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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

Cathy Rodabaugh

The Burned-Over District was a region of Upstate New York significant to American social and religious history in the first half of the nineteenth century. Beginning around 1790, New Englanders moved west, bringing a culture that embraced religious enthusiasm to the fertile New York farmlands beyond the Catskill and Adirondack mountains. The agrarian villages and small cities populated by the migrants also reflected a traditional Puritan concern for morality and community values. Religious innovations and social movements nurtured in the district influenced the course of American progress well beyond the district's geographical and chronological boundaries.

Named for the intense fires of religious enthusiasm that erupted there regularly the Burned Over District was a national center for the series of revivals marking the Second Great Awakening which occurred in the early decades of the nineteenth century Mass conversions and social change characterized the venues of the revivals typically in rural ...

Article

Detroit  

Stephanie J. Wilhelm

From its establishment as a territory through its statehood and involvement with the Underground Railroad, Michigan had an intimate relationship with the institution of slavery. The city of Detroit, specifically, was the cornerstone of antislavery activity in Michigan. Known as the gateway or door to freedom, Detroit served as a safe haven for many runaway slaves before they secured their freedom across the Detroit River into Canada. Detroit's significance as a geographical location on the Underground Railroad was further reinforced when Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and many other leading abolitionists met in the city in March 1859 to discuss possible ways of subverting the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. This meeting, along with the coordinated efforts of others who worked tirelessly on the Underground Railroad, underscores the integral role the people of Detroit played in securing the freedom of thousands of slaves.

Long before European explorers arrived ...

Article

Florida  

Nathaniel Millett

The first Europeans to arrive in Florida did so in a mission led by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León in 1513. Ponce de León's expedition included two free Africans, who were the first blacks to set foot on continental North America. Florida's African American past is thus the longest of any region in the United States; it is also very possibly the most unusual. Even though the relative size of Florida's black population (both slave and free) never rivaled that of the Anglo-American South, blacks played a vital role in Florida's defenses, economy, and culture that was disproportionate to their numbers.

From 1513 onward Africans participated in virtually every Spanish exploratory and settlement effort in Florida, including Pedro Menéndez de Avilés's founding of Saint Augustine in 1565 a step that marked the first permanent European settlement in what would one day be the United States ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

In 1718 the French settler Philip Francis Renault brought five hundred slaves from Haiti to work in the mines of the “Illinois Country.” Other French migrants, most of them settling in the southern part of the state, along the Ohio River, or on the eastern side of the Mississippi near St. Louis, brought slaves into the region as well. In 1750 a French missionary reported that the Illinois country had five French villages with “Whites, Negroes, and Indians, to say nothing of cross-breeds.” At this time there were some three hundred slaves in the area. In 1779Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable a free man of mixed African and French ancestry helped settle what would become Chicago When Great Britain acquired undisputed title to the area at the end of the French and Indian War there were about nine hundred slaves and three thousand whites in the region The ...

Article

Liberia  

Debra Newman Ham

During the colonial and early national periods, some American statesmen and citizens were uncomfortable with—if not openly opposed to—the African slave trade and concerned about the growing enslaved population and the smaller but increasing number of free people of color throughout the country. Some leaders began formulating plans for the relocation of free blacks.

The Revolutionary War led to the expansion of the freed population Many male slaves gained freedom through serving in the Continental or the British armed forces and many enslaved men women and children escaped to freedom behind British lines In the aftermath of the war most of the northern states passed gradual abolition laws further increasing the free black population Other slaves were freed by will deed self purchase or manumission Because the free black population often harbored runaways competed with white laborers lobbied for citizenship rights and sowed discontent or rebellion among the enslaved most ...

Article

Eric Bennett

From its founding in 1778 until the civil rights advances of the late twentieth century, Louisville provided safety and security for African Americans, but only in comparison to the rest of Kentucky. During the antebellum period, the slaves of Louisville, who worked as stevedores, draymen, factory workers, and domestics, suffered relatively less than their counterparts on plantations. After the American Civil War, many rural blacks, opting to weather Reconstruction under the protection of a larger population, migrated to the city where they hoped to escape lynch mobs and white vigilante violence that occurred throughout rural areas of the state.

The merits of Louisville were limited however African Americans in the city were less likely to be murdered but endured entrenched discrimination on all other fronts education employment housing and civil rights The only mitigating factor was the strength of the black community A tenacious lineage of African American leaders ...

Article

Robert H. Gudmestad

The area now known as Mexico was an important part of the slave trade in the Western Hemisphere. The viceroyalty of New Spain, comprising present-day Mexico and the southwestern United States, had a vast appetite for labor. The first African slaves arrived from Cuba with the explorers Hernán Cortés and Pánfilo de Narváez around 1519; during this Spanish invasion most slaves served as personal attendants and laborers. Only a few African or African American slaves entered New Spain at that time, however, because the Native American population filled most of the labor demand.

Conditions shifted in the sixteenth century The Europeans had brought diseases such as smallpox measles and the bubonic plague to which Native Americans lacked immunity New Spain lost approximately 70 percent of its native population in the second half of the sixteenth century This sudden decline occurred just as extensive silver mining began in the Zacatecas ...

Article

Omai  

Jonathan Morley

Polynesian islander taken from the South Pacific to London as an example of a ‘noble savage’ in 1774. Britain invaded Otaheite (Tahiti) on 24 June 1767; Omai (Mai) later claimed to have been among the crowd of islanders sheltering on a hill above Matavai Bay, on whom Samuel Wallis fired a cannon from the Dolphin. During Captain Cook's second Pacific voyage the crew of Cook's companion ship the Adventure befriended Omai, then in his early twenties, and he travelled to England as a crew member, arriving in Portsmouth on 14 July 1774 to be greeted by Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty.

The voyages to the Friendly Islands had opened up a new world where the primitive societies imagined in the utopian literature of Montaigne and Rousseau seemed to survive in peace and harmony replete with breadfruit and bare breasted women Yet a theme in ...

Article

Eileen Scully

sailor and sojourner, was born near Rochester, New York. Little is known of her lineage, but she is believed to have been the daughter of a John Sands, and a descendant of Virginia slaves. Her father, who may have been a fugitive slave, was in Rochester by 1841, and the family moved westward to Buffalo around 1848, where John Sands found work first as a laborer and then as a cook on a Lake Erie steamer. Among African Americans the family name “Sands” most often comes from the white Sands (variously spelled “Sandys”) family: Sir Edwin Sandys and George Sandys (also pronounced “Sandz”) were involved in the Jamestown settlement; others of that surname can be found in the northern colonies as well.

Sarah Sands grew up in the neighborhood of the Vine Street African Methodist Episcopal AME Church not far from what would much later be ...

Article

Rebekah M. Mergenthal

Esteban, the first African slave in the West, arrived in a shipwreck on the Gulf Coast of Texas in 1528 as part of an ill-fated Spanish expedition to colonize Florida. Esteban and the other three survivors endured five years of enslavement by the coastal Native Americans before escaping to join more friendly tribes in the interior. By 1536 they had journeyed to Tenochtitlán modern Mexico City where Esteban now experienced as a guide and interpreter was purchased three years later to assist in an expedition to the northern colonial frontier of New Mexico Acting as an advance scout Esteban attracted three hundred native followers who believed he was a powerful healer Not all the Native Americans were so favorably impressed however at the Zuni town of Hawikuh Esteban gave offense to the locals and was killed as a result Although the circumstances of his demise were unusual Esteban was ...

Article

John Saillant

colonizationist, statesman, editor, and author of the Liberian Declaration of Independence, was born in Goochland County, Virginia, the son of Colin or Collin Teage (1785–1839), probably a slave on the plantation of Joshua Nicholson. His mother (name unknown) was probably also a slave in the Nicholson household. Details of Hilary Teage's early life are sketchy. Colin Teage was an artisan who made stable gear, a position above that of a field laborer but one that led to his separation from his family when he was sold in 1807 to the owners of a Richmond tack shop. Sometime in the next thirteen years, Colin Teage was licensed to preach in Baptist churches and saved enough money to purchase the freedom of his wife, son, and daughter in 1819 and 1820 and to reassemble his family He bought land in Henrico County outside Richmond ...

Article

Gregory D. Smithers

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, European powers began the process of colonizing the new world of the Americas. Combining technological and financial capacity with scientific curiosity, European powers sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, searching for riches and establishing settlements in the Caribbean, South America, and North America. The earliest European settlers set the tenor for later settlement as they strove to establish pockets of civilization in what they saw as an untamed wilderness. Spanish colonizers, the historian Jane Landers argues, were guided by an “urban model.” She asserts that the Spanish believed that urban living facilitated “religious conversion, but, beyond that, Spaniards attached a special value to living a vida politica believing that people of reason distinguished themselves from nomadic barbarians by living in stable urban communities The English held similar views They spoke matter of factly about the importance of establishing dwellings and habitations on ...