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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 ...

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Jacob Andrew Freedman

soldier, minister, and social activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the youngest of the six children of Levi Allensworth and Phyllis (maiden name unknown), slaves of the Starbird family. The Starbirds were respected members of the community and were partners in Wilson, Starbird, and Smith, a wholesale drug company based in Louisville. Levi died when Allen was an infant. Phyllis's other five children either had been sold down the Mississippi River or had escaped to Canada. Phyllis hoped that Allen could “even if partly educated, win his freedom” (Alexander, 9). Believing that God would play a role in his redemption as well, Phyllis named Allen after Richard Allen, the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. In Allen Allensworth's early years he was given to Thomas Starbird, Mrs. Starbird's son, as a companion.

When Thomas was sent to school Allensworth s ...

Article

Bilali  

Allan D. Austin

Muslim leader and plantation manager, was born in Africa, sold into slavery, and transported to the Bahamas and then to Sapelo Island, Georgia. His name is also given as Bilali Mahomet and Bul‐Ali. Almost nothing is known about Bilali's life in Africa, but his fellow Fula or Peul (originally Malian) friend, Salih Bilali, who was enslaved on the neighboring island of Saint Simons, said that Bilali came from the village of Timbo, in Futa Jallon (later Guinea). This was an important Muslim educational and political community and the homeland of another Fula, Ibrahima abd al‐Rahman, who was enslaved in Mississippi. Bilali's strict adherence to Muslim ways and the book he wrote in Arabic show that he paid attention to his teachers in Africa. In the Bahamas Bilali married at least one of his four known wives before being brought to Georgia around 1802 He had a ...

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Barbara A. White

prosperous businessman, whaling captain, and community leader, whose court case against Nantucket led to the integration of the public schools, was a member of one of the largest and most influential black families on the island. His father was Seneca Boston, a manumitted slave, who was a self‐employed weaver. His mother was a Wampanoag Indian named Thankful Micah. They had four sons and one daughter. Absalom Boston, the third‐born, went to sea, as did many of Nantucket's young men, signing onto the whale ship Thomas in 1809 when he was twenty‐four. Little is known about his early education. Anna Gardner, in her memoir Harvest Gleanings, mentions him visiting her family and hints that it may have been her mother, Hannah Macy Gardner, who taught the young man to read.

Shortly before he went to sea, Boston married his first wife, Mary Spywood about whom little is ...

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Charles Rosenberg

was born in Charles City County, Virginia, the son of Abraham Brown, and his wife Sarah Brown. (The elder Abraham Brown called himself “Abraham Brown, Jr.” in a 1789 will, but Abraham Brown, Sr. was his uncle, not his father). The Browns were descended from William Brown, born around 1670, sometimes referenced in Virginia court records as “William Brown Negro.” Arthur Bunyan Caldwell, in History of the American Negro and his institutions, briefly refers to the family history being traceable back to England, but provides no details.

The Browns had been free for over a century, and many had owned enough property to be taxable, when Abraham Brown was born. Several had owned title to enslaved persons; Abraham owned three in 1810. His father at various times owned both slaves and indentured servants, including one John Bell, indentured in 1771 Abraham Brown Jr ...

Article

Frank L. Green

pioneer, farmer, and cattleman, was born probably in Pennsylvania or Louisiana. His mother was Scotch-Irish, his father perhaps West Indian. He may have been born as early as 1770, but that would have made him seventy-four years old by the time that he came to Oregon in 1844. Oral tradition among the family gives his birth year as 1779.

Bush was a successful cattle trader in Missouri beginning around 1820, and he became quite wealthy. In 1831 he married Isabella James, a German woman; they had five children. Because Missouri was not well disposed toward people of color, Bush took the opportunity to travel west in a wagon train led by Michael T. Simmons of Kentucky.

Bush found Oregon only a little more tolerant than Missouri The provisional government voted to exclude blacks and to whip those who would not leave but the legislation was ...

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Fiona J. L. Handley

slave, agriculturalist, and head of a dynasty, was probably born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, near what was then the border between Spanish Texas and French Louisiana, although it is possible that she was born in Africa and came to Louisiana as a young child. Her name definitely originated in Africa, but no convincing argument has been made that traces it to one particular location. She was baptized in 1742 as the slave of Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the founder of Natchitoches which was the first permanent settlement in Louisiana. In 1756 she was inherited by the widow of St. Denis, and then became the property of the widow's son, Pierre Antoine de St. Denis Jr., in 1758, ending up the slave of the de Soto family. Between 1761 and 1766 she had three black children—Marie Thérèze Don Manuel, Françoise, and Jean Joseph In ...

Article

Donald R. Wright

Atlantic trader and early African colonizationist, was born on Cuttyhunk Island off southern Massachusetts, one of ten children of Kofi (later Cuffe) Slocum, a freed slave originally from West Africa's Gold Coast, and Ruth Moses Slocum, a Wampanoag Native American, both farmers. Kofi Slocum's Quaker master freed him in the mid-1740s and, although he was excluded by race from membership in the Society of Friends, Kofi and Ruth Slocum lived by Quaker principles—hard work, frugality, and honesty. This diligence paid off in the 1766 purchase of a 116-acre farm in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, on Buzzard's Bay. At his death in 1772 Kofi bequeathed the farm to his sons Paul and John.

Taking his father s African name Cuffe and respecting his dual Native American and African American identity the self educated Cuffe sought his fortune at sea Whaling was open to men of any race so Paul worked on Atlantic ...

Article

Kathryn L. Beard

soldier, sailor, and shipbuilder during the War of Independence, was born free in the British colony of St. Kitts of mixed race parentage. Little is known about his early life. Prior to adulthood he became literate, fluent in French and English, and he trained as a skilled craftsman in building dwellings and ships. As a free person of color in one of the older sugar colonies, he would have benefited from an increasing emigration of whites and, by 1745, a plantation system characterized by a high level of absenteeism by white landowners. These factors contributed to the growth of a small colored elite, financed largely by credit given by white relatives but still facing legal and de facto discrimination. For example, until 1830 the laws of St Kitts prohibited free people of color from attending the colony s few public schools although they paid taxes to ...

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Fiona J. L. Handley

freed slave and successful landowner, was either born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in the very earliest days of the French colony, or he arrived there as an enslaved young adult. Because his name, Doclas (sometimes spelled Docla) is not French, it is presumed to have an African origin.

Doclas was baptized into the Catholic Church as an adult slave of the white French Derbanne family on 26 September 1737. Three days later, he married Judith, another slave owned by the family. Little is known of Doclas's years as a slave, although he probably served the Derbannes in many capacities. When the Spanish acquired Louisiana from France in 1763 the Derbannes s prominence in trade and local government disappeared with their connections to colonial authorities so they switched to agriculture Nicholas probably worked in the tobacco fields for which the area was famous The Derbannes eventually rewarded Doclas s ...

Article

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

Ann T. Keene

frontiersman and interpreter, was known as “Teat,” or the Wasicun Sapa (Black White Man), among the Sioux of Dakota Territory. Nothing is known of his life before he entered the territory as a young man around 1850. He is thought to have been an escaped slave who fled to the wilderness to avoid capture. Sioux tribal history records his presence in their midst from that date. He became known to white settlers in 1865, by which time he had become fluent in the Sioux dialect. About this time he married a Sioux woman and built a log cabin near Fort Rice, in Dakota Territory, not far from present-day Bismarck, North Dakota. For a while he earned a living cutting wood for the fort and for a trading firm, Durfee and Peck.

In November 1865 Dorman was hired by the U S Army to carry the ...

Article

Richard C. Lindberg

explorer and merchant, was born in San Marc, Haiti, the son of a slave woman (name unknown) and Dandonneau (first name unknown), scion of a prominent French Canadian family active in the North American fur trade. Surviving historical journals record the name of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable (Pointe au Sable by some accounts), a Haitian of mixed-race ancestry, as the first permanent settler of Chicago. In her 1856 memoir of frontier life in the emerging Northwest Territory, Juliette Kinzie, the wife of the fur trader John Kinzie makes note of the fact that the first white man who settled here was a Negro Several of the voyageurs and commercial men who regularly traversed the shores of southern Lake Michigan in the last decade of the eighteenth century kept accurate records of their encounters in journals and ledger books One such entry describes du Sable as a ...

Article

Monte Hampton

preacher, shoemaker, and founder of the world's third oldest African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, was born in Charles City County, Virginia. Little is known of his parents, upbringing, or eventual marriage.

En route to Charleston in the 1780s Evans arrived in Fayetteville, North Carolina. According to William Capers, a Methodist bishop, Evans stayed in Fayetteville because “the people of his race in that town were wholly given to profanity and lewdness, never hearing preaching of any denomination, and living emphatically without hope and without God in the world.” Evans's initial efforts to instruct slaves in the vicinity of Fayetteville met with stout resistance from whites. Fearing that his preaching would incite sedition and insurrection, white officials jailed him. Eventually released, Evans continued his evangelistic efforts at clandestine meetings in the sand hills outside of town.

Evans's persistence paid off. By 1802 the public morals of the negroes ...

Article

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

Heather Miyano Kopelson

mariners, were born free in Bermuda, probably to John Force, a cooper, and possibly to Ann. As part of the tiny free black population in the British colony, the Forces were unusual because of their free status, but their maritime occupation, their birthplace, and the uncertainty of their genealogy were not. Most Bermudan men, black and white, were involved in maritime trades. By the mid-seventeenth century the majority of enslaved and free Africans in Bermuda had been born on the island. Nothing specific is known about the brothers' early life.

In 1688 the lieutenant governor of Bermuda, Robert Robinson, claimed that while Nathaniel and Daniel Force had been born free, they had become “slaves to his Majestie during their life time,” and he authorized John Welch, master of the ketch Bachelor of Boston to sell the brothers Massachusetts Archives Collection 9 119 Massachusetts State Archive ...

Article

Julie Winch

businessman and social reformer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Forten, a freeborn sailmaker, and Margaret (maiden name unknown). James's parents enrolled him in the African School of abolitionist Anthony Benezet. When James was seven, his father died. Margaret Forten struggled to keep her son in school, but he was eventually forced to leave at age nine and work full time to help support the family. His family remained in Philadelphia throughout the American Revolution, and Forten later recalled being in the crowd outside the Pennsylvania State House when the Declaration of Independence was read to the people for the first time.

In 1781, while serving on a privateer, Forten was captured by the British and spent seven months on the infamous prison ship Jersey in New York harbor.

After a voyage to England in 1784 as a merchant seaman Forten returned ...

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Jeffry D. Schantz

tanner and bookbinder, was born in Africa and brought to the colonies as a slave while very young. Nothing is known of Fortune's parentage, birth, or early years. It is thought that he arrived in America around 1725, but little is known of his life in the colonies prior to the mid-1700s. Ichabod Richardson of Woburn, Massachusetts, purchased Fortune around 1740, kept him as a slave apprentice, and taught him the art of tanning. In December 1763 Richardson drafted a “freedom paper” granting Fortune's freedom but died without signing it. Fortune remained a slave of the Richardson family until 1770, when a valid article of manumission signed by Ichabod's sister-in-law, Hannah, secured his freedom.

Remaining in Woburn for several years, Fortune purchased a small homestead from Isaac Johnson in 1774 and continued to run the Richardsons tannery During his Woburn years Fortune married twice ...

Article

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 ...

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Donovan S. Weight

entrepreneur, pioneer, and town founder, was born near the Pacolet River in Union County, South Carolina, the son of an enslaved woman named Juda. His paternity is a bit murky, but most evidence points to his owner George McWhorter. Little information exists about the West African–born Juda other than that she had been a slave to the McWhorters since 1775. Oral family tradition holds that although George McWhorter sent Juda to the woods with orders to kill the baby at birth, Juda protected Frank, preserved him, and brought him home alive the next morning. The boy who would become Free Frank spent his-formative years learning how to farm in the backwoods country of South Carolina. At eighteen Frank moved with his owner to a temporary homestead in-Lincoln County, Kentucky. In 1798 George McWhorter bought some farmland in newly formed Pulaski County Kentucky In ...