipation, on the slaveholder's death in 1804 (the year gradual emancipation was instituted in New Jersey), his heirs sold Wheeler to the farmer Gideon Morehouse.

As a slave born before 1804 Wheeler was termed a slave for life though his master s will nullified that legal condemnation Mathis s family refused to register the emancipation Thus Wheeler was forced to migrate with Morehouse to Genoa a town in Cayuga County in Upstate New York There Morehouse became a respected citizen and a trustee of the town s Presbyterian church From his master Wheeler learned ...