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Steven J. Niven

, blacksmith and hero of the 1811 Richmond Theatre fire, was born a slave at the Piping Tavern near the Pamunkey River in King William County, Virginia. The names of his parents are unknown, though his mother appears to have been a slave of the keeper of the Piping Tavern. What little is known of Hunt's life comes from a brief biographical sketch published in Richmond, Virginia, on the eve of the Civil War by Philip Barrett, a white journalist. A transcription of Hunt's reminiscences accounts for much of this sketch of the “meritorious old negro” (5), in which Barrett urges his fellow, predominantly white citizens of Richmond to be profoundly grateful for Hunt's long years of service to the community. Hunt, in Barrett's view, was a man of “high integrity” whose bearing and words betrayed his “true, generous-hearted, disinterestedness” (4).

Hunt arrived in Richmond in the first decade ...

Article

Joe  

Glenn Allen Knoblock

survivor of the battle of the Alamo, was a slave about whom little is known. He was living with his master in Harrisburg, Texas, in May 1833 and was sometimes rented out as a laborer. One man that rented him was a young lawyer named William Barret Travis. Having arrived in Texas in 1831, Travis was undoubtedly in need of hired help while establishing his law practice. He purchased Joe on 13 February 1834, while living in San Felipe. The time that Joe was owned by Travis, though short, came during the most legendary time in Texas history.

Joe's specific activities from 1834 to 1836 are unknown that Joe would remain a slave he likely knew well as his master was occupied during his first years in Texas working to gain the return of runaway slaves harbored at the Mexican garrison at Anahuac However Joe s ...

Article

John Garst

“steel-driving man” and legendary hero, may have been a historic person born a slave in Mississippi, Virginia, or some other Southern state. In ballad and legend he is simply “John Henry,” but “John Henry” is a common combination of given names, so Henry may not have been his surname.

Songs about John Henry were collected as early as 1905. In 1916 the former West Virginia governor W.-A. MacCorkle confused him with John Hardy, an African American gambler and murderer who was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894 and is the subject of his own ballad. By the mid-1920s the ballad “John Henry” was being recorded commercially by Riley Puckett (1924), Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), and other white “hillbilly” performers, and shortly thereafter recordings by such African American bluesmen as Henry Thomas (1927) and Mississippi John Hurt (1928 began ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

quilt maker, was born a slave, probably in Georgia. Her maiden name is unknown, as are the names and occupations of her parents. As is often the case with little-known historical figures, most of the details of Powers's life have been gleaned from tax and census records. Before the Civil War, Harriet married Armstead Powers, a farmer who lived in Clarke County, Georgia. The date of their marriage is unknown, but it appears that two of the couple's children were born into slavery (Amanda in 1856 and Leon Joe in 1860) and several more were born after Emancipation (including Alonzo in 1865, Nancy in 1866, Lizzie in 1868, and Marshall in 1872). The Powerses, neither of whom could read nor write, found moderate success as farmers, and the 1870 census lists Armstead as a farmhand and Harriet as keeping house Sometime in ...

Article

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 ...