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Article

Barbara A. White

prosperous businessman, whaling captain, and community leader, whose court case against Nantucket led to the integration of the public schools, was a member of one of the largest and most influential black families on the island. His father was Seneca Boston, a manumitted slave, who was a self‐employed weaver. His mother was a Wampanoag Indian named Thankful Micah. They had four sons and one daughter. Absalom Boston, the third‐born, went to sea, as did many of Nantucket's young men, signing onto the whale ship Thomas in 1809 when he was twenty‐four. Little is known about his early education. Anna Gardner, in her memoir Harvest Gleanings, mentions him visiting her family and hints that it may have been her mother, Hannah Macy Gardner, who taught the young man to read.

Shortly before he went to sea, Boston married his first wife, Mary Spywood about whom little is ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War and Indian Wars soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Prince George County, Maryland. Nothing is known of his early life; he was likely born enslaved, but if so, the circumstances in which he gained his freedom are unknown. His military service began when he enlisted in the Union Army from St. Mary's County, Maryland, on 5 February 1864. Boyne served in Battery C of the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery and saw action in and around Richmond, Virginia, during the last year of the Civil War at Wilson's Wharf and City Point. Boyne and his regiment were subsequently sent westward, and he ended the war stationed in Texas. In March 1866 Thomas Boyne was discharged from the army at Brownsville Texas as his regiment like all other volunteer regiments that served in the Civil War black and white was disbanded when the army ...

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

Eric Gardner

politician and activist, was born into slavery in North Carolina. Both he and his mother, Susan, were owned by the wealthy Thomas Burke Burton, who moved to Fort Bend County, Texas, from Halifax County, North Carolina, in the 1850s. Most accounts claim that the slaveholder favored Burton, taught him to read and write, and, after the Civil War, sold land to him; some accounts claim that Burton supported his former owner's wife when she was widowed during Reconstruction.

On 28 September 1868 Burton married Abba Jones (sometimes listed as Abby and sometimes as Hattie). The couple had three children, Horace J., Hattie M., and an unnamed child who died in infancy. Susan Burton lived with the young family until her death c. 1890.

Propertied, literate, and articulate, Burton quickly became active in the local Republican Party, the local Union League, and larger Reconstruction efforts. In 1869 ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

farmer, shoemaker, and longtime state legislator, was born in Warren County, North Carolina, the third son of free, mixed-race parents Hawkins Carter and Elizabeth Wiggins, who were married in 1845. Few details are known of his early life or education, only that his father, a prosperous farmer, could afford to hire a young white teacher, W. J. Fulford, to tutor his eight children in 1861, the last year before the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the teenage Carter served as an officer's attendant for a Warrenton acquaintance, Captain Stephen W. Jones of the Forty-sixth North Carolina Regiment's Company C, raised at Warrenton in early 1862 Jones s company saw action at Antietam and other battles and Jones was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House where Carter presumably helped care for him The eldest son of the Warren County sheriff and a former deputy sheriff himself ...

Article

Joe W. Trotter

coal miner and officer of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), was born in Roanoke, Virginia. Little is known about his family life, including the names of his parents and the size of his family. He obtained his early education in the Roanoke schools, which he attended during the winter months. At eight years of age he took a job in a local tobacco factory. After spending nine years in the tobacco industry, Davis became increasingly disgusted with the very low wages and unfavorable conditions on the job. In 1881 he migrated to southern West Virginia and took his first job as a coal miner in the newly opened Kanawha and New River coalfields The following year he moved to Rendville Ohio a small mining town in the Hocking Valley region southeast of Columbus In Rendville Davis married supported a family and worked until he died from lung ...

Article

Martha A. Sandweiss

wife of the eminent geologist, explorer, and writerClarence King and litigant, was born in or around West Point, Georgia. Though little is known of her early life, she was almost certainly born a slave and as a young girl acquired the name Ada Copeland. In the mid-1880s she migrated to New York City and found work as a nursemaid. In late 1887 or 1888 Copeland met a man who introduced himself as a Pullman porter named James Todd. They were married in September 1888 by the Reverend James H. Cook a prominent minister with the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church Although Todd represented himself to Ada as a Marylander of African American descent this was a false identity He was in fact Clarence King a socially and politically prominent white man from Newport Rhode Island educated at Yale who had led the Fortieth Parallel Survey ...

Article

Glen Pierce Jenkins

obstetrician and community leader, was born near Moncks Corner, South Carolina, the son of the former slaves John Lambright and Mary Gelzer, farmers. Middleton was one of thirteen children, and although he was born free, more than half his siblings were born into slavery. As a young man he often accompanied his father to Charleston for supplies. Their route took them by the Medical College of South Carolina, and Lambright questioned his father about the young men in white coats walking on the campus. This experience established in him the notion of studying medicine. When a life-threatening accident brought him into personal contact with a physician for a period of several months, he became convinced of his life's ambition. With the support of his family, Lambright eventually graduated from Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, with an AB degree. In 1898 he received his MD from the ...

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

Michelle Brattain

editor, Republican Party leader, and civil rights activist, was born near Jonesboro, Georgia, the son of a slave mother and a white planter father whose names are unknown. He received limited formal education as a child but attended Atlanta University as an adult and finally gained entrance to the Georgia bar as a self-taught lawyer in 1894. Little is known of his childhood, though Pledger himself related his early interest in politics to a contemporary journalist. According to a 1902 biographical account by Cyrus Field Adams, brother of John Quincy Adams (1848–1922), one of Pledger's “most pleasant recollections of his youth” was informing his mother in 1856 that presidential candidate John C. Frémont was “for the Negro” (Adams, 147).

After the Civil War Pledger moved to Atlanta and worked in city hotels and on the railroad In the early 1870s he moved to ...

Article

Alicia J. Rivera

slave, California pioneer, and miner, was born on a South Carolina plantation to a Cherokee Indian father and a slave mother whose names are not now known. In 1849, when he was thirty-two years old, he accompanied his master to the California gold mines, where he was permitted to work in the mines to buy his freedom. After obtaining his freedom, Wysinger settled in Grass Valley, California. In 1853 he married Pernesa Wilson and moved to Visalia, California, in the San Joaquin Valley. They had six boys and two girls, and Wysinger was determined that his children would have access to an education. He became a leading advocate for school desegregation in California.

Visalia had no school for African American children, although an 1869 state law required any town with ten or more black children to provide a school for them or to allow them to attend a ...