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Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, businessman, and writer, was born in Madison County, Kentucky, the youngest of fifteen children of Eliza and Edwin, who were slaves. Burton and his mother remained on the plantation after Emancipation as paid laborers, and he continued working at the “old homestead” after her death in 1869 until he was sixteen, at which time he left following an altercation with the owner.

In 1880 Burton was “converted to God” and subsequently experienced an insatiable desire for learning. Despite discouraging comments from those who thought that twenty was too old to start school, Burton was not dissuaded and determined that nothing was going to prevent him from getting an education except sickness or death. Burton worked for one more year as a farmhand in Richmond, Kentucky. One January morning in 1881 he put a few items in a carpetbag and nine dollars and seventy five cents in his ...

Article

Scott A. Miltenberger

James Forten was born into a free black family in Philadelphia. When he was eight he began working alongside his father at a sail loft owned by Robert Bridges. While working with his father, Forten attended the Quaker abolitionist Anthony Benezet's school for free blacks. With the death of his father, Forten, at age ten, ended his formal schooling and worked in a grocery store to support his mother.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, Forten convinced his mother to let him fight. He joined the crew of the American privateer vessel Royal Louis as a powder boy Captured by the British he languished on a prison ship for several months before being released Following the war he spent a year in England and upon returning to Philadelphia worked as a sailmaker s apprentice for Bridges s firm There he invented and perfected gear that made ...

Article

John Ernest

author, businessman, and nurse, was born into slavery near Charlottesville, Virginia, the son of a white man and a black woman, possibly John and Susan Hughes. When he was about six years old, Hughes was sold with his mother and two brothers to Dr. Louis a physician in Scottsville Virginia When Dr Louis died young Hughes was sold with his mother and brother to Washington Fitzpatrick also of Scottsville who soon sent him then about eleven years old to Richmond on the pretense of hiring him out to work on a canal boat Parting with his mother at such a young age was difficult even more difficult was his realization that he would never see his mother again For Hughes this experience became the central symbol of the fundamental inhumanity of the system of slavery a symbol to which he returns at key points in ...

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 ...

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Brandon Portal

possible former slave, self-taught master builder, engineer, contractor, and property manager, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His parentage is unknown. Although little is certain about Lanson's early life, a Connecticut Journal notice appeared on 5 December 1799 in which Solomon Fisk of Southington, Connecticut, put out a $10 reward for the return of a runaway “Negro servant” by the name of Lanson. It is possible that this was the same Lanson. At some point, Lanson married his wife, Nancy.

The first public record of Lanson was a contract for the extension of New Haven's Long Wharf, for construction that took place from 1810 to 1812 The Long Wharf expansion was essential to the prosperity of New Haven for decades the shallow harbor area had posed a danger to larger cargo ships and severely curtailed trade Lanson overcame this obstacle by extending the wharf ...

Article

Jeri Chase Ferris

slave, nurse, landowner, and philanthropist, was born a slave in Hancock County, Georgia, of unknown parents. Though her slave name was Bridget, she was almost always called Biddy, and not until she achieved her freedom in Los Angeles, California, in 1865 did she take the surname Mason. It is not definitively known why she chose “Mason,” although Amasa Mason Lyman was the company captain on Biddy Mason's journey from Mississippi to Salt Lake City, and later to San Bernardino. Biddy was an infant when she was given or sold to the John Smithson family of Mississippi, to whom she belonged until she was eighteen. Smithson then gave her, along with two other slaves, as a wedding present to his cousin Rebecca when she married Robert M. Smith Biddy Mason s new duties included nursing care of the frail Rebecca Smith and the making ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

physician, businessman, and political activist, was born near Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina, the son of free black parents who were Quakers. His father, Jonas Elias Pope, freed from slavery in 1851, was a prosperous carpenter and landowner; his mother's name was Permelia. A younger half-brother, Jonas Elias Pope II, born to his father's second wife in 1898, was his only known sibling.

A gifted student, Pope was educated first in the common schools of Northampton County, before enrolling in 1874 at the Baptist-affiliated Shaw University in Raleigh, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1879. In 1880 he worked as a schoolteacher in Halifax County, near his birthplace, and boarded at the Brinkleyville home of Hilliard J. Hewlin, a farmer and aspiring Republican legislator. In 1882 Pope entered the first class at Shaw University s new Leonard Medical ...

Article

Eunice Angelica Whitmal

was born to an enslaved mother in South Carolina. The names of her parents are not recorded, but Randon labored in the homes of the Boozie family, according to her granddaughter, Annie Mae Hunt. Little else is known about Randon’s early life. The Boozie family sold her parents and siblings, forever separating the family, until Randon was reunited with one of her sisters’ daughters.

The documented evidence of enslaved women s lives reveals the complicated double oppression of race and gender one that Randon had to endure as she navigated slave culture Among various historical resources the fear and threat of sexual violence and assault against black women is constant Unfortunately at thirteen years old Randon was not spared this indignity when living with her owners Perhaps seeking a moment of redress she disclosed to her mistress that she had been raped by the mistress s son The mistress did ...

Article

Gary L. Frost

Lewis Temple was born in Richmond, Virginia. Nothing is known about his parents or about any formal education he might have had. According to one biographer, he was unable to sign his name. Sometime during the 1820s, Temple migrated to the whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he married Mary Clark, a native of Maryland, in 1829. Their first child, Lewis Jr., was born in 1830, followed by a daughter, Nancy, in 1832. Several years later, a third child, Mary, was born, but she died at the age of six.

What little is known about Temple suggests that he was a resourceful and principled individual Whether he escaped Virginia as a slave or left as a freeman is uncertain but in any case he had a better life in Massachusetts than the one he would have led in Richmond apparently finding work in New ...

Article

Gary L. Frost

blacksmith, abolitionist, and inventor, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Of his parents and formal education, nothing is known; according to one biographer, he was unable to sign his name. Sometime during the 1820s Temple migrated to the whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where in 1829 he married Mary Clark, a native of Maryland. In 1830 their first child, Lewis Jr., was born, followed by a daughter, Nancy, in 1832. Sometime later, a third child, Mary, was born; she died at age six.

What little is known about Temple suggests a resourceful and principled individual Whether he escaped Virginia as a slave or left as a freedman is uncertain but in any case he had a better life in Massachusetts than the one he would have led in Richmond apparently finding work in New Bedford soon after his arrival Town records indicate that ...