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Article

Sharon E. Wood

former slave, entrepreneur, steamboat worker, nurse, and church founder, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1801 or 1804. Although her father was a white man and also her master, his name is unknown. Her mother, Lydia, was his slave. While she was still a child, Baltimore's father sold her to a trader who carried her to the St. Louis area. Over the next few years, she passed among several masters, including the New Orleans judge Joachim Bermudez, working as a house servant for French, Spanish, and Anglo-American households in Louisiana and eastern Missouri.

In New Orleans Baltimore joined the Methodist Church Her piety so impressed one preacher that he purchased her then allowed her to hire her own time and buy her freedom Baltimore worked as a chambermaid on steamboats and as a lying in nurse According to tradition it took her seven years to earn the ...

Primary Source

The oratory skill of the abolitionist Prince Hall (1735–1807) is on display in the speech reproduced below, delivered on 24 June 1797 at the Masonic lodge in Menotomy, Massachusetts (now Arlington). Hall was a former slave who enjoyed a lucrative career as a leatherworker, a skill he acquired while in bondage. He sold dry goods to the Continental army and may have participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill. His most famous accomplishment, however, was the formation of the first black Masonic lodge, which became a center for abolitionist activity and political discourse and provided an institutional foundation for future civil rights efforts. Hall’s speech encapsulates many of the black Masonic documents that he produced. While challenging the listeners to remain patient with the will of God, Hall also calls for vigilance against the “iron hand of tyranny and oppression.”

Article

Judith E. Harper

wife of Frederick Douglass, antislavery activist, and Underground Railroad agent, was born free as Anna Murray in Denton, Caroline County, Maryland, the eighth child of Bambarra and Mary Murray, both slaves, who were freed one month prior to Anna's birth. When Anna Murray was seventeen years old, she traveled to Baltimore to work as a domestic servant, first for the Montell family, and two years later for the Wells family. Despite her own illiteracy, she became involved in a community known as the East Baltimore Improvement Society, which provided intellectual and social opportunities for the city's free black population.

In 1825Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (Douglass), a slave, was hired out to work as a house servant and then as a caulker in Baltimore's shipyards. He remained in Baltimore until 1838 during which time Murray and Bailey became acquainted probably through the Improvement Society Although details ...

Article

John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...

Article

With the emergence of free African American communities in the urban United States during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, blacks formed fraternal organizations and mutual aid societies to meet a number of pressing needs. One scholar estimates that as of 1840, more than two hundred organizations were spread across the nation's largest cities, with a membership conservatively estimated at ten thousand. Like many whites during the early years of the Republic, blacks sought ways to integrate themselves into a rapidly changing world. Black organizers in urban American, however, faced a unique set of challenges. They tried to meet the physical and social challenges to a community striving to realize the fruits of emancipation while responding to a largely hostile white population's antagonism to interracial citizenship, let alone fellowship and mutual assistance.

The leadership of African American organizations often overlapped with and sometimes preceded black religious institutions Associations ...

Article

By 1804 all states in the northern United States had moved to end slavery through gradual emancipation laws, judicial decisions, or the inclusion of the prohibition of slavery in their new state constitutions. As a result, the population of free African Americans in the northern states grew steadily in the decades before the Civil War. Continued growth of the free black population resulted not only from state-level emancipation but also from individual grants of manumission, in-migration of free blacks from the South, the arrival of fugitive slaves, and of course, natural increase. At the turn of the nineteenth century the free African American population of the northern states was approximately 47,000; by 1860 it had grown to over 225,000.

The four northern states with the largest free black populations before the Civil War were Pennsylvania New York Ohio and New Jersey In these states and across the North free blacks ...

Article

William B. Gould

Union navy sailor in the Civil War and journalist, was presumably born into slavery, in Wilmington, North Carolina, to Elizabeth “Betsy” Moore of Wilmington, a slave, and Alexander Gould, who was white. William had at least one sibling, Eliza Mabson, who acquired her last name by virtue of a publicly acknowledged relationship with George Mabson, a white man in Wilmington. She eventually became the mother of five children by Mabson, including her son George L. Mabson, the first black lawyer in North Carolina.

Little is known about William B. Gould's early life. As a young man he acquired skills as a plasterer or mason, and he learned how to read and write, although those skills were forbidden by law to slaves. His initials are in the plaster of one of the Confederacy's most elegant mansions, the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington. Among his young friends were George Washington ...

Article

Shirl Benikosky

former slave, abolitionist, and blacksmith, was born Samuel Green Jr. to Samuel Green and Catherine (Kitty) Green of Dorchester County, Maryland. Although born into slavery, Green's father served as a Methodist exhorter (lay preacher), farmed, and acted as an agent for the Underground Railroad and Philadelphia Vigilance Committee. The 1830 census data of Dorchester County reveals that separate individuals owned Green s parents Green s mother is listed as the head of a household with three other slaves and a male slave of the elder Samuel Green s age is listed under the household of his owner Henry Nicols Hence when the younger Green was born he and his mother lived in a household separate from his father Slave owners considered slaves as chattel much like farm animals Consequently in the census data reports slaves were inventoried as male or female with an approximate age and rarely by name ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

first man to be returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was born James Hamilton Williams in Baltimore, Maryland, the slave of Mary Brown. Little is known of Hamlet's parents, but he claimed during his brief trial that he was the son of a freewoman and thus had never been a slave at all. A purported escaped slave, Hamlet left Baltimore for New York City in 1848 where he worked as a porter in the Tilton and Maloney general store Before his capture and return to slavery he lived in the city of Williamsburg present day Brooklyn with his wife and two children whose names are unknown While in Williamsburg Hamlet was an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a devoted husband and father It is not surprising that Hamlet chose New York as a safe haven for his family ...

Article

Patricia J. Thompson

anti-slavery activist, was born in Portland, Maine, the daughter of the Reverend Samuel Snowden and his first wife, Nancy Marsh, from Monmouth, Maine.

Isabella grew up as a free black woman in a home in which her father was both a well-known preacher and an anti-slavery activist. When she was eight years old, Isabella moved to Boston with her family when her father was called to pastor the growing African American congregation which was then a part of the Bromfield Methodist Episcopal Church. Her father often assisted runaway slaves, and her home was a refuge for those from the South seeking asylum.

Isabella eventually married Henry Holmes, a barber in Boston. They had at least one child, Emily Otis, who was born c.1833 and married Charles H. Stephens from Newport, Rhode Island, on 29 October 1854 Nothing more is known about Emily and Charles and ...

Article

Kathryn Grover

fugitive and abolitionist, like his more famous sister Harriet A. Jacobs, was the child of slaves and born in Edenton, North Carolina. Their father, Elijah, was a carpenter; their mother, Delilah Horniblow, was the daughter of a woman who had been freed but re-enslaved around the time of the American Revolution.

In his 1861 “A True Tale of Slavery,” published anonymously in four installments in the English serial the Leisure Hour, Jacobs stated that he had four masters in his first eighteen years. Jailed late in 1833 after his sister's escape from their owner, Dr. James Norcom, John Jacobs and the children were later purchased by the Edenton lawyer Samuel Tredwell Sawyer the father of Harriet s two children Aware that Norcom recognized his loathing of slavery Jacobs effectively engineered the sale My mind was made up he wrote that I must in ...

Article

Steve Strimer

Methodist minister, abolitionist lecturer, and self-emancipated slave, was born to slave parents, Grace and Tony Kirkwood, at the Hawes plantation in Hanover county near Wilmington, North Carolina. About 1815 he was sold to a storekeeper from whom he took his surname. After his escape to Massachusetts, Jones became a tireless speaker on the antislavery circuit in New England. The principal source of information for his early life is his widely circulated slave narrative, The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years. First published in 1850, his book went through at least nine printings.

Thomas succeeded in learning to read despite the disapproval of Mr. Jones, the storekeeper. Thomas was converted to Christianity around 1824. He attended services at a neighboring plantation against the objections of his irreligious owner. Upon Mr. Jones's death in 1829 Thomas began to ...

Article

Paul Walker

Baptist minister, was born the slave of Ann White, of Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee. His life narrative gives a detailed account of his struggle to redeem his family from slavery.

Kelley's brief autobiography gives little detail of his early life, experience of slavery, struggle for education and freedom. The majority of his narrative consists of details of his first owner, his marriage to Paralee Walker in 1839, his ordination as a Baptist minister in 1843, the attempt by the Concord Baptist Association to purchase him as a preacher in 1845, and the correspondence associated with his later struggle to purchase his family.

The narrative relates that the Concord Baptist Association first tried to purchase his freedom but the resolution to raise the money stated that Kelley was to be held in trust as the property of this Association Kelley felt that the resolution was objectionable ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

who called himself “Agent and Superintendent of the Underground Railroad,” and had also worked as a steamboat steward, was born in Hoosick, Rensselaer County, New York, legally defined at birth as the property of Dr. Johnathan Eights, a doctor who established a practice in Albany in 1810.

New York's 1799 law for the gradual abolition of slavery provided that Myers should be emancipated at the age of twenty-eight, but he was freed earlier, when he was eighteen. He then worked as a grocer before getting a job as steward on the Armenia, one of the faster steamboats on the Hudson River, making the trip from New York City to Albany entirely in daylight.

Myers married in the late 1830s—there is no published record of Harriet Myers's maiden name. Their children, at least those who survived infancy and were still alive in 1860, were Stephen Jr ...

Primary Source

Even when former slaves were permitted at least officially to exist in states of relative freedom the bitterness and relentless hostility of racism could strike out at them driving them from their homes tearing them away from their families and visiting a host of brutal indignities upon them In 1797 North Carolina allowed black people to live within its borders so long as they remained the documented property of white people Once freed however such former slaves were required to quit the state under penalty of law and the abominable possibility of a forced return to chattel servitude Such was the case with the four manumitted slaves Job Albert Jupiter Nicholson Jacob Nicholson and Thomas Pritchet who transmitted the petition presented here to Congress for a redress to the grievances heaped upon them by North Carolina statute Chased from the state in some cases reportedly by violent men who induced ...

Article

Barbara McCaskill

former slave, abolitionist, and memoirist, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, to an enslaved, biracial seamstress and cook, Elizabeth Ramsey. Her mother's white master, John Randolph, was Louisa's father. From infancy through age thirteen, Picquet, along with her mother and her younger brother John, were owned by a former cotton planter from Monticello, Georgia, named Cook. To pay for losses at the gaming tables, Cook fled to Mobile, Alabama, where he “hired out” or leased Picquet, a child herself, to “nurse” or look after the children of slaveholders. When Picquet was almost fourteen, in order to settle Cook's remaining debts, a sheriff from Georgia sold her to a Mr. Williams, a middle-aged New Orleans “gentleman” (Picquet, 16). Her other family members were auctioned to A. C. Horton of Warton Texas Picquet was forced to become Williams s mistress and she bore him four ...

Article

Julia Sun-Joo Lee

slave, minister, and author, was born at Brandon Plantation in Prince George County, Virginia, one of eighty-one slaves owned by Carter H. Edloe. The names of his parents are unknown. Randolph's father was a black slave-driver owned by George Harrison, whose plantation was adjacent to Edloe's. His mother was a slave and a devout Christian.

Randolph's father died when he was ten years old, leaving his mother with five children. Randolph's oldest brother, Benjamin, unsuccessfully tried to run away and was eventually sold to a Negro-trader, who sent him south to work on the cotton and sugar plantations. Randolph never saw him again. Randolph was a sickly child who, at the age of ten or eleven, felt he was called by God to preach to other slaves. He taught himself to read the Bible and, eventually, how to write. Edloe died in 1844 ...

Article

Peter Kolchin

Slavery has appeared in many forms throughout its long history. Slaves have served in capacities as diverse as concubines, warriors, servants, craftsmen, tutors, and victims of ritual sacrifice. In the New World (the Americas), however, slavery emerged as a system of forced labor designed to facilitate the production of staple crops. Depending on location, these crops included Sugar, tobacco, coffee, and cotton; in the Southern United States, by far the most important staples were tobacco and cotton. A stark racial component distinguished this modern Western slavery from the slavery that existed in other times and places: the vast majority of slaves consisted of Africans and their descendants, whereas the vast majority of masters consisted of Europeans and their descendants.

Slavery has played a central role in the history of the United States It existed in all the English mainland colonies and came to dominate productive relations from Maryland south ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

enslaved African American who purchased his own and his family's freedom, was born on a plantation owned by Saunders Griffin on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Still's father, Levin Steel, purchased his own freedom, and his mother, Sidney, later known as Charity, was enslaved.

Most of what is known about Still's life can be found in the narrative that he later dictated. Sidney escaped from slavery twice, and the second time she took only her daughters and left the six-year-old Still and his older brother, also named Levin. The elder Levin and Sidney changed their last names from Steel to Still to prevent Sidney from being caught and returned to slavery. Still realized that his mother was absent from home, but he did not know her whereabouts. Shortly after her disappearance, he was taken to Kentucky and sold to John Fisher, a mason in Lexington.

Because he was young ...

Article

David H. Anthony

slave, Virginia state senator, and diarist, was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of David Teamoh and Lavinia, slaves. He was raised in Portsmouth, and his parents perished during his early childhood. Teamoh portrayed his owners, Josiah and Jane Thomas, as humane in their treatment of him. Josiah Thomas, a carpenter, was employed at Gosport Naval Yard as a working-class artisan. While caring for Teamoh, the Thomases, in dire financial need, hired him out at age fourteen to Captain John Thompson's farm and brickyard three miles north of Portsmouth Thomas had gone from owning his own business to becoming an employee his reversal of fortune affected not only himself and his spouse but their prized possession Teamoh This also significantly altered Teamoh s perception of reality as the young man was transformed from a comparatively benignly treated domestic servant to one ...