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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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Kevin Byrne

vaudeville entertainer and theatrical entrepreneur, was born in Dallas, Texas. The names of his parents are unknown. Though in later interviews Dudley frequently changed the story of how he broke into show business, his earliest stage work was most likely in Texas and Louisiana as part of a medicine show. This job, in which he played music and told jokes to draw a crowd to the pitchman and his wares, was an appropriate beginning for a man who always sought to be the center of attention. Dudley eventually became an artist and businessman who, as demonstrated by both his actions and writings, was passionately concerned with cultivating the rights and strengthening the dignity of African American performers during an era when what it meant to be a black entertainer was greatly in flux.

Dudley s apprenticeship in the professional theatrical world took place during the last decade of the ...

Article

Leyla Keough

Aleksandr Pushkin was of high birth: his father came from a long line of Russian aristocracy, and his mother was the granddaughter of Abram Hannibal, who proclaimed himself to be an African prince. Sold into slavery in the early eighteenth century, Hannibal became an engineer and major general in the Russian army and was a favorite of Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great).

Enchanted with his African ancestry, Pushkin often employed the subject in his poetry, to the point of exaggeration and obsession, according to his critics. In 1830Faddey Bulgarin berated Pushkin for bragging about a nobility stemming from a “Negro” who had been “acquired” by a skipper in exchange for a bottle of rum. Pushkin replied sharply to “Figliarin” (which translates roughly into “buffoon”) in a poem entitled “My Genealogy”:

Postscriptum

Figliarin, snug at home, decided

That my black grandsire, Hannibal,

Was for a bottle ...

Article

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 ...