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Steven J. Niven

Union army officer and politician, was born in New Orleans, the son of a West Indian midwife and a free black soldier who had served in the Corps d'Afrique with General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. His parents' names are not recorded. Family lore had it that Caesar's maternal grandfather, an African chief, had been enslaved and taken to America and that his paternal grandmother, Rose Antoine, had earned enough money from her work as a midwife to purchase her freedom. Rose Antoine also left each of her seven sons twenty thousand dollars in her will.

As a free black child in New Orleans Antoine attended private schools the public schools of the city were closed to blacks and became fluent in both English and French Upon leaving school as a teenager in the early 1850s he then apprenticed and worked as a barber one of ...

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Charles Rosenberg

a Civil War soldier and veterans leader and Reconstruction-era legislator, was born and lived all of his life in Louisiana. Felix Antoine was born into the distinct community of gens de couleur libre, free persons of color, which existed in the New Orleans area and some other parts of Louisiana since French colonial times. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812, who fought under General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and his mother was a native of the West Indies. His paternal grandmother was reputed to have been the daughter of an African prince, who purchased her freedom from slavery; she saved $150,000 as a free woman (Shreveport Journal obituary of C.C. Antoine, 14 Sept. 1921). Antoine was the younger brother of Louisiana Lt. Governor Caesar C. Antoine who moved from New Orleans to Shreveport prior to ...

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Steven J. Niven

fugitive slave, abolitionist, Union spy, and state senator, was born in Smithville (now Southport), Brunswick County, North Carolina, the son of Hester Hankins, a slave, and John Wesley Galloway, the son of a white planter who later became a ship's captain. In 1846 Hester Hankins married Amos Galloway, one of John Wesley Galloway's slaves. Abraham Galloway later recalled that his biological father “recognized me as his son and protected me as far as he was allowed so to do” (Still, 150), but John Wesley Galloway did not own Abraham. Abraham's owner was Marsden Milton Hankins a wealthy railroad mechanic from nearby Wilmington who may also have owned Hester Hankins Abraham considered Marsden Hankins a fair master but he was less forgiving of Hankins s wife who was overly fond of the whip Abraham apprenticed as a brick mason and as was common ...

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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 ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

lawyer, public official, legislator, and law school dean, was the youngest son of five children born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Matthew N. Leary, a successful saddler and a staunch abolitionist and philanthropist, and Julia A. Memorell (Menriel). Matthew Leary helped local slaves buy their freedom and often educated them, despite legal prohibitions on the practice. According to the 1850 federal census, he personally owned three slaves, though these were held for benevolent reasons.

John Leary's birth year is not certain; the 1850 census records his age as ten, although later reports indicate that he was born as late as 1849 His ethnic heritage was a blend of European Native American and African American lineage His mother a native of France migrated as a child to North Carolina from the Bahamas with her French mother His father whose family name had been shortened from ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

lawyer, federal official, state legislator, and congressional aspirant, was the first of two sons born to a slave mother, Eliza Mabson, and her wealthy white owner, George W. Mabson, in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was educated at an early age in Massachusetts, where he resided until after the end of the Civil War. How George W. Mabson's father arranged to send his oldest son to Massachusetts in the early 1850s is not known, but presumably he either freed the light-skinned youth or smuggled him out of the state. From the age of eight, George reportedly lived with family friends in the Boston area, where he later worked as a waiter after the outbreak of the Civil War. On 15 February 1864 claiming to be eighteen years old George enlisted in the Union army joining the Fifth Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment s Company G the ...

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Robert Jr. Johnson

Massachusetts legislator, and civil rights and women's rights champion, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of William Mitchell and Clara (Green) Mitchell, of whom nothing is known. It is probable that he had a brother, William. Other than the fact that he trained and worked as a printer, little is known of Mitchell's early life. When the Civil War broke out, Mitchell joined the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Regiment at the age of thirty-three. Little is known of his military service, but he apparently lost a foot in the Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina, in November 1864. He was one of the few African Americans commissioned as an officer at the close of the war. Unfortunately for Mitchell—and for George E. Stephens in the Fifty fourth as well while the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognized his promotion the U S War Department did not He was ...

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Steven J. Niven

slave, soldier, and politician, was born and reared in Beaufort, South Carolina, to parents whose names are unknown. Little is known of Rivers's life other than that he was literate, was raised in the home of his master, and was working as a coachman both in Beaufort and in Edgefield, South Carolina, on the eve of the Civil War. Reputedly the finest coachman in Beaufort, he once drove the Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard from that city to Charleston. Rivers was also a recognized leader of the slave community of Beaufort and was once chosen to present a petition to the governor of South Carolina requesting the redress of certain grievances. It is unknown whether he was successful. He was married to Rina Green, also a slave, who lived on a neighboring plantation.

In 1862 shortly after federal forces occupied Beaufort and other South ...

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Alice Eley Jones

carpenter, statesman, and inventor, was born free in Bertie County, North Carolina, the eldest son of John A. Robbins, a farmer and carpenter, and Mary Robbins. Robbins hailed from a family and community of mixed-race, free black, and Chowanoke background in the counties of Bertie, Gates, and Hertford in northeastern North Carolina. The Algonquian-speaking Chowanokes lived on the west bank of the Chowan River that bears their name in northeastern North Carolina. Governor Ralph Lane was impressed by their villages in a 1585 Roanoke Island expedition. Parker's grandfather John Robbins was one of the chief men of the Chowanokes in 1790.

War and disease greatly reduced the Chowanoke population, and by 1790 during a sale of Chowanoke land it was reported whether falsely or not is unknown that the Chowanoke men had all died and the remaining women had intermarried with several free ...

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Hugh C. MacDougall

soldier and politician, was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, the son of Peter Swails, an African American boatman, and his wife Joanna Atkins Swails, who was usually listed as white; both were from Maryland. After living in Columbia and Manheim the Swails family moved about 1856 to Elmira, New York.

In 1860 Stephen A. Swails worked as a waiter at the Keyes Hotel in Cooperstown, New York, where he married Sarah Thompson, from a local black family; they had two children. On 8 April 1863 Swails enlisted in the newly formed 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the Union's first African American regiments, and was immediately promoted to first sergeant. On 18 July 1863 he fought in the attack on Fort Wagner south of Charleston South Carolina that established the regiment s reputation for valor and led to the formation of the United States Colored Troops ...

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Joel M. Sipress

soldier and political leader, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Nothing is known of Ward's parents, and little of his early life, but he was raised a slave in Virginia, and became free during the Civil War. In January 1864 he enlisted in the First United States Colored Cavalry, a federal regiment organized in late 1863 in the Tidewater region of Virginia. A month after enlistment Ward was promoted to sergeant, a rank he held until his discharge in February 1866. Ward's service included duty in Virginia at Fortress Monroe, in Hampton, and in Richmond. During the war he received a bullet wound through the knee.

Following his discharge, he settled in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter. In October 1867 Ward reenlisted and served in the Thirty ninth United States Colored Infantry While stationed at Ship Island Mississippi he contracted a serious illness most likely ...

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Steven J. Niven

lawyer, politician, and judge, was born William James Whipper, probably in Glenville, Pennsylvania, one of the four children of Benjamin P. Whipper, who later became a minister in Chatham, Canada. There is some uncertainty about the name of William's mother, which in certain sources is given as Mary Ann (maiden name unknown), and in others is recorded as Sophia Patterson. Part of the confusion may have been caused by William J. Whipper himself, who often claimed that his father was the famed Underground Railroad conductor William Whipper who was in fact Benjamin s brother Not long after his family moved from Pennsylvania to Chatham Canada William appears to have returned to the United States By the late 1850s he was working as a law clerk in Detroit Michigan and later passed the bar exam in that state having earlier failed it in Ohio Around ...

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John Hope Franklin

soldier, clergyman, legislator, and historian, was born in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Williams, a free black laborer, and Ellen Rouse. His father became a boatman and, eventually, a minister and barber, and the younger Williams drifted with his family from town to town in western Pennsylvania until the beginning of the Civil War. With no formal education, he lied about his age, adopted the name of an uncle, and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops in 1864. He served in operations against Petersburg and Richmond, sustaining multiple wounds during several battles. After the war's end Williams was stationed in Texas, but crossed the border to fight with the Mexican republican forces that overthrew the emperor Maximilian. He returned to the U.S. Army in 1867 serving with the Tenth Cavalry an all black unit at Fort Arbuckle Indian Territory ...