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Article

Caroline M. Brown

aviation mechanic and pilot, was born in Quitman, Wood County, Texas, the youngest of three children; both of his parents were teachers. Allen's father died when Thomas was three months old. His mother, Polly, continued to teach school and to run the family farm.

Allen became interested in flying in 1918, when an airplane made a forced landing in a pasture. The pilots paid the two young Allen brothers to guard the plane overnight so that its fabric and glue would not be eaten by cows. From this experience, Thomas Allen decided to become either an aviator or a mechanic.

In 1919 when Allen was twelve the family moved to Oklahoma City where his mother resumed teaching school Allen often bicycled to a nearby airfield In his teens he persuaded the field owner to take a $100 saxophone as partial trade for flying lessons He worked off the ...

Article

Kenyatta D. Berry

engineer, machinist, and inventor, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of the free blacks Thomas and Hannah Baltimore. Though his father was a Catholic, Jeremiah followed his mother's influence and adopted the Methodist religion. As a child Jeremiah was fascinated with engineering and science. He was known to have experimented often with such utilitarian things as tin cans, coffeepots, stovepipes, and brass bucket hoops.

Jeremiah was educated at the Sabbath School of the Wesley Zion Church in Washington, D.C., which was located on Fourth Street near Virginia Avenue and was founded in 1839 after black members left the Ebenezer Church. As part of his education Jeremiah also attended the school of Enoch Ambush, which had begun operation in about 1833 in the basement of the Israel Bethel Church and remained open until 1864 Despite his attendance Jeremiah left unable either to read or to ...

Article

Brad S. Born

Benjamin Banneker was born 9 November 1731in Baltimore County, Maryland, the first child of free African American parents Mary Banneker and Robert, a former slave whose freedom she had purchased and who took her surname upon marriage. Growing up on their tobacco farm, Benjamin received little formal schooling, learning to read and write from his grandmother and attending for several seasons an interracial school where he first developed his lifelong interest in mathematics. Following his parents’ deaths and three sisters’ departures from home, Banneker remained on the farm, working the crops and cultivating his intellect in relative seclusion.

In 1771, he befriended George Ellicott a Quaker neighbor whose family had developed a large complex of mills on the adjoining property With astronomical texts and instruments borrowed from Ellicott he trained himself to calculate ephemerides tables establishing the positioning of the sun moon and stars for each day ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Born in Baltimore County, Maryland, Benjamin Banneker was one of several children born to Robert, a freed slave from Guinea, and Mary Banneker. Mary's mother, Molly Welsh, came to the American colonies as an indentured servant from England and later married one of her slaves, an African of royal descent named Bannaka or Banneky. Banneker and his sisters were born free and grew up on a self-sufficient tobacco farm of 40 hectares (100 acres). Banneker received the equivalent of an eighth-grade education at a local integrated school and was also tutored by his grandmother. Growing up, he spent much of his free time devising and solving mathematical puzzles. He took over the farm after his father's death in 1759.

In the eighteenth century clocks and watches were rare devices constructed in metal by skilled artisans At the age of twenty two Banneker created a ...

Article

Silvio A. Bedini

farmer and astronomer, was born near the Patapsco River in Baltimore County in what became the community of Oella, Maryland, the son of Robert, a freed slave, and Mary Banneky a daughter of a freed slave named Bannka and Molly Welsh a freed English indentured servant who had been transported to Maryland Banneker was taught by his white grandmother to read and write from a Bible He had no formal education other than a brief attendance at a Quaker one room school during winter months He was a voracious reader informing himself in his spare time in literature history religion and mathematics with whatever books he could borrow From an early age he demonstrated a talent for mathematics and for creating and solving mathematical puzzles With his three sisters he grew up on his father s tobacco farm and for the rest of his life Banneker continued to ...

Article

Frank Towers

Benjamin Banneker was born on a farm near Elkridge Landing, Maryland, on the Patapsco River, ten miles southwest of Baltimore. His mother, Mary Banneky, was a freeborn African American. Her parents were Molly Welsh, an English indentured servant, and Bannaka, a Dogon nobleman captured in the slave trade and bought by Molly Welsh. In 1700 Welsh freed Bannaka, and they married. Benjamin's father, was born in Africa and transported to America as a slave, where he was known as Robert. In Maryland, Robert purchased his freedom and married Bannaka and Molly's daughter, Mary Banneky, whose surname he adopted and later changed to Banneker. Robert's success in tobacco farming enabled him to buy enough land (seventy-two acres) to support his son and three younger daughters.

Benjamin Banneker was intellectually curious especially about mathematics and science but he had little formal education Scholars disagree about claims that he attended school for ...

Article

Roland Barksdale-Hall

inventor, was born in Jefferson County, Alabama, the son of Milton Beard and Creasey Tatum, both former slaves on the Beard family plantation. He adopted the name of his former master at age fifteen after he was liberated by Union forces. A year later, he married Edie Beard, about whom nothing else is known. The couple raised three children: John, Jack, and Andrew Jr.; the latter died following graduation from high school. Like most former slaves, however, Beard was illiterate and remained so throughout his life.

After the Civil War, Beard worked as a sharecropper on his former master's farm until he was about eighteen years old and then moved to St. Clair County, Alabama. In 1872 he made a three week journey from Birmingham to Montgomery on an oxcart that carried fifty bushels of apples which he sold for approximately two hundred dollars He eventually ...

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

Linda Spencer

the first African American to work at the Smithsonian Institute, naturalist, and poet, was born free in what is now the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. He was the fourth of six children born to Isaac and Rachel Brown. Little is known about Brown's family, except that his father died in 1833 and consequently the family struggled financially and lost their home in 1834. Brown received no formal education as a youngster. Because of prejudice and slavery in the 1800s, public education was not provided to free blacks living in Washington, D.C., until after the Emancipation Act in 1862. Brown was a self-educated man.

Accounts of Brown s early life indicate that there was an arrangement for him to live in the care of the assistant postmaster of Washington D C Lambert Tree Whether Brown was a household servant or an apprentice in Tree s work at ...

Article

was born in Trujillo, in northwestern Peru, between 1707 and 1728; his exact year of birth is unknown. He was the son of Magdalena Tirado, who might have been a slave, and Miguel de Herrera, a free man of mixed descent. He defined himself as a pardo, or black man. It has been confirmed that he was a slave belonging to the silversmith Martín de la Cadena, which would explain his last name as well as his knowledge of metalwork; however, during the period of time documented in his biography, José was a free man.

Cadena’s first marriage was to Pascuala Velarde. In 1761 he signed his Cartilla música, a small treatise of musical theory published in Lima two years later. He was imprisoned briefly for debts he acquired in printing the treatise. It is probable that between 1763 and 1767 he might have lived in ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

best known as the reputed inventor of the potato chip, who established his own restaurant in the resort community of Saratoga Springs, New York. His ancestry and ethnicity are a matter of speculation; he may have been best described in Saratoga Springs, New York: A Brief History as “of thoroughly mixed American blood.” He is generally reported in census data from 1850 to 1880 as mulatto and in later censuses as black. It is commonly said that his mother was of Native American descent and that he “looked Indian.”

Crum was born in Malta, New York, to Abraham (or Abram) Speck and his wife Catherine. Although oral accounts suggest Speck was from Kentucky and possibly had been enslaved there, the 1820 Federal Census shows a “Free Colored Person” male, age twenty-six to forty-five, of that name, living in New York, and the 1840 Census shows a free ...

Article

Paul A. Frisch

, activist, inventor, and entrepreneur, was born in Virginia. It is unknown whether he was born free or enslaved. Little information about his early life and education is available. He moved to New York City and in 1873 married Henrietta (maiden name unknown), a New Yorker. The couple had no children. Ferrell reported his occupation as engineer, a term commonly used in this era for machinist, stationary engineer, or boiler tender.

During the 1880s Ferrell joined the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, the largest labor union in nineteenth-century America. After a major growth spurt in 1885–1886 the organization counted over 600 000 members The Knights were an inclusive labor organization that enrolled employers and workers excluding only lawyers bankers and liquor peddlers and unlike most such organizations of the period the Knights accepted African American members Ferrell belonged to District Assembly 49 a large politicized union that ...

Article

William F. Mugleston

Thomas Fuller was born in West Africa. Nothing is known of his parents or other family. At the age of fourteen he was brought as a slave to British North America and apparently lived the remainder of his life in Virginia. In his old age he was owned by Elizabeth Coxe of Alexandria, Virginia.

Fuller led the typical life of a slave and never learned to read or write but was widely noted late in his life for his extraordinary ability to perform rapid and complicated mathematical calculations in his head. Travelers wanting to witness his skill often visited him. One of them was Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia the noted physician and educator Rush quizzed him and verified the accuracy of his answers Fuller could multiply nine figures by nine give the number of seconds in a year calculate how many seconds anyone had lived determine the number ...

Article

Pamela C. Edwards

inventor and entrepreneur, blazed a path for black female inventors, yet little is known of her early life. Neither her parents' names nor her exact date or place of birth are known one biographer indicates that she was born in the 1850s and grew up in slavery. After the Civil War ended and former slaves in the South were emancipated, Goode, like thousands of African Americans, made her way north, taking up residence in Chicago by the early 1880s. In Chicago, she owned and operated a furniture store, and her entrepreneurial endeavors led to her become the first African American woman to receive a patent from the United States Patent Office. On 14 July 1885 Goode received her patent for a Folding Cabinet Bed comparable to modern sofa or hideaway beds The first of five black women to patent new inventions in the nineteenth century she was a ...

Article

Kenneth R. Manning

zoologist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Charles Fraser Just, a carpenter and wharf builder, and Mary Mathews Cooper. Following his father's death in 1887, his mother moved the family to James Island, off the South Carolina coast. There she labored in phosphate mines, opened a church and a school, and mobilized farmers into a moss-curing enterprise. A dynamic community leader, she was the prime mover behind the establishment of a township—Maryville—named in her honor. Maryville served as a model for all-black town governments elsewhere.

Just attended his mother's school, the Frederick Deming Jr. Industrial School, until the age of twelve. Under her influence, he entered the teacher-training program of the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College (now South Carolina State College) in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1896. After graduating in 1899 he attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden New ...

Article

Rayvon David Fouché

engineer and inventor, was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the son of George W. Latimer, a barber, and Rebecca Smith, both former slaves who escaped from Norfolk, Virginia, on 4 October 1842. When not attending Phillips Grammar School in Boston, Latimer spent much of his youth working in his father's barbershop, as a paperhanger, and selling the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator. Latimer's life changed drastically when his father mysteriously disappeared in 1858. His family, placed in dire financial straits, bound out Latimer and his brothers George and William as apprentices through the Farm School a state institution in which children worked as unpaid laborers Upon escaping from the exploitation of the Farm School system Latimer and his brothers returned to Boston to reunite the family During the next few years Latimer was able to help support his family through various odd jobs and by ...

Article

Reginald H. Pitts

inventor, entrepreneur, and historian, was born in what is now Gardiner, Maine, the son of Matthias Lewis, a farm laborer of Mohegan Indian ancestry. Nothing is now known of Lewis's mother. Sometime after 28 July 1800 Lewis's father married Lucy Stockbridge of Pittston, Maine, the daughter of African slaves. It is not known whether this marriage legalized a longstanding relationship or was Matthias's actual second marriage.

Although little is known of Lewis's early life, it appears that he first went to sea in ships that worked the Atlantic rim and the coastal trade down to the Caribbean. It is known that Lewis wanted to become a missionary to Africa; after his death, his neighbors remembered, “it was said … that the Congregational Church in Hallowell [where Lewis moved around 1820 had in consequence of the intelligence he had manifested in youth obtained for him an ...

Article

Portia P. James

inventor, was born in Colchester, Canada West (now Ontario), the son of George McCoy and Mildred Goins, former slaves who had escaped from Kentucky. In 1849 his parents moved the family to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Elijah began attending school. In 1859 he went to Edinburgh, Scotland, to undertake an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer; he stayed there five years.

Unable to obtain a position as an engineer after he returned to the United States, McCoy began working as a railroad fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. This position exposed him to the problems of steam engine lubrication and overheating. Locomotive engines had to be periodically oiled by hand, a time-consuming task that caused significant delays in railroad transport of commercial goods and passengers. Poorly lubricated locomotives also used more fuel than those that were efficiently lubricated.

McCoy began his career as an inventor by first examining and improving ...

Article

Ned  

Steven J. Niven

slave, blacksmith, and inventor, is known only through his owner's application for a patent for the “Stuart Double Plough and Double Scraper,” which Ned invented on a Holmesville, Mississippi, plantation in the late 1850s. Ned was a slave of Oscar J. E. Stuart, a prominent lawyer and planter in Pike County in the piney woods section of southeast Mississippi, on the border with Louisiana. While the growth of the slave population and the rise of cotton culture was less dramatic in the piney woods than in other parts of the Magnolia State like the Delta—where nearly 90 percent of the population were slaves—by 1860 African American slaves accounted for 45 percent of all Pike County residents The less fertile land in the piney woods led planters there to seek new technologies to compete with planters elsewhere in the state since the Delta s salubrious productive soil had created ...

Article

Charles Withers

Scottish physician, botanist, and explorer, was the first European to return safely having observed the west–east course of the River Niger. His significance stems from this geographical accomplishment, from the much reprinted book of his first expedition, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa, first published in 1799, and from his “heroic” failure and death in 1806, in circumstances that are still unclear, on a further Niger expedition. His second posthumously published work, published in 1815, and drawn from Park’s surviving papers and reports, began the process of Park’s biographical commemoration.

Park was born near Selkirk in Scotland on or about 11 September 1771, the seventh of thirteen children. Park was educated at home, at Selkirk Grammar School, and, from 1789, in the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. In November of 1792 Park was introduced to Sir Joseph Banks by his brother ...