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José Antonio Fernández Molina

was born in Cartago, Costa Rica. He amassed the nation’s largest fortune during the first half of the nineteenth century and served in several political posts. Aguilar Cubero was identified as mulatto when he was baptized and was the great-grandchild of a mulatto slave woman. His grandfather and father were involved in businesses such as cacao production in the Caribbean coast and trade with Nicaragua. Immediately after independence in 1821, ethnic categories, which were an integral part of the colonial social hierarchy imposed by Spanish rule, were abolished and legally forbidden in the new Federal Republic of Central America, which encompassed Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua for two decades.

It was within this new framework that Aguilar Cubero became an important coffee producer and trader serving as the intermediary between local coffee producers and foreign markets According to family tradition he learned to write while working ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

pioneer settler in Los Angeles County, California, in the 1850s, blacksmith, teamster, firewood salesman, and landowner, was born in Kentucky around 1827. Although it is commonly assumed that he had been enslaved there, he arrived in California a free man prior to the Civil War, and nothing has been established about his previous life.

He was married on 6 November 1859 to a woman named Amanda, born in Texas, by Jesse Hamilton, the earliest pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal church, Los Angeles. Their first two children, Dora and Julia, were born in 1857 and 1859. In 1860 the household included a laborer named Juan Jose, recorded by the census as being of Indian ancestry. Another man of African descent, Oscar Smith from Mississippi lived next door and no race was specified for the other neighbors who had either English or Hispanic names ...

Article

Tom Stephens

farmer and businessman, was born at Indian Queen Tavern in Danville, Kentucky. Doram was a son of Lydia Barbee, a free black woman, who had been a slave of the Revolutionary War General Thomas Barbee. According to family tradition, Barbee was Doram's father and that of his siblings. Lydia and her six children were the first people mentioned in Barbee's will, which freed her and provided for the emancipation and education of the children.

When Boyle County, Kentucky, was formed in 1842 Doram was already a leading figure in the community and, by 1850, was considered “the wealthiest member of his race” in the county (Brown, 427). His business concerns included the local Caldwell School for Women and a rope factory, in addition to his growing and selling hemp. The county's 1850 tax list shows Doram as the owner of 215 acres along Dix River ...

Article

Michael P. Johnson

Ellison, William (1790–05 December 1861), cotton-gin maker and planter was born a slave in Fairfield District South Carolina His father was probably the planter Robert Ellison or his son William and his mother was a slave woman whose name is unknown Originally named April the mulatto child received exceptional treatment His master apprenticed him to William McCreight a white cotton gin maker in Winnsboro From 1802 to 1816 Ellison worked in McCreight s gin shop learning the skills of gin making from a master craftsman During his training he learned reading writing arithmetic and basic bookkeeping skills He also became well versed in interracial social skills as he met scores of planters who came to negotiate with McCreight for gins These encounters provided him with a valuable network of strategic acquaintances and contacts Ellison s owner William Ellison allowed him to work extra hours and eventually to ...

Article

Bill Nasson

Cape Coloured rural artisan and British collaborator in the Anglo-Boer or South African War of 1899–1902, was born on 12 September 1864 near Carnarvon in the northern Cape Colony He was the only son of Adam Esau and Martha April who lived and worked as itinerant field laborers and house servants on several farms in the interior of the northwestern Cape He received some elementary schooling in English at a Wesleyan mission station outside Prieska This period of education had a significant formative influence that was deepened through his adolescence In the 1870s the Esau family had a lengthy period of service on the farm of a paternalist English speaking farmer with a local reputation for seeing to the needs of laboring families The Esau household developed a distinctly Anglicized cultural sensibility and became differentiated socially from surrounding rural Dutch Afrikaans speaking working class people Growing up in a ...

Article

Carl Moneyhon

politician and Texas state senator, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. His parents (names unknown) were slaves on the plantation of Martin G. Despallier, where Gaines learned to read and write. In 1858, after Despallier's death, Gaines was sold to an owner in New Orleans who hired him out to work on a steamboat. He escaped on a trip up the Ouachita River and lived in Camden, Arkansas, for six months. He later went back to New Orleans, where he was captured and returned to his master, who subsequently sold him in 1859 to C. C. Hearne, a planter in Robertson County, Texas.

In 1863 Gaines ran away from the Hearne plantation hoping to escape to Mexico He was captured by a frontier ranger company near Fort McKavitt in western Texas The company did not send him back to Hearne but left him in Fredericksburg where he ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

blacksmith and politician, was born a slave in Hardin County, Tennessee. It is unknown whether he was still living there in April 1862, during the battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest of the Civil War. By 15 September 1863 he was living in Little Rock, Arkansas, more than 250 miles west of his birthplace. On that day, five days after Little Rock fell to the Union army, Gillam enlisted in Company I, Second Regiment, Arkansas Infantry, which was later renamed Company I, Fifty-fourth Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry. Since he immediately assumed the rank of sergeant, he probably knew how to read and write (noncommissioned officers in the Union army were expected to be able to read orders and file reports). After serving for three years, primarily in Arkansas and Kansas, he left the army in 1866, having reached the rank of first sergeant.

Gillam settled in ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

minister and blacksmith, was born in Leonardtown, Maryland, the son of Jane and Thomas Henry, slaves of Richard Barnes, the largest slave owner in the district. It is thought that Henry's maternal grandmother, Catherine Hill, had been purchased by the Barnes family on a return trip from England and the Caribbean. Thomas's parents were domestic servants of the Barnes family, which owned tobacco plantations and other business interests. Before his death in 1804, Richard Barnes had stated in his will that his slaves were to be freed; one unusual stipulation he added that suggests a special closeness with these individuals was that the manumitted slaves take the name Barnes.

Thomas, however, did not gain his freedom until almost twenty years after his master's death, because John Thomson Mason a nephew of Richard Barnes and the executor of his estate exploited a growing number of ...

Article

Kenneth R. Manning

chemist and businessman, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, the son of William Anthony Hill II, the headwaiter at a local hotel, and Kate Anna Evans. Hill attended public elementary and secondary schools in St. Joseph and graduated from Bartlett High School in 1931. After completing his first year of college at Lewis Institute in Chicago (later a part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), he attended Johnson C. Smith University, an all-black institution in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated in 1936 with a BS cum laude in Mathematics and Chemistry.

Hill spent the 1937–1938 academic year as a special student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The following year he studied at the University of Chicago, where he was one of two African American graduate students in the chemistry department. While the other black student, Warren Henry went on to earn a PhD at ...

Article

Bernadette Pruitt

the self-reliant bondsman of the legendary Sam Houston, was born to a slave mother and reared on the Temple Lea Plantation in Marion, Perry County, Alabama, three years after the territory gained statehood. Joshua stood out at an early age. Although a field hand, the boy began learning blacksmithing and other skills. With the aid of the Lea family Joshua also began reading. The remarkable youngster garnered a reputation early on as a precocious and assiduous child. Barely eighteen, he carried this reputation with him when moved to Texas.

In 1834 Joshua's owner, Temple Lea, died and willed the twelve-year-old Joshua to his teenage daughter Margaret Moffette Lea, who six years later at the age of twenty-one married and became the third wife of the forty-six-year-old Sam Houston Houston the former general who led the Anglo American victory against General Antonio López de Santa Anna s six ...

Article

Erin Royston Battat

the first African American woman licensed as a pharmacist in Connecticut, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the eighth child of Anna (Houston) and Willis Samuel James. James's father escaped from a plantation in Virginia at the age of sixteen and ventured north with the help of the Underground Railroad. In 1874 he married Anna Houston and purchased a home in the North End of Hartford the following year. As suggested by professional portraits taken in the late nineteenth century, the James family identified with the self-sufficient black middle class of Hartford. While a tiny northern black elite existed there before the Civil War, the black middle class would expand during Anna Louise James's young adulthood, peaking during the Great Migration of 1915–1919.

James lost her mother in 1894 at the age of eight and was raised by her father with the help of relatives She graduated from ...

Article

Verity J. Harding

gunsmith and engraver, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the eldest son of Allen Jones, a slave and a blacksmith, and Temperance Jones, a slave. He was one of eight children, a daughter and seven sons, born into a long line of slavery. His paternal grandfather, Charles Jones, was born in Africa around 1770 and brought to America to be sold into slavery some years later. Although born a slave, Gunsmith Jones was freed in 1829 when his father purchased liberty for his entire family Allen Jones was a skilled blacksmith who labored intensely for himself and his family while simultaneously performing his slave duties to earn the vast sum of money necessary to buy his family s freedom After saving the extraordinary amount of $2 000 he was cheated out of the money by his master and left with nothing With admirable determination he ...

Article

Frank R. Levstik

John P. Parker was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a slave mother and white father, whose names are unknown. At the age of eight, Parker was sold as a slave to an agent in Richmond, where he in turn was purchased by a physician from Mobile, Alabama. While employed as a house servant for the physician, Parker learned to read and write. In Mobile he was apprenticed to work in furnaces and iron manufactures as well as for a plasterer. Beaten by the plasterer, Parker attempted to escape, only to be captured aboard a northbound riverboat.

From 1843 to 1845 Parker was hired out as an iron moulder and stevedore in the Mobile area He proved to be an extraordinarily skilled moulder which enabled him to earn enough money to purchase his freedom for $1 800 at the end of the two year period Obtaining ...

Article

Frank R. Levstik

abolitionist and entrepreneur, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a slave mother and a white father whose names are unknown. At the age of eight, Parker was sold as a slave to an agent in Richmond, where he in turn was purchased by a physician from Mobile, Alabama. While employed as a house servant for the physician, Parker learned to read and write. In Mobile he was apprenticed to work in furnaces and iron manufactures as well as for a plasterer. Beaten by the plasterer, Parker attempted to escape, only to be captured aboard a northbound riverboat.

From 1843 to 1845 Parker was hired out as an iron molder and stevedore in the Mobile area He proved to be an extraordinarily skilled molder which enabled him to earn enough money to purchase his freedom for $1 800 at the end of the two year period Obtaining ...

Article

Frank Afari

Ghanaian agricultural innovator, credited as the first successful planter of cocoa in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana), was born in Christiansborg (Osu) in 1842 to Ga parents. His father, Mlekuboi, was a farmer from Teshie, and his mother, Ashong-Fio, came from Labadi. Though both parents came from poor backgrounds, and were not literate, they were known to be intelligent people of good moral standing.

Like his father, Quarshie could not read and write. In his youth he trained as a blacksmith at the Basel Missionary Industrial Training Institute at Christiansborg Castle, Osu, where the mission had set up training workshops to promote technical and vocational education in order to meet the growing demand for skilled workmen along the coast. Missionary craftsmen who manned these workshops specialized in training African apprentices in carpentry, masonry, chariot-making, blacksmithing, pottery, shoemaking, hat-making, and bookbinding. In 1854 aged twelve Quarshie was apprenticed to one ...

Article

Walter C. Rucker

inventor, blacksmith, and farmer, was born Anderson Augustus Redding in Juliette, Georgia, to Anderson and Jane Darden Redding, former slaves and sharecroppers. Though his parents had been slaves on the plantation of James P. Redding—the son of a Virginia planter who fought alongside George Washington at Yorktown—the young Redding managed to acquire his own plot of land in Juliette and was relatively wealthy by the time he turned forty-five. He created a lucrative set of operations that included a syrup mill, a blacksmith shop, and a series of distilleries. In addition, Redding grew a combination of sugarcane and corn on a sizable landholding. He could often be seen in a buggy pulled by his white stallion, George, in Juliette in the 1910s and 1920s—a rare sight indeed in the midst of the so-called Black Nadir.

Redding married a total of three times but his first ...

Article

Bruce D. Bomberger

inventor of agricultural and other machinery, was born on his parents' farm in Ercildoun, Pennsylvania. His father, Samuel Ruth (1850–1937), was born a slave on the plantation of Robert Frederick Ruth in Beauford District, Saint Peter's Parish, South Carolina. Samuel Ruth came north after being swept up by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry as a thirteen-year-old and subsequently served as a water boy and then as a personal servant to First Sergeant Stephen A. Swails, later an important figure in the South during Reconstruction. In 1865 Samuel traveled north with two army friends from the Fifty-fourth and the same year married Maria “Louisa” Pinn, the sister of one of his friends and the daughter of the Baptist minister, attorney, and war veteran Robert Andrew Pinn The young newlyweds followed other Fifty fourth veterans to settle in the Pennsylvania Quaker area near the town of Chatham Following ...

Article

Greg Freeman

master blacksmith, was born in Wando on South Carolina's Daniel Island, the eldest of six children. Little is known about his parents, whose relationship ended when he was young. His mother, Rose Simmons, unable to solely support her family, relocated to nearby Charleston, where she was employed as a domestic worker. The Simmons children were reared by their maternal grandparents, William and Sarah Simmons. At age eight the future artisan departed for Charleston by ferry, leaving behind his birthplace, an agricultural and fishing community comprised mostly of Afro-Caribbean descendants.

In downtown Charleston Simmons who proudly identified himself as a Geechee Sea Islander resided with his mother Working odd jobs to earn additional family income Simmons also spent a number of summers back on Daniel Island where he performed familiar tasks like farming and fishing Just as his grandparents and great grandparents who were former slaves had profoundly influenced ...

Article

Raymond James Krohn

George Luther Stearns was born in Medford, Massachusetts. He was the eldest son of Luther Stearns, a physician who graduated from Harvard twice—with honors in 1791 and then from the medical school in 1811—and Mary Hall Stearns. George received his formal education at home, where his father established a preparatory school for boys. After his father's death in 1820, however, his studies ceased. Several years later, at the age of fifteen, he started his career in business. His first job was as a clerk in a dry goods store in Vermont. Next, in 1827, he worked in a Boston ship chandlery warehouse. He became an independent linseed oil manufacturer in Medford in 1835, and in 1842 became a partner in a different Boston chandlery company Most successfully he turned to producing lead pipe and the financial gains he received in that venture enabled Stearns ...