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Brian R. Roberts

diplomat, editor, and author, was born in Manhattan to Henry and Nancy (Collins) Downing. His family operated an oyster business and restaurant, and his uncle was George Thomas Downing, a Rhode Island businessman and civil rights leader. Nothing is known of Henry Downing's education before he entered the U.S. Navy at age eighteen.

Serving from 1864 through 1865 he worked on three vessels, the North Carolina, Pawtuxet, and Winooski. Afterward he traveled widely, spending three years in Liberia, where his cousin, Hilary Johnson, later became president (1884–1892). In Liberia, Downing worked as secretary to the Liberian secretary of state. Upon his return to New York he reenlisted in the navy, serving from 1872 to 1875 on the Hartford in the Pacific.

After his discharge Downing again returned to New York City and married Isadora (maiden name unknown) on 8 ...

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Nadine D. Pederson

playwright, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Juan François Louis Victor Séjour Marcou, owner of a small business, and Eloisa Philippe Ferrand. His father was a black native of the West Indies, and his mother a Creole from New Orleans. Séjour attended an academy in New Orleans for the children of free men of color. As a young man he was an active member of the Artisans, a middle-class Creole society. In 1836 Séjour was sent to Paris to finish his studies. In that same year his short story “Le Mulâtre” was published in La Revue des Colonies (Paris). Another early literary success was a poem, “Le Retour de Napoléon,” first published in Paris (Dauvain et Fontaine, 1841), then in New Orleans (H. Lauve et Compagnie, 1845).

Séjour made his playwriting debut at the Théâtre-Français on 23 July 1844 with Dégarias ...

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Eric Gardner

dramatic reader, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her parents' names and specific details of her youth remain unknown, though nineteenth-century accounts spin rich tales of her parentage and childhood. According to her husband Frank Webb, her father was “a Spanish gentleman of wealth” and her mother “a woman of full African blood” who escaped from slavery while pregnant with Mary and later died from anxiety produced by the Fugitive Slave Act. Other sources claim she was the child of a Cuban official, and a letter of introduction written by Harriet Beecher Stowe claims she was sent to Cuba as a child and was educated in a convent. There was even speculation that she was the daughter of the Spanish general and statesman Baldomero Espartero.

In 1845Mary married Frank Johnson Webb and the couple settled in Philadelphia Pennsylvania where they worked in the clothing trade until ...