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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 ...


Christopher Campbell

London‐born poet, printer, visionary, and ‘prophet against empire’. Over the course of his lifetime Blake confronted the horrors of slavery through his literary and pictorial art. He was able both to counter pro‐slavery propaganda and to complicate typical abolitionist verse and sentiment with a profound and unique exploration of the effects of enslavement and the varied processes of empire.

Blake's poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ from Songs of Innocence (1789 examines the mind forg d manacles of racial constructions in the minds of individuals both in the poem itself in the form of the black child and his white counterpart and also in the minds of those involved in the political dispute over abolition Seeming to explain a desire for racial acceptance and spiritual purity through assimilation into white British society and seeming also to be endorsing conventional assumptions of white racial superiority the poem ...


Sam Hitchmough

George Gordon Noel Byron was born in London, England, with a club foot, a deformity that is thought to have affected his personality, particularly his attitudes to certain issues such as those confronting the disadvantaged and the oppressed. His contemporaries included another famous poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, with whom he formed a close friendship. Byron's principal works include Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812–1818), a lengthy narrative poem, and the epic poem Don Juan (1819–1824). The Byronic hero was a central figure in the poet's work, a romanticized and idealized rebel who often opposed or resisted the prevailing social and religious institutions. Dying as a participant in the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire, Byron became a poet much admired by many in the American abolitionist movement. Frederick Douglass often referred to and quoted from Byron in his speeches urging resistance to the ...


Joy Elizondo

Domingos Caldas Barbosa was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to a white father, Antonio de Caldas Barbosa, and a black mother, whose identity remains unknown. From an early age Caldas received a Jesuit education. He showed a predilection for poetry and musical composition.

While still a young man Caldas was drafted into the military and sent to serve in the Portuguese colony of Sacramento on the Rio de la Plata. Subsequently, Caldas obtained his discharge, returned home to Brazil, and then boarded a ship bound for Portugal. He arrived in Lisbon in 1763 and shortly thereafter enrolled at the University of Coimbra. It is unclear at what point Caldas's university studies were discontinued, but author Jane M. Malinoff asserts that the young poet took leave shortly after learning of his father s death Unable to independently support the cost of his education Caldas recalled ...


Christopher Campbell

Northamptonshirepoet and labourer whose support for the Anti‐Slavery Movement was consistent with his consideration for the plight of the disfranchised within society. He corresponded with the literary editor and publisher Thomas Pringle secretary of the Anti Slavery Society on the subject of the colonial trade in trafficking humans I have a feeling on the broad principle of common humanity that slavery is not only impiety but disgracful to a country professing religion and there is evidence to suggest that Clare considered contributing to poetic anthologies on the subject He later utilized the language of abolition to describe his own wretched state in the asylum which he termed a slave ship from Africa While Clare expresses little condemnation for the machinery of imperialism as a system in the Blakean sense his account of meeting a black beggar outside St Paul s Cathedral London and his resolve to return with ...


Kimberly A. Sisson

poet, clubwoman, and political activist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the daughter of Mary Evans and Joshua T. Williams, whose occupation is now unknown. In 1870 the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Mary Evans opened a successful wig-making business that operated for over twenty years. Carrie Williams attended the first integrated school in Columbus; whether she pursued higher education is unknown, however it is known that during the 1880s she taught in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

In 1886, at the age of twenty-four, she married William H. Clifford, a two-term Republican state representative from Cleveland. They would have two sons. As part of the black middle class in Cleveland, Clifford and her husband socialized with other important black figures such as Charles W. Chesnutt and George A. Meyers. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois made frequent appearances in Cleveland joining the Cliffords ...


Roxanne Y. Schwab

writer and educator, was born in Dresden, Ontario, Canada, the fourth child of William and Nancy Newman. Little is known of her family, and the exact dates of her birth and death are unknown, but she was most likely born sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. As a young woman, she accompanied her father to the West Indies for missionary work, then returned to the United States when he became pastor of a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Following her father's death, she moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she looked after her invalid mother for thirteen months. Upon her mother's death, Lucretia Newman became the head of the household for her siblings. After her early education she completed a course of scientific study at Lawrence University in Appleton before finding work as a high school music teacher and as a clerk in a dry goods store.

In 1883 Coleman was ...


David Dabydeen

Englishpoet who wrote and lectured against slavery. Coleridge's first major poem was a Greek ode against the slave trade, which won him the Browne Gold Medal at Cambridge University. He was to write, ‘my Greek ode is, I think, my chef d’œuvre in poetical composition'. Coleridge was inspired by the anti‐slavery writings of Thomas Clarkson, and in the 1790s, along with his friend and fellow poet Robert Southey, began campaigning against the slave trade. During this period Coleridge actively lectured around England, particularly in the West Country and in Bristol, where he received his first audience. When Coleridge and Southey lived at Upper College Street, Bristol, in 1795 they were surrounded by neighbours who had either had significant seafaring careers or had been captains of slave ships One of them for instance was the captain of a ship that was bound for the Jamaican sugar ...


W. Farrell O'Gorman

author, teacher, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boardinghouse owner who was known as an avid reader, and Martha Vaughn. Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African heritage. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught her son to read and enrolled him in school. When he was eight, however, economic necessity forced him to drop out of school to begin work at various jobs, first in a brickyard, then in a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter's life.

The friendship of the prominent black Louisville educator William T. Peyton who sensed Cotter ...


David Dabydeen

Englishpoet who lent his pen to the anti‐slavery cause. Cowper was a supporter of international commerce, which he saw, idealistically, as the means by which mankind could share in God's bounty. In his poem Charity (1782), trade is described as ‘the golden girdle of the globe’, and Cowper writes of the ‘genial intercourse’ between nations effected by 18th‐century mercantile activity. The slave trader, however, betrays the principle of mutuality underpinning international commerce and brings shame to a Christian nation such as Great Britain (‘Canst thou, and honour'd with a Christian name | Buy what is woman‐born, and feel no shame?’). Religion apart, the slave trader also betrays the spirit of the age, its growing championing of liberty. To Cowper, the existence of slavery calls into question the very nature of humanity:

Then what is man? And what man, seeing this

And having human feelings does not blush ...


Erin D. Somerville

Englishpoet, philanthropist, and early voice of the abolition movement. Day was born in London and educated at Oxford, where he became influenced by the philosophy of Jean‐Jacques Rousseau. In 1773 he came across a newspaper account of the death of a slave who had committed suicide to save himself from a return to plantation labour. The story inspired Day and his friend John Bicknell to produce The Dying Negro (1773).

This long poem is written as a slave's suicide note to his future wife and can be read as a response to the previous year's Mansfield decision, which declared that no slave could be legally forced to return to labour against his or her wishes. The Dying Negro oscillates between a first hand account of slavery and comment on the slavery system The poem was a popular early vehicle for the abolition movement and ...



Jean Mutaba Rahier

In its Afro-Esmeraldian variant, décimas are oral poems generally composed and recited by older black men, decimeros, of the northwestern Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas—one of the two traditional black regions of the country. In contrast to the traditional ten-verse décima, Afro-Esmeraldian décima is composed of forty-four verses divided into five stanzas: one of four verses followed by four of ten. These oral poems have as their origin a written poetry that was quite popular during the Renaissance in Spain and in Europe called “the gloss” (la glosa The link between the two poetic genres is obvious when their formal structures are compared In both the Spanish gloss and the Afro Esmeraldian décima the first verse of the quatrain ends the first ten line stanza the second verse of the quatrain ends the second ten line stanza and so on until the fourth verse of the quatrain ...


Eric Gardner

poet and educator, was born Mary Weston in Charleston, South Carolina, to Furman Weston, a millwright, and Louisa Bonneau, a seamstress. Both parents were free African Americans. Furman Weston was the son of Mary Furman (Mary Furman Weston Byrd, who is eulogized in Fordham's collection of poetry) and John Weston. Furman Weston was part of the extended Weston family of free African Americans who owned land in the Charleston area and that included the noted clergyman Samuel Weston, a founder of Claflin University. Fordham's eulogy to Samuel Weston—which contains the figurative phrase “fond parent”—has misled scholars into assuming that he was actually her father. Louisa Bonneau's mother Jeanette Bonneau (also eulogized by Fordham) also owned land as a free African American in antebellum Charleston and was a daughter of Thomas Bonneau, a pioneering black educator. Mary had one sister, Jeanette who lived much ...


Nicola Cooney

Born in São José do Rio das Mortes (now Tiradentes), Brazil, of noble ancestors, José Basílio da Gama was orphaned at an early age. With the help of a benefactor, he was sent to the Jesuit College in Rio de Janeiro. The Jesuits were considered too independent by the Church in Rome and were being expelled from Brazil and Portugal. Their expulsion in 1759 interrupted Gama's studies at the Jesuit College, but he continued at the São José Episcopal Seminary.

Gama next moved to Italy and Portugal, where he lived and studied from 1760 to 1767. In Rome, he was accepted in the Arcadia Romana, home of the Arcadian movement in neoclassical literature, whose writers were particularly interested in exploring pastoral settings. The Arcadia Romana, founded in Rome in 1690, gave Gama protection from persecution and allowed him to write under the pseudonym Termindo Sipílio ...


Wallace Hettle

sailor, poet, Civil War soldier, and newspaper correspondent, first appears in the historical record in 1856 as a nineteen-year-old sailor on a whaling vessel out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. His birthplace is uncertain. His marriage certificate and seaman's papers say he was born in Troy, New York, yet no Gooding family appears in the census records for Troy. In Seneca, New York, a state census in 1850 records the presence of a James Goodin (with no final g who might have been Gooding s father and who probably worked as a rail or canal laborer in upstate New York Whatever Gooding s early background his education whether self directed or formal was exceptional The letters he published during the Civil War reveal his grounding in history and the classics If he did grow up in Troy Gooding received the benefits of membership in a black community ...


Lisa Clayton Robinson

Dear Master, I will follow thee,

According to thy word,

And pray that God may be with me,

And save thee in the Lord.

This stanza is from Jupiter Hammon's poem “A Dialogue Entitled the Kind Master and the Dutiful Servant,” published in 1786, when Hammon was in his seventies. Hammon had been a slave his entire life, and had served several generations of the Lloyd family on Long Island, New York. Many of his writings neither condemn, nor even mention, slavery; instead, they praise Christianity in the same manner as the evangelical hymns that were his models. But even when his words were not deliberately radical, they represented a radical act—Hammon became the first known African American to publish a piece of literature.

Hammon s owners were wealthy and the few records of his life with them indicate that he was a favorite servant who worked as a ...


Sondra O’Neale

Jupiter Hammon gave birth to formal African American literature with the publication of An Evening Thought, Salvation, by Christ, with Penitential Cries (1760). Hammon was born on 17 October 1711 at the Lloyd plantation in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. He was almost fifty years old when he published his first poem, “Salvation Comes by Christ Alone,” on 25 December 1760.

Hammon was a slave to the wealthy Lloyd family. It is evident that he received some education, and he was entrusted with the family's local savings and worked as a clerk in their business. There is no record of his having a wife or child.

By the time he was eighty, Hammon had published at least three other poems— “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly [sic], Ethiopian Poetess”, “A Poem for Children with Thoughts of Death”, and A Dialogue Entitled the Kind ...


David N. Gellman

In 1760 Jupiter Hammon became the first published African American poet. Over the next three decades Hammon's small assortment of published prose and poetry made him a literary pioneer. The native of Long Island, New York, explored themes and styles that would define African American literature from the American Revolution to the Civil War. His reputation has long been obscured by that of his more famous contemporary, Phillis Wheatley. Nonetheless, Hammon's work addresses crucial themes concerning religion, slavery, and African American literary self-expression.

Hammon spent his entire life as a slave He was the property of the Lloyds a wealthy merchant family that maintained an estate on the northern coast of Long Island Slaves were among the cargo the Lloyds carried between the West Indies and the Atlantic coast One scholar suggests that Hammon was the son of two Lloyd family slaves Rose whom the Lloyds had acquired from ...


Cassandra Jackson

poet, novelist, activist, and orator, was born Frances Ellen Watkins to free parents in Baltimore, Maryland. Her parents' names remain unknown. Orphaned by the age of three, Watkins is believed to have been raised by her uncle, the Reverend William Watkins, a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and a contributor to such abolitionist newspapers as Freedom's Journal and the Liberator Most important for Watkins her uncle was also the founder of the William Watkins Academy for Negro Youth where she studied A well known and highly regarded school the academy offered a curriculum included elocution composition Bible study mathematics and history The school also emphasized social responsibility and political leadership Although Watkins withdrew from formal schooling at the age of thirteen to begin work as a domestic servant her studies at the academy no doubt shaped her political activism oratorical skills ...


Joan R. Sherman

The “Colored Bard of North Carolina” was the only man to publish volumes of poetry while in bondage and the first African American to publish any book in the South. Born on the tobacco farm of William Horton in Northampton County, North Carolina, George Moses Horton moved with his master to Chatham and worked as a “cow-boy” and farm laborer throughout his teens. During these years he taught himself to read—he could not write until 1832—and began composing verses and hymns in his head. From about 1817 Horton took weekly Sabbath walks of eight miles to the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina to sell fruit soon winning the students admiration by composing love lyrics and acrostics to order He sold a dozen poems a week dictating them to the collegians who furthered their bard s education by giving him books of poetry geography history ...