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Abraham  

Kenny A. Franks

also known as “Prophet,” was a runaway slave who became a prominent leader among the Seminole. Nothing is known about his parents or childhood. Fleeing his master, Abraham escaped south into Florida, and was eventually adopted into the Seminole tribe, with whom he enjoyed considerable status. In 1826 he accompanied a tribal delegation to Washington, D.C., and became an influential counselor to Micanopy, a leading Seminole leader. The Seminole, or Florida Indians, once were a part both of the Muskogee (Creek) nation that had been driven out of Georgia by the early English colonists, and also of the Oconee and Yamasee tribes that had been driven out of the Carolinas following the Yamasee uprising of 1715. They had first settled among the Lower Creeks in the Florida Panhandle and created a haven for runaway slaves. Indeed, Semino'le is the Creek word for “runaway.”

In 1818Andrew Jackson led ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Allen grew up during the American Revolution (1775–1783), an era characterized by the advocacy of individual rights, the growth of denominational Christianity, and the inception of the antislavery movement. Around 1768 Allen's owner, a Philadelphia lawyer named Benjamin Chew, sold him, his three siblings, and his parents to Stokely Sturgis, a plantation owner in Delaware.

With the permission of Sturgis, Allen began to attend Methodist meetings, and around 1777 he converted to Methodism. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Methodism proliferated in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. This Christian denomination emphasized a simple set of virtues that included honesty, modesty, and sobriety. Following Allen's conversion, in 1780 Sturgis agreed to let Allen hire himself out in order to earn money to purchase his freedom for $2 000 In addition to doing manual labor Allen began to preach ...

Article

Frederick V. Mills

AmericanMethodist preacher and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church, was born into slavery to parents who were the property of Benjamin Chew of Philadelphia. He and his parents and three additional children were sold in 1777 to Stokely Sturgis, who lived near Dover, Delaware. There he attended Methodist preaching events and experienced a spiritual awakening. Allen, his older brother, and a sister were retained by Sturgis, but his parents and younger siblings were sold. Through the ministry of Freeborn Garretson, a Methodist itinerant preacher, Sturgis was converted to Methodism and became convinced that slavery was wrong. Subsequently, Allen and his brother were permitted to work to purchase their freedom, which they did in 1780.For the next six years Allen worked as a wagon driver woodcutter and bricklayer while serving as a Methodist preacher to both blacks and whites in towns and rural areas in Maryland ...

Article

Scott A. Miltenberger

Richard Allen was born a slave into Philadelphia's noted Chew family, whose patriarch Benjamin Chew was a prominent lawyer and served as Pennsylvania's chief justice from 1774 to 1777. In 1767 the family sold Richard to Stokeley Sturgis, a farmer in Kent County, Delaware. There Richard met a Methodist circuit rider, an encounter that transformed his life.

Unlike all other Protestant groups at the time, the Methodists made no distinctions based on color; moreover, they opposed slavery. Sometime around 1780, after attending a revival held by an itinerant Methodist preacher, Richard had a profound religious conversion. He began to attend Methodist prayer meetings, learned to read and write, and eventually presided over the local meetings. Soon after, inspired by a sermon given at his home by the charismatic Methodist preacher Freeborn Garrettson Sturgis became convinced that slaveholding was wrong He drafted a gradual manumission contract with ...

Article

Ayesha Kanji

entrepreneur, author, and inspirational speaker, was born Wallace Amos Jr. in Tallahassee, Florida, to Ruby (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker, and Wallace Amos a laborer at the local gasoline plant Hard work discipline and religion were the cornerstones of Wally s strict childhood The Christian faith was important to his parents and they took him to church regularly By the age of eight Wally had learned all the books of the Bible In their tight knit black community Friday nights were reserved for community dinners where hearty southern fare was served fried chicken potato salad black eyed peas and collard greens Schooling options for black children were less abundant however so Ruby and several of her Methodist church members started a school which Wally began attending at age ten Wally s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in his childhood when he started a roving shoeshine stand and ...

Article

Harry M. Ward

probably a sailor, was the first to be killed in the Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770. Generally regarded to have been of mixed ancestry (African, Indian, and white), Attucks seems to have hailed from a Natick Indian settlement, Mashpee (incorporated as a district in 1763, near Framingham, Massachusetts). While Attucks's life and background before the tragic event are uncertain, two reasonable conjectures stand out. First, he was a descendant of those Natick Indians converted to Christianity in the seventeenth century. One tribesman, John Attuck, was hanged on 22 June 1676 for allegedly conspiring with the Indian insurrection of that year. Second, it appears that Attucks may have once been a slave. The Boston Gazette of 2 October 1750 printed this notice Ran away from his Master William Brown of Framingham on the 30th of September last a mulatto Fellow about twenty seven years of age ...

Article

Scott A. Miltenberger

The death of Crispus Attucks is shrouded in myth. John Adams, the future second president of the United States and the defense attorney for the British troops charged with Attucks's murder, accused him of being a rabble-rouser and the instigator of the confrontation that resulted in the now famously known “Boston Massacre” of 1770. John Hancock, a Boston merchant and, like Adams, a member of the Sons of Liberty, celebrated Attucks as a defiant patriot. Attucks's true role remains unclear—much like his life prior to 1770.

Attucks was most probably born a slave in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1723. He was likely of mixed African and Native American parentage (attuck is the Natick Indian word for “deer”). In 1750, at about age twenty-seven, Attucks ran away from his master, most likely a William Brown For the next twenty years he worked as ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

Medal of Honor recipient, actor, and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, of unknown parentage. Beaty (sometimes spelled Beatty) was born a slave, but little else is known of his early years or how he came to be free. Beaty left Richmond in 1849 for Cincinnati, where he would spend the majority of his life, and became a farmer. Later, Beaty's education consisted of an apprenticeship to a black cabinetmaker in Cincinnati, as well as a tutelage under James E. Murdock, a retired professional actor and dramatic coach.

On 5 September 1862 Powhatan Beaty along with 706 other African American men was forced to join Cincinnati s Black Brigade after Confederate troops repeatedly threatened the city The Black Brigade was one of the earliest but unofficial African American military units organized during the Civil War but it did not engage in any military action since the city was ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

mountain man, fur trapper and trader, scout, translator, and explorer, was born James Pierson Beckwith in Frederick County, Virginia, the son of Sir Jennings Beckwith, a white Revolutionary War veteran and the descendant of minor Irish aristocrats who became prominent Virginians. Little is known about Jim's mother, a mixed-race slave working in the Beckwith household. Although he was born into slavery, Jim was manumitted by his father in the 1820s. In the early 1800s, Beckwith moved his family, which reputedly included fourteen children, to Missouri, eventually settling in St. Louis. Some commentators suggest that Beckwith, an adventurous outdoorsman, was seeking an environment less hostile to his racially mixed family.

As a young teenager, after four years of schooling, Jim Beckwourth as his name came to be spelled was apprenticed to a blacksmith Unhappy as a tradesman he fled to the newly discovered lead mines in Illinois s Fever ...

Article

Heidi L. Scott Giusto

Henry Walter Bibb was born a slave on the plantation of David White in Shelby County, Kentucky. His father, James Bibb, was a slaveholding planter and state senator; his mother, Mildred Jackson, was a slave. By 1825 Bibb began what he referred to as his “maroonage,” or scheming of short-term escape. Excessively cruel treatment by several different masters engendered this habit. Bibb's life lacked stability; the slave's owner began hiring him out at a young age, and between 1832 and 1840 he would be sold more than six times and would relocate to at least seven southern states.

In 1833 Bibb met and fell in love with Malinda, a slave who lived four miles away in Oldham County, Kentucky. After determining that they had similar values regarding religion and possible flight, the two pledged honor to one another and considered themselves married in December 1834 Approximately one year later ...

Article

Elizabeth Mitchell

slave and guide, achieved fame in the decades preceding the Civil War. Nothing is known of his parents or early life, but it is known that Bishop was a slave belonging to Kentucky lawyer Franklin Gorin, who in the 1830s purchased Mammoth Cave for $5,000. Previous cave guides had been local white men, but Gorin either saw something promising in the teenaged Bishop or reasoned that he could save money by training a slave to do the same work. Either way, beginning in the spring of 1838 Bishop received training from the previous guide and quickly took to the job, learning the several miles of trail and numerous pits, rock formations, and other attractions of his underground place of employment.

Bishop was allowed to spend many hours exploring the cave on his own. In the fall of 1838 he penetrated a confusing maze of trails known as the ...

Article

John Davis

pianist and composer, was born Thomas Greene Wiggins to Domingo Wiggins and Charity Greene, field slaves on the Wiley Jones Plantation in Harris County, Georgia. In 1850 Tom, his parents, and two brothers were auctioned off to General James Neil Bethune, a prominent attorney and anti‐abolitionist newspaper publisher from Columbus, Georgia. The discovery two years later of the toddler, newly renamed Thomas Greene Bethune, blind from birth, possibly mentally impaired, and unusually captivated by random sounds, playing one of the general's daughter's piano pieces “totally 'stonished us,” according to Charity (New York Times, 27 Nov. 1886).

The general, however, viewed Tom's unforeseen musical ability as an opportunity. Eulogized in 1895 as “almost the pioneer free trader in this country” and “the first editor in the south to openly advocate secession” (New York Times, 21 Jan. 1895 Bethune saw the potential for ...

Article

Darshell Silva

a Quaker, was born a slave near Rancocas, New Jersey, and was sometimes known as William Bowen or “Heston.” His owner treated him well, and Boen was allowed to learn to read and write. As a boy, Boen was afraid of dying during an Indian attack because of all of the stories circulating among the neighbors about others that were killed by Indians. Whenever he worked in the woods alone, he was on constant guard for Indian arrows. He felt he was not yet ready to die until he accepted what was within him that made him do good and reject evil, as the Quakers he was growing up around had done. The Society of Friends is a Christian sect founded by George Fox in 1660 that rejects formal sacraments a formal creed priesthood and violence They are also known as Quakers and are recognized by their plain speech ...

Article

Penny Anne Welbourne

Born a slave in Rancocas, New Jersey, William Boen belonged to a Quaker master. As a young man he met and became friends with John Woolman, the Quaker minister known for his continuing efforts to end slavery. It was most likely Woolman who encouraged Boen to attend worship at the Mount Holly Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Anecdotes and Memoirs of William Boen, a Coloured Man, Who Lived and Died Near Mount Holly, New Jersey. To which is Added, The Testimony of Friends of Mount Holly Monthly Meeting Concerning Him was a memorial written by Quakers from Mount Holly for Boen, who was a member of the Society of Friends from 1814 until his death in 1824 The authors of the memorial stated that although they rarely felt called upon to record the virtues of any of this afflicted race of people they thought Boen ...

Article

Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman

escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

Henry “Box” Brown was born a slave in Louisa County, Virginia, probably around 1815. By 1830 he was living in Richmond, where his master hired him out to work in a tobacco factory. Around 1836, when he would have been about twenty-one, Brown married a slave named Nancy, who was owned by a bank clerk. The owner promised not to sell Nancy but soon did so anyway. She was later resold to a Mr. Cottrell, who persuaded Brown to give him fifty dollars of the purchase price. Cottrell also promised never to sell Nancy, but in 1848 he sold her, and her children with Henry, to slave traders, who removed them from the state. Brown pleaded with his own master to buy Nancy and the children. As Brown wrote in his autobiography, “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away from him as ...

Article

Alice Knox Eaton

slave narrator, novelist, playwright, historian, and abolitionist leader, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of a slave mother, Elizabeth, and George Higgins, the white half-brother of Brown's first master, Dr. John Young. As a slave, William was spared the hard labor of his master's plantation, unlike his mother and half-siblings, because of his close blood relation to the slave-holding family, but as a house servant he was constantly abused by Mrs. Young. When the family removed to a farm outside St. Louis, Missouri, William was hired out in various capacities, including physician's assistant, servant in a public house, and waiter on a steamship. William's “best master” in slavery was Elijah P. Lovejoy, publisher of the St. Louis Times, where he was hired out in the printing office in 1830 Lovejoy was an antislavery editor who would be murdered seven years later for refusing ...

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William C. Harris

a slave. The identity of his father is unknown, but he took the surname of the man who owned his mother before he was born. His childhood as a slave on a small plantation, first in Virginia, then briefly in Mississippi, and finally in Missouri did not significantly differ, as he later recalled, from that of the sons of whites. This relatively benign experience in slavery perhaps owed a great deal to the fact that he was the light-skinned favorite of a benevolent master and mistress. He shared a tutor with his master's son and thus obtained the education that prepared him for later success. During the Civil War, despite the benevolence of his owner, he fled to freedom in Kansas, but after slavery was abolished he returned to Missouri, where he reportedly established the first school in the state for blacks, at Hannibal.

After the war Bruce briefly attended ...

Article

Linda O. McMurry

scientist and educator, was born in Diamond (formerly Diamond Grove), Missouri, the son of Mary Carver, who was the slave of Moses and Susan Carver. His father was said to have been a slave on a neighboring farm who was accidentally killed before Carver's birth. Slave raiders allegedly kidnapped his mother and older sister while he was very young, and he and his older brother were raised by the Carvers on their small farm.

Barred from the local school because of his color, Carver was sent to nearby Neosho in the mid-1870s to enter school. Having been privately tutored earlier, he soon learned that his teacher knew little more than he did, so he caught a ride with a family moving to Fort Scott, Kansas. Until 1890 Carver roamed around Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa seeking an education while supporting himself doing laundry, cooking, and homesteading.

In 1890 Carver ...

Article

Carolyn Wedin

naturalist, agricultural chemurgist, and educator. With arguably the most recognized name among black people in American history, George Washington Carver's image is due in part to his exceptional character, mission, and achievements; in part to the story he wanted told; and in part to the innumerable books, articles, hagiographies, exhibits, trade fairs, memorials, plays, and musicals that have made him a symbol of rags-to-riches American enterprise. His image has been used for postage stamps, his name has been inscribed on bridges and a nuclear submarine, and he even has his own day (5 January), designated by the United States Congress in 1946.

Thanks in large part to Linda O. McMurry's 1981 book, George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol it is now possible to separate legend from fact and discover the remarkable child youth and man behind the peanut McMurry concludes that Carver ...