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Article

Abner, David, Sr.  

Charles Rosenberg

landowner, businessman, and state legislator, was born enslaved in Dallas County Alabama, to parents named Sarah and Pete, who had been born in South Carolina. David, like his parents, was the property of a family named Abner. There is some dispute as to his birth date—some giving 1826 and others 1838—but the most reliable date appears to be December 1820, as suggested by a letter from his youngest daughter. It is not known when David took the Abner surname for himself, a common but by no means universal practice for formerly enslaved persons. He was sent to Texas in 1843, driving a covered wagon for the newly married daughter (Thelma) of the man who held title to him.

Her father considered his new son in law unreliable and entrusted David to get his daughter safely to her new home and manage ...

Article

Doram, Dennis  

Tom Stephens

farmer and businessman, was born at Indian Queen Tavern in Danville, Kentucky. Doram was a son of Lydia Barbee, a free black woman, who had been a slave of the Revolutionary War General Thomas Barbee. According to family tradition, Barbee was Doram's father and that of his siblings. Lydia and her six children were the first people mentioned in Barbee's will, which freed her and provided for the emancipation and education of the children.

When Boyle County, Kentucky, was formed in 1842 Doram was already a leading figure in the community and, by 1850, was considered “the wealthiest member of his race” in the county (Brown, 427). His business concerns included the local Caldwell School for Women and a rope factory, in addition to his growing and selling hemp. The county's 1850 tax list shows Doram as the owner of 215 acres along Dix River ...

Article

Dubois, Silvia  

Michael Berthold

backwoods legend, was born on Sourland Mountain, New Jersey, the daughter of Cuffy Baird, a Revolutionary War fifer who may have seen action at the battles of Trenton (1776) and Princeton (1777), and Dorcas Compton. Although they had different masters, both of Dubois's parents were slaves. Dubois may in part have inherited her own ferocious desire for freedom from her mother, who tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to buy her own freedom. Dubois was owned by Dominicus (Minna) Dubois, a strict yet accommodating master much more congenial to Silvia than was his wife, who beat Silvia badly. Aside from Dubois's memories of moving as a young girl to the village of Flagtown and as a teenager to Great Bend, Pennsylvania, where her master kept a tavern, little biographical information exists about her childhood.

An imposing physical presence the adult Dubois stood approximately 5 10 ...

Article

Henry, Thomas W.  

Sholomo B. Levy

minister and blacksmith, was born in Leonardtown, Maryland, the son of Jane and Thomas Henry, slaves of Richard Barnes, the largest slave owner in the district. It is thought that Henry's maternal grandmother, Catherine Hill, had been purchased by the Barnes family on a return trip from England and the Caribbean. Thomas's parents were domestic servants of the Barnes family, which owned tobacco plantations and other business interests. Before his death in 1804, Richard Barnes had stated in his will that his slaves were to be freed; one unusual stipulation he added that suggests a special closeness with these individuals was that the manumitted slaves take the name Barnes.

Thomas, however, did not gain his freedom until almost twenty years after his master's death, because John Thomson Mason a nephew of Richard Barnes and the executor of his estate exploited a growing number of ...

Article

Henson, Josiah  

Elizabeth Zoe Vicary

escaped slave and preacher, was born in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm owned by Francis Newman. As a child Henson frequently saw his parents abused and severely beaten. On one occasion, as a punishment for defending his wife, Henson's father was sentenced to a physical mutilation that left him permanently scarred. Although he was raised without religion, Henson was immediately converted to Christianity after his first exposure to it at a revivalist camp meeting. As a young boy, he was sold to Isaac Riley.

Because of his unusual strength and intelligence Henson was made superintendent of the farm at a young age He managed the plantation well doubling the annual crop production One day during an argument at a neighboring farm Henson defended his master in an argument with the other plantation s overseer In revenge the overseer and three of his slaves waylaid Henson one ...

Article

Horton, George Moses  

Joan R. Sherman

poet, was born in Northampton County, North Carolina, a slave of William Horton; the names of his parents are unknown. As a boy he moved with his master's household to Chatham County, where he tended cows on the farm. Horton's teenage pleasures, he later wrote, were “singing lively tunes” and “hearing people read” (Horton, iv), and he taught himself to read, first learning the alphabet from an old spelling book. He acquired an extraordinary vocabulary and the forms, topics, and styles of his verse from reading the New Testament, Wesley's hymnal, and books given to him by University of North Carolina (UNC) students.

In his early twenties, now the slave of William's son, James Horton, George avoided the manual labor he disliked by walking eight miles from the farm to Chapel Hill on weekends to sell fruit and his poems. From about 1830 on he hired ...

Article

Jai, Anna Madgigine  

Bethany Waywell Jay

slave, plantation mistress, and refugee, was born Anta Majigeen Ndiaye in Senegal during years of intense warfare and slave raids. While there is no conclusive evidence of Jai's lineage, legends in both Florida and Senegal suggest that she was a princess in Africa who was captured and sold into slavery after her father led an unsuccessful bid for power in the Wolof states of Senegal. While little is known of Jai's life before her arrival in Spanish Florida, historian Daniel Schafer suggests that she was one of the 120 Africans who survived the nightmarish Middle Passage from Africa to Cuba on board the Sally. In 1806 Jai was purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley a slave trader and planter from Florida From Cuba Jai sailed with Kingsley to his Laurel Grove plantation near what would later become Jacksonville Florida As the nineteenth century progressed Jai s life ...

Article

Johnson, James Collins  

Lolita K. Buckner Inniss

vendor, was born in Easton, Maryland, as the slave of Philip Wallis of Maryland. The names of Johnson's parents are unknown. Johnson is said to have run away in his early twenties, after having been sent on an errand for his master. Johnson first took a boat from Maryland and later a train. In 1839 he reached Princeton, New Jersey, where he was employed as a laborer and janitor in Nassau Hall in the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He had been known as James Collins in Maryland but called himself James Johnson once he reached Princeton.

In 1843 Johnson was recognized as an escaped slave and was seized and put on trial in Princeton as a fugitive slave The son of Johnson s owner Severn Teackle Wallis traveled from Maryland to claim Johnson The younger Wallis was later a well known lawyer politician provost of the ...

Article

Johnson, Nathan  

Kathryn Grover

abolitionist and entrepreneur, was born in circumstances that are unclear. One undocumented account states that he was born in Virginia; another, simply that he was born into slavery; a third, that he purchased his freedom. It is known that Johnson was in New Bedford on 24 October 1819, the day he married Mary (called Polly) Mingo Durfee Page, who was descended at least in part from the Fall River tribe of Wampanoag Indians.

In 1820 Polly Johnson was working in the home of Charles Waln Morgan, who in June 1819 had come from Philadelphia to New Bedford to marry Sarah Rodman and begin his career as a whaling industry merchant. Nathan Johnson's mother, Emily Brown, who lived with her son in 1850 and was buried with him in New Bedford, claimed to have been born in Philadelphia; so too did his brother Benjamin A ...

Article

Odrick, Alfred  

Leandi Venter, Hannah Heile, and Micaela Ginnerty

a former slave who helped facilitate the establishment of the first African American school in Virginia, which allowed for the formation of a thriving African American community bearing his name. Odrick was born into slavery and owned by the Coleman family of Dranesville, a district of Fairfax County located in northern Virginia. Little was documented about his life as a slave. However, it is known that immediately following his post–Civil War emancipation, Odrick moved to Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, Odrick employed his abilities as a carpenter, a trade he mastered during his enslavement. After his time in Chicago, Odrick returned to Virginia.

Once in Virginia, Odrick married “Maria” Annie Marie Riddle, who had also been born into slavery and had belonged to the Todd family of Difficult Run in northern Virginia. With Maria, Odrick started a family beginning with John, his eldest son, followed by Frank, Thadeus ...

Article

Roberts, Meshack “Shack” R.  

Sally Greene

Reconstruction politician, minister, and a founder of Wiley College, was born a slave, probably in Arkansas. According to J. Mason Brewer in Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (1935), Roberts was enslaved by O. B. Roberts of Upshur County, Texas. While his master served in the Confederate army, Roberts “was left at home to take care of the place, protect the property and the master's wife and family. He shod horses for the soldiers and others, and baked ginger cakes and sold them to help finance the upkeep of his master's home” (Brewer, 65–66). Roberts the “faithful slave” is memorialized in a 1964 historical marker in Upshur County; yet what the marker omits suggests that his outward docility may have been misleading. As Brewer further reports, in 1867 Roberts was whipped by the Ku Klux Klan and left for dead 66 Although more recent ...

Article

Tanner, Sarah Elizabeth  

Charles Rosenberg

founder, treasurer, vice president, and president of the Women's Parent Mite Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, sometimes known affectionately by her family as Sadie, was born Sarah E. Miller in Winchester, Virginia, where her parents were by state law considered the property of persons whose names are lost to history. Her life paralleled that of her husband, AME bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner, but reflected her own distinct service to church and community.

In 1843 her family escaped via the Underground Railroad, settling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she attended day school and Allegheny Institute, established by Reverend Charles Avery in 1849 as a school for young Americans of African descent (see Brown, 1988, and Verdino-Sullwold, 1991). Benjamin T. Tanner the freeborn son of a Pittsburgh river boatman also attended Avery working as a barber to pay his way before ...

Article

Truth, Sojourner  

Nell Irvin Painter

abolitionist and women's rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont's slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York State law in 1827, but she did not marry again.

In the year before her emancipation Isabella left her master Dumont of her own accord and went to work for the ...