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Charles Rosenberg

barber and Underground Railroad station operator, was born to free parents in Virginia, where he lived until moving to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1828. Although records in Ohio do not identify his parents, it is likely that he came from the large extended family of Browns in and around Charles City County, Virginia, descended from William Brown, born around 1670, who all had the status of “free colored.” Abraham Brown, born in 1769, was a founder of Elam Baptist Church of Charles City County. There were several men in the family named John, and newborns were often named for relatives.

“John Brown the barber,” as he was commonly known in Cleveland, may have been related to John Brown, born in 1768, head of a Chesterfield County family of eight “free colored” people in 1810, or John Brown, born in 1764 and his ...

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Loren Schweninger

businessman, was born a slave in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, the son of Rufus C. Barringer, a white lawyer and politician, and Roxanna Coleman. Little is known about his parents, but as a youngster he learned the shoemaker's trade and also barbering. After the Civil War he briefly attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., hawking jewelry to pay for his board and room. He also worked as an itinerant salesman in North Carolina. Coleman saved his earnings and in 1869 he purchased a 130-acre farm in Cabarrus County, paying $600 for the well-timbered land. In 1870 he was listed in the census as the proprietor of a small grocery store in the town of Concord North Carolina with a total estate of $800 in real and personal property During the same period he also began purchasing low priced rental houses in and around Concord paying between $125 ...

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Steven J. Niven

slave, tailor, and politician, was born in Washington, in Wilkes County, Georgia, to Frances, a slave, and a white man whose surname was Finch. When William was twelve he was sent to live with another Wilkes County native, Judge Garnett Andrews, and in 1847, when he was fifteen, he apprenticed as a tailor. The following year Joseph H. Lumpkin, the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, purchased William and brought him to his home in Athens, where Finch learned to read and write and also began a lifelong commitment to Christianity. Although he later joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, it is likely that Finch first converted to the faith of his master, a devout Presbyterian. In 1854 Finch married Laura Wright, with whom he had five children.

Although still legally enslaved the Finch family enjoyed a fairly high degree of ...

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David E. Paterson

harness maker, state legislator, community organizer, and barber, was born on James Spier's farm, the Hurricane Place, three and a half miles from Thomaston, Upson County, Georgia, the fourth child of Guilford Speer and Viney, two of Spier's slaves. Guilford and Viney separated soon after William was born, and Guilford moved to Thomaston to operate a harness and shoe shop. William probably spent his earliest years with his mother, his three elder brothers, and several younger half siblings on the Hurricane Place, but by the late 1850s William had undoubtedly moved to the village and was learning his father's trade of harness making. In 1863 a devastating fire destroyed three-quarters of downtown Thomaston, and thereafter William probably worked in a shop organized by his father in Barnesville, Pike County, sixteen miles away.

Sometime during the Civil War, William married Lourinda presumably a slave but ...

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Mary Frances Berry

washerwoman, seamstress, organization founder, lecturer, and leader, was born into slavery in Rutherford County near Nashville, Tennessee. She had at least one sister, Sarah, and a brother, Charles. Her parents were slaves. Her father, Tom Guy, apparently served in the Union army. The 1880 Census lists her mother, Ann Guy, as a widowed washerwoman. Callie Guy had only a primary school education, probably attending Freedman's Bureau and church schools, but exhibited a high degree of literacy as an adult.

In 1883 she married William House, a laborer in Rutherford County, and bore six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. In the 1890s she was a widow, taking in laundry like her mother and other impoverished black women in the South.

About this time a new idea for political action surfaced in Rutherford County and other communities where former slaves ...

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Kyra E. Hicks

a slave who spent fifty years in a quest to see Queen Victoria and present her with a quilt, was born Martha Ann Erskine. Her fine sewing was displayed on three continents during her lifetime. Her parents, George and Hagar Erskine, were slaves on the George Doherty plantation in Dandridge, Tennessee. Her father was a literate and religious man, purchased in 1815 by Isaac Anderson, a Presbyterian pastor of New Providence Church in Maryville, Tennessee, who tutored him in religious studies. In 1818 Erskine, at thirty-nine years old, became one of the first ordained African American Presbyterian ministers in the United States. He worked several years as a traveling preacher to buy his wife Hagar and at least seven of their children out of slavery. In 1830, with the assistance of the American Colonization Society, founded in 1816 to transport newly freed slaves to Liberia ...

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Julie Winch

entrepreneur and adventurer, was born into slavery in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of a slave, Sally Thomas, and a prominent white jurist, John Catron. Catron, who ended his career as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, did nothing for his son. It was left to Sally Thomas to free him. By taking in laundry she scraped together $350 of the four hundred dollars demanded for his freedom. A sympathetic planter, Ephraim Foster, who knew of her fear that her spendthrift master would sell Thomas, lent her the balance. She repaid him, but in order to circumvent Tennessee law, which required newly manumitted slaves to leave the state or forfeit their freedom, Foster agreed to retain legal ownership of Thomas. Foster made it clear, however, that he did not consider Thomas his property.

As a child Thomas helped his mother in her laundry and attended a school for ...

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Richard S. Newman

leading citizen of color in nineteenth-century New York City, was born enslaved in 1766 in French colonial Saint Domingue Pierre was owned by Jean Berard a sugar planter who resided outside of Saint Marc in the western section of the prosperous French colony Pierre came of age in a colony dominated by bondage and death with masters importing as many as 30 000 enslaved people each year by the second half of the eighteenth century to replenish depleted plantations However Pierre was utilized predominantly as a household servant A talented and precocious lad he acquired literacy skills as well as a courtly sensibility which he maintained for the rest of his life in and out of slavery Though Berard family lore claims credit for encouraging Pierre s talents it may have been his enslaved grandmother Zenobie a wet nurse and household servant who had accompanied Bernard s eldest son ...

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Thomas J. Shelley

Toussaint, Pierre (1766–30 June 1853), businessman and philanthropist, was born a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti). Little is known of his early life except that, like his mother and maternal grandmother, he spent his youth as a house slave on a plantation in the Artibonite Valley in central Haiti near the port of Saint Marc. In the library of the plantation owner, Pierre Bérard, young Toussaint discovered the works of classical French preachers such as Bossuet and Massillon. Apparently it was from his reading of these sermons, rather than from any contact with the notoriously corrupt local clergy, that Toussaint developed his deep devotion to the Catholic faith.

In 1787 as political conditions on the island deteriorated Jean Jacques Bérard who had inherited his father s estate left Saint Domingue for New York accompanied by his wife Pierre Toussaint and four other slaves ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

Born in Haiti, Pierre Toussaint was a slave until 1809. After his owners moved from Haiti to New York City in 1787 he was apprenticed to a New York hairdresser Toussaint eventually developed his own thriving career and supported his widowed mistress and her daughter with his ...

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Thomas J. Shelley

hairdresser, businessman, and philanthropist, was born a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue (later Haiti). The names of his parents are unknown. Little is known of his early life except that, like his mother and maternal grandmother, he spent his youth as a house slave on a plantation in the Artibonite Valley near the port of Saint Marc. In the library of the plantation owner, Pierre Bérard, young Toussaint discovered the works of classical French preachers such as Bossuet and Massillon. Apparently it was from his reading of these sermons, rather than from any contact with the notoriously corrupt local clergy, that Toussaint developed his deep devotion to the Catholic faith. The main source for information on Toussaint's life is his autobiography, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, Born a Slave in Saint Domingo, which was published anonymously by Hannah Lee Sawyer a contemporary ...

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David N. Gellman

Pierre Toussaint was a singular, yet elusive figure. The quality of his life moved some to call for his beatification as a Catholic saint in the twentieth century. His motivations and commitments as a historical figure—including his place in the history of free black life in antebellum New York City—are harder to pin down. Although he made monetary contributions to African American causes in New York and elsewhere, many of the most noteworthy beneficiaries of his assistance and sympathy were whites, with whom he forged unusually cordial connections during an era of increasing segregation and racial hostility.

Toussaint was born a slave in the French sugar colony of Saint Domingue; his year of birth has traditionally been listed as 1766, but a 1995 reassessment estimates 1778 as a more likely date, while another biographer proposes 1781 as Toussaint s birth year His mother and grandmother were house slaves ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

barber, newspaper editor, public official, and six-term state legislator, was born in Covington, Georgia, the son of James Williamson, a slave, and an unknown mother. Little is known of his childhood, although he reportedly taught himself to read against the wishes of his owner, who hired him out to reduce his free time. The determined youth responded by borrowing his white playmates' schoolbooks at night, then tutoring them each morning.

His parents were owned by General John N. Williamson, a wealthy white attorney. In 1858 John Hendrick Williamson moved to Louisburg, North Carolina, with his widowed mistress Temperance Perry Williamson. By the end of the Civil War, he had become a skilled and popular barber, and in 1865 he became a delegate to the first statewide Freedmen's Convention. Two years later he was appointed a Franklin County voter registrar by the controversial general Daniel ...