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Article

ʿAbd al-Muʾmin  

Allen J. Fromherz

builder of the Almohad Empire and great Moroccan military leader and able administrator, led the Almohad movement for tawhid, absolute monotheistic unity, after the death of the Mahdi Ibn Tumart, the Almohad founder, in c. 1130. His full name was ʿAbd al-Muʾmin ibn ʿAli ibn ʿAlwi bin Yaʿla al-Kumi Abu Muhammad.

After defeating the Almoravid Empire at Marrakech, he established the administrative and military foundations of the Almohad state while securing a caliphal succession for his descendants, the Muʾminid dynasty. In a matter of decades ʿAbd al-Muʾmin and his followers transformed the Almohads from a vigorous but vulnerable ideological movement in the small Atlas Mountain town of Tinmal to one of the largest and most successful Islamic empires in North African and Andalusian history.

Effectively an outsider ʿAbd al Muʾmin s ancestry was different from the noble Masmuda ethnic groups that made up the core of the Almohad ...

Article

Cato the Elder  

Jonathan P. Roth

Roman military leader and politician, was born in Tusculum, a town southwest of Rome, to a wealthy landowning family. Some of his ancestors had distinguished themselves in military service, but none had ever held office in Rome or been members of the Senate. Cato’s father died when he was still a child, and he grew up on a farm he had inherited. One of his neighbors, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, belonged to a powerful Senatorial clan; he and Cato shared the idea that Rome’s traditional values were being undermined by the more sophisticated Hellenistic culture. Although both were about the same age, Flaccus became Cato’s patron, supporting him financially and politically.

Cato was seventeen when Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 BCE and like virtually every Roman male of his age he went to war Given his social class Cato probably served either in the legionary cavalry or as the commander of ...

Article

Cheswell, Wentworth  

Richard Alperin

teacher, coroner, scrivener, selectman, and justice of the peace, was born in New Market (now Newmarket), New Hampshire, the only child of Hopestill, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, housewright, and Catherine Cheswell. The name is sometimes spelled “Cheswill.” Wentworth's grandfather, Richard Cheswell, a black slave in Exeter, New Hampshire, purchased twenty acres of land from the Hilton Grant after he gained his freedom. The deed, dated 18 October 1716/17 (the discrepancy arises from the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar) is the earliest known deed in the state of New Hampshire showing land ownership by a black man. The land was located in what was to become the town of Newmarket. Richard's only child, Hopestill (1712–? became a housewright and worked mostly in Portsmouth He took part in building the John Paul Jones House as well as other important houses Hopestill was active in local affairs and ...

Article

Dabney, Austin  

Robert Scott Davis

Revolutionary War veteran, was born a slave in Wake County, North Carolina. Not much is known about Dabney's life before the war. Several factors made both slavery and freedom for African Americans especially peculiar institutions in the environment of Revolutionary War–era Georgia, from which Dabney emerged. Slaves were initially prohibited when the colony was founded in 1733. Ethnic groups such as the Continental Protestants at Ebenezer, known as Salzburgers, and the Highland Scots at Darien supported this prohibition until Georgia's trustees, under extreme public pressure, finally allowed slavery in 1749. The Quakers at Wrightsborough never allowed slavery among their membership. The supporters of the American Revolution in Darien issued a declaration against slavery as late as 1775 although this effort was not continued after the war The War of Independence created unusual circumstances for African Americans both those who were free and those who were slaves ...

Article

Flora, William  

Charles W. Jr. Carey

war hero and businessman, was born probably in the vicinity of Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of free black parents, whose names are unknown. On the eve of the American Revolution fewer than two thousand free blacks lived in Virginia. The colony's statutes forbade the manumission of slaves except those who exposed an incipient slave uprising. Consequently, William, who was known as “Billy,” was probably descended from Africans who arrived in Virginia before 1640, when blacks were treated like indentured servants rather than slaves.

Nothing is known about Flora's life prior to 1775, when he joined Colonel William Woodford's Second Virginia Regiment as a private He furnished his own musket suggesting that he had already earned the esteem of his white neighbors because the colony s statutes also barred free blacks from bearing arms and from serving in the militia He fought against British and Loyalist forces ...

Article

Fraunces, Samuel  

John Howard Smith

tavern owner and innkeeper in New York City and Philadelphia, was probably born in the French West Indies. There seems to be some controversy regarding his race, as his nickname, “Black Sam,” would indicate an African American identity, while some primary sources imply that he was either white or a Mulatto. Historians are generally agreed, however, that Fraunces was African American. Much of what is known about him comes from his 1785 petition for compensation from Congress for services rendered during the American War of Independence, letters from George Washington, and an obituary in the 13 October 1795 issue of the Gazette of the United States. He owned an inn in New York City in 1755 and the following year obtained a license to operate an ordinary which was a tavern serving meals as well as the usual ales and spirits At this time he was married ...

Article

Goyens, William  

Charles Rosenberg

was the first African American and perhaps the first of any color to become a millionaire in Texas. His life reflects substantial changes in the social and legal implications of skin color from the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteeth century, distinct from, but closely related to, changes in the institution of slavery.

His father was a “free colored” man named William Goyens Sr. (or Goin), born in 1762, who enlisted in a company of the Tenth North Carolina Regiment May 1781–May 1782 for the Revolutionary War. After discharge from the militia, Goyens Sr. married an unknown woman referred to as “white,” who was the mother of the younger William Goyens. Goyens Sr. then remarried a colored woman named Elizabeth in 1793. Goyens Sr. received an invalid pension for North Carolina militia service in 1835, at the age of seventy-two (Research of Cindy Goins Hoelscher ...

Article

Hamilcar, Barca  

Jonathan P. Roth

Carthaginian military leader and politician was one of Carthage s greatest generals and the father of the famous Hannibal It has been suggested that Hamilcar s family came from Cyrene modern day Libya and that they were part of the landed nobility but we know next to nothing about his personal background not even the names of his father and mother Hamilcar was a child when the First Punic War broke out in 264 but would have been of military age when a Roman army invaded Africa in 256 He might have fought in this campaign and may also have seen service in Sicily in the late 250s and early 240s It seems likely that by this time he had become an officer in the navy since in 247 he was given command of the entire Carthaginian fleet in Sicily After launching a successful raid on southern Italy with this ...

Article

Hannibal  

Jonathan P. Roth

Carthaginian military leader and politician, was born in Carthage, in what in now Tunisia, the son of Hamilcar Barca, an important Carthaginian general. Although we know a great deal about his military career, few details of his personal life survive. Several stories about Hannibal’s youth are related in ancient sources, but these must be taken with a grain of salt. One, related by the historian Livy, has a young Hannibal asking his father to take him on campaign to Spain. Hamilcar agrees but insists that his son swear eternal hostility for Rome. In any case, it is true that Hamilcar took his nine- or ten-year-old son to Spain. After Hamilcar’s death in 229 or 228, the eighteen-year-old Hannibal served as an officer in the army commanded by his brother-in-law Hasdrubal.

Around 226 Hannibal married Imilce the daughter of the king of Castulo a town in south central Spain According to ...

Article

Hull, Agrippa  

Sarah J. Purcell

Revolutionary War soldier, was born free in Northampton, Massachusetts, of unknown parentage. He was taken to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, at the age of six by Joab, an African American former servant to Jonathan Edwards. When Hull was eighteen years old, in May 1777, he enlisted to fight in the Revolutionary War as a private in General John Paterson's brigade of the First Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental army. Free blacks had been allowed by the Continental Congress to enlist in the army since January 1776, but each unit commander determined whether or not he would accept African American recruits.

Hull served as General Paterson's personal orderly for two years. He then attended General Tadeusz Kosciuszko the Polish volunteer in the American cause as an orderly for four years and two months As an orderly Hull performed a variety of personal and military duties for the ...

Article

Jawhar al-Siqilli  

Christine D. Baker

Fatimid general and administrator of Egypt, was born Jawhar b. ʿAbd Allah. His origins are obscure, but his epithets of al-Saqlabi (“the Slav”), al-Siqilli (“the Sicilian”), and al-Rumi (“the Greek”) shed some light on his possible ancestry. His date of birth is unknown, but is estimated to have been in the early tenth century. Although still debated, scholars believe that he was a Fatimid freedman of Slavic origin. His father, ʿAbd Allah, was likely a Fatimid slave.

Jawhar appears to have begun his career in the Fatimid dynasty as a ghulam or soldier or as the secretary of the third Fatimid caliph al Mansur r 946 953 However Jawhar rose to preeminence under the tenure of the fourth Fatimid caliph al Muʿizz li Din Allah r 953 975 who selected him to lead a campaign to dominate the western half of North Africa This campaign was exceedingly difficult and ...

Article

Julius Alexander, Tiberius  

Duane W. Roller

Roman magistrate and military commander of equestrian rank, was from a distinguished family in Alexandria that had come to prominence in the early Julio-Claudian period: his father was renowned for his wealth and was on the staff of Antonia, the mother of the emperor Claudius; his uncle was the famous scholar and political leader Philo of Alexandria; and his sister married the son of King Herod, Agrippa I. Tiberius was probably born around 20 CE. His first known appointment was as epistrategos of the Thebais In 42 CE he joined in setting up a relief at the temple at Dendara which had long been associated with the Ptolemies and the Roman administration this raises the question of whether he converted to paganism It is more probable that as a Roman official in multicultural Egypt he was exposed to various cultural norms and like other famous Jewish leaders of the ...

Article

Julius Caesar  

Duane W. Roller

was one of the most important military and political figures of Roman history—indeed, of world civilization. His brilliant and complex career is not the subject of this brief biography, which focuses on the last four years of his life, when he was heavily involved in the fortunes of Africa.

By 48 BCE Caesar at fifty two years of age was at the peak of his career He had been involved in Roman politics since the 70s BCE and had served throughout Roman territory He had reached the consulship in 59 BCE and had spent most of the following decade establishing a Roman presence in Gaul Yet continued internal instability within Rome had resulted in increasing polarization between him and his old political colleague now rival Gnaeus Pompeius Pompey the Great who consolidated power in the city while Caesar was effectively exiled in Gaul Realizing that political oblivion or worse awaited ...

Article

Lafayette, James Armistead  

Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf

slave and Revolutionary War spy, was born James Armistead, a slave belonging to the planter William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. Nothing is known of his parents, but it is reasonable to assume that William Armistead also held, at least at some point, James's mother and possibly his father as slaves. James Armistead was a skilled worker whom William Armistead employed in his Richmond offices apparently in a clerical capacity. During the Revolutionary War, William Armistead served as a military supply officer, with James Armistead accompanying him as a body servant. Later William Armistead was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

James Armistead accompanied William Armistead to Richmond in the summer of 1781 while William was fulfilling his duties as the commissary of military supplies to the Continental army. American forces, led by the French Marquis de Lafayette, and British troops led by Lord Cornwallis ...

Article

Marius, Gaius  

Duane W. Roller

Roman consul and general, was born in the vicinity of Arpinum, southeast of Rome. In 134 BCE he took part in the war against the Keltiberians in Spain and was present at the siege of Numantia, which established Roman control in the region. At this time, he made the acquaintance of the Roman ally Jugurtha, prince of Numidia and grandson of the famous Massinissa.

Over the next twenty five years Marius s fortunes steadily increased both militarily and politically he led campaigns in Asia and Spain and then rose to the rank of praetor in 115 BCE Yet instability in the Numidian kingdom led to Roman involvement Jugurtha who had become king in 118 BCE had reacted against the claims of his brothers by killing one of them which caused the other to flee to Rome The king himself was summoned to the city and a Roman commission divided the ...

Article

Mongoula, Nicolas  

David Wheat

master mason, militia captain, and property owner in colonial Mobile, Alabama, was a prominent free black man whose last name meant “my friend” in Mobilian Jargon, a major Native American pidgin used throughout the region during his lifetime. His first name used the French spelling “Nicolas.”

Born in roughly 1720 according to his burial record, the exact place and date of Mongoula's birth are unknown. Nor is much certain about his parentage. He was possibly one of two children named “Nicolas” born the same year to enslaved black mothers in Mobile, which is now a port city of Alabama but which in the colonial era changed hands among France, Great Britain, and Spain. Just as little is known of Nicolas Mongoula's early life; how he came to be identified—and to identify himself—with Mobilian Jargon remains unresolved.

This pidgin also known as the Mobilian Trade Language was used ...

Article

Nickens, James  

Karen E. Sutton

free black veteran of the American Revolution, was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, to Elizabeth Nicken, a free woman, and an unnamed father. Early in life James indentured himself to Edward Ingram until his thirty-first birthday (1768). In 1776James Nickens may have moved in with his cousin, John Nickens, to establish himself. He was finally on his own when he decided to join the war effort.

Nickens served first as a seaman in the Virginia state navy. Since African Americans dominated the water professions, it was natural that many, including Nickens, chose to serve on the water during the war. Perhaps he heard about hostile British ships entering the Chesapeake Bay and threatening Virginia waters in January 1777. Enlisting in the navy on 19 July 1777, Nickens served three years on board the Revenge and the Hero There he helped perform the ...

Article

Ranger, Joseph  

Sarah J. Purcell

Revolutionary War seaman, was born probably in Northumberland County, Virginia, to parents whose names are unknown. It is not known whether Ranger was a free black or a runaway slave. He probably worked as a seaman in Northumberland County and Elizabeth City County before the Revolutionary War. In the early eighteenth century Virginia's waters were sailed extensively by free blacks and slaves, who also worked in the colony's two shipyards. Despite long-standing concern among the elite in the South about arming even free blacks for fear of inciting slave revolts, the maritime experiences of Virginia's blacks made them prime candidates for enlistment in the state navy, just as many black seamen served in the Continental navy.

Ranger enlisted in the Virginia navy in 1776 one of many blacks who served on racially mixed naval crews Ranger served in the Virginia navy for eleven years the longest recorded term ...

Article

Sash, Moses  

William E. Burns

soldier and rebellion participant, was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts, the son of Moses Sash and Sarah Colley, free blacks who were listed as “molatoes” in the church record of their marriage. Moses Sash the younger served in the American Revolution, enlisting on 17 August 1777 in Colonel Ruggles Woodbridge's regiment and serving until 29 November 1777. His unit saw action at the battle of Saratoga. On 17 April 1781 Sash reenlisted for a term of three years as part of the quota of men assigned to the town of Cummington, Massachusetts. He was a private in the Seventh Regiment of Lieutenant Colonel John Brooks, serving mostly in the area of West Point, New York.

Sash played a significant role in the western Massachusetts uprising of 1786 and early 1787 led by Captain Daniel Shays over matters of debt taxation and the feeling of western Massachusetts ...

Article

Savary, Charles Joseph  

Caryn Cossé Bell

military officer, was born into an influential family of free persons of African descent in the city of Saint-Marc in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (later Haiti). He married the Saint-Marc native Marie Charlotte Lajoie, and the couple had at least two sons, Belton and Bertile Savary. The family fled their native land during the Haitian Revolution and eventually emigrated to New Orleans in a massive Saint-Domingue refugee movement in 1809 and 1810 that nearly doubled the size of the city.

Charles Joseph Savary s life spanned the American French and Haitian revolutions and because of the tumultuous age in which he lived the facts related to his history are scarce fragmentary and sometimes contradictory Part of the problem also stems from circumstances that forced Savary to conceal his identity In Saint Domingue s repressive three caste society and in slave regimes throughout the Americas free men ...