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John Marinelli

teacher and abolitionist, said in a letter of protest to the Hartford Courant that he was born to enslaved parents, but their names are unknown. Slavery was not formally abolished in New York State until 1827, and the census of 1820 recorded 518 slaves in New York City. One source suggests that Africanus was born in New York City in 1822; it is possible that he may have been connected to the brothers Edward Cephas Africanus and Selas H. Africanus, who taught at a black school in Long Island in the 1840s. Africanus is now remembered only through his few published writings and journalistic documentation of his actions; the earliest records of his activity in Connecticut date from 1849 when he attended a Colored Men s Convention and a suffrage meeting His most notable publication was the broadside he created to warn Hartford African Americans about ...


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 ...


Maurice Jackson

Anthony Benezet was born to Huguenot parents in Saint-Quentin, Picardy, France. His father, Jean-Etienne Benezet, and his mother, Judith, had at least thirteen children, but more than half died at birth. The Protestant Huguenots had experienced a period of relative religious freedom lasting from the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes under Henry IV in 1598 until the revocation of the edict by Louis XIV in 1685, which led to renewed persecution by Catholics. JeanEtienne Benezet belonged to a Protestant group known as the Inspirés de la Vaunage, which descended from the Camisards, who had violently resisted religious persecution in the Cévennes Mountains of southern France. The Benezet family fled France for the Netherlands in 1715, then went to England, and finally settled in Philadelphia in 1731.

In 1735 Anthony Benezet was naturalized as a British subject, and on 13 May 1736 he married Joyce Marriott ...


Charles Rosenberg

school teacher and active shipping agent on the Underground Railroad, was born in Philadelphia to a prosperous mixed-race family with roots predating the American Revolution.

His grandfather, Cyrus Bustill, was the son of a slave-owning Quaker named Samuel Bustill, by an enslaved woman in Bustill's household. Born in Burlington, New Jersey, on 2 February 1732, Cyrus arranged after his father and owner's death to be apprenticed in a bakery, owned by another Quaker. He later purchased his freedom with the proceeds of his work, and then opened his own bakery. Cyrus Bustill's wife, Elizabeth Morrey, was the daughter of an Englishman and a Lenni Lenape woman, giving to their descendants an English, African, and Native American heritage. According to a family tradition, four years after his marriage in 1773, Cyrus delivered bread to George Washington's army at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777–1778 ...


Shirley J. Yee

educator, journalist, editor, and lawyer, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Abraham Doras Shadd and Harriet Parnell. Although she was the eldest of thirteen children, Mary Ann Shadd grew up in comfortable economic circumstances. Little is known about her mother except that she was born in North Carolina in 1806 and was of mixed black and white heritage; whether she was born free or a slave is unknown. Shadd's father was also of mixed-race heritage. His paternal grandfather, Jeremiah Schad, was a German soldier who had fought in the American Revolution and later married Elizabeth Jackson a free black woman from Pennsylvania Abraham Shadd had amassed his wealth as a shoemaker and his property by the 1830s was valued at five thousand dollars He was a respected member of the free black community in Wilmington and in West Chester Pennsylvania where the family had moved ...


Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Craft, Ellen (1826?–1891), abolitionist and educator, was born on a plantation in Clinton, Georgia, the daughter of Major James Smith, a wealthy cotton planter, and Maria, his slave. At the age of eleven Ellen was given by her mistress (whose “incessant cruelty” Craft was later to recall) as a wedding present to Ellen’s half sister Eliza on the young woman’s marriage to Robert Collins of Macon, Georgia. Ellen became a skilled seamstress and ladies’ maid, esteemed for her grace, intelligence, and sweetness of temper. In Macon she met another slave two years her senior, William Craft, to whom she was legally wed in 1846. William’s owner had mortgaged him to a bank and then later sold him to a bank cashier, who hired him out to a cabinetmaker.

Because the laws under which we lived did not recognize her to be a woman but a mere ...


Dana D. Nelson

William Craft authored Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860), which chronicled his escape with his wife Ellen from Georgia to Boston in 1848, and their subsequent move to London after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850).

The Crafts were heralded for the brazen method of their escape. The fair-skinned Ellen disguised herself as an invalid white man, and William posed as “his” servant. They simply, and quite publicly, rode the train from Macon, Georgia, to Philadelphia, where they revealed themselves to a local abolitionist.

As Blyden Jackson has observed (History of Afro-American Literature, 1989 the Craft story was convincing and therefore useful for abolitionism The narrative focuses mainly on the journey from Georgia to Philadelphia and then from Boston to London cultivating dramatic tension from its unsensational narrative style Craft expertly presents memorable characters such as the white gentleman ...


Barbara McCaskill

escaped slaves, abolitionists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and autobiographers, were born into slavery in antebellum central Georgia. William recalled little of his father and mother, who, along with a brother and a sister, were sold away “at separate times, to different persons” by his first master, a merchant named Craft (Craft, 8). Ellen was the daughter of Maria, a mixed-race slave, and James Smith, a white planter from Clinton, Georgia. Like her mother, Ellen was raised as a house servant until she was given, at age eleven, as a wedding present to her white half-sister Eliza, the wife of Robert Collins, a wealthy businessman and railroad builder in Macon, Georgia. While Ellen was serving as a lady's maid and seamstress in the Collins mansion, William was brought to Macon by a bank officer named Ira Taylor.

William was much in demand for his carpentry skills as his first master ...


David W. Blight

Frederick Douglass lived for twenty years as a slave and nearly nine years as a fugitive slave. From the 1840s to his death in 1895 he attained international fame as an abolitionist, editor, orator, statesman, and the author of three autobiographies that became classics of the slave narrative tradition. Douglass lived to see the Emancipation of the slaves during the Civil War and made a major contribution to interpreting the meaning of those epochal events. He labored for the establishment of black civil rights and witnessed their betrayal during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. He advocated women's rights long before they were achieved.

It took nearly a century after his death for Douglass s work to receive widespread attention in school curriculums and in the scholarly fields of literature and history With the flowering of African American history and culture in the 1960s and a greatly increased attention to slavery ...


Lisa Clayton Robinson

Sarah Mapps Douglass was born into a position of relative privilege for a nineteenth-century black woman, and she used her advantages to help other African Americans. Members of her family were prominent free blacks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and had a tradition of social activism. Through private tutoring Douglass received a better education than most women of her day, and in the 1820s she opened her own school for black children.

The school was supported in part by the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, which her mother had cofounded. As an active member of that group and the Philadelphia Female Literary Society, Douglass spoke out against both Southern slavery and Northern racism. She participated in the Anti-Slavery Conventions of American Women in 1837, 1838, and 1839 and was a contributor to the antislavery newspaper The Liberator Her closest friends in her abolitionist circles included the Forten sisters from ...


Julie Winch

abolitionist and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Robert Douglass Sr., a prosperous hairdresser from the island of St. Kitts, and Grace Bustill, a milliner. Her mother was the daughter of Cyrus Bustill, a prominent member of Philadelphia's African American community. Raised as a Quaker by her mother, Douglass was alienated by the blatant racial prejudice of many white Quakers. Although she adopted Quaker dress and enjoyed the friendship of Quaker antislavery advocates like Lucretia Mott, she was highly critical of the sect.

In 1819Grace Douglass and the philanthropist James Forten Sr. established a school for black children, where “their children might be better taught than … in any of the schools … open to [their] people.” Sarah Douglass was educated there, taught for a while in New York City, and then returned to take over the school.

In 1833 ...


Gerda Lerner

Born into a free black family in Philadelphia, she was reared in comfortable circumstances in a Quaker household. Her grandfather, Cyrus Bustill (1732-1806), was the son of his white owner and his female slave. A Quaker, Thomas Prior, bought him, taught him the baking trade, and freed him after seven years. Bustill baked bread for the Revolutionary Army and after the war moved to Philadelphia, where he prospered as a baker and built a house. He married Elizabeth Morey (Morrey), whose mother was a Native American. One of the couple’s children was Grace Bustill, mother of Sarah (1782-1842). Cyrus Bustill was active in the Philadelphia African American community and helped to found the Free African Society. After his retirement he opened a school.

Grace Bustill grew up as a member of the Society of Friends and married Robert Douglass, a barber. Robert Douglass ...


Alfreda S. James

teacher, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James Forten, a sailmaker and social reformer, and Charlotte Vandine, a Philadelphian of European, African, and Indian descent. Named after her paternal grandmother, Margaret Forten, Margaretta Forten was the oldest of eight surviving children, including Harriet Forten Purvis, Sarah Forten Purvis, Robert Bridges Forten, and James Forten Jr., who were all active in the antislavery movement. James Forten was a highly successful businessman, and his accomplishments offered Forten and her siblings unusual access to education and influence. She received advanced instruction from a private tutor, was a skilled artist, and most likely had reading knowledge of French. Her father's financial largess also gave her social connections and organizational shrewdness that helped her work among black and white reformers for nearly forty years.

In 1833 Forten was ...


Christopher M. Rabb

evangelical abolitionist, educator, minister, and “conductor” in the Underground Railroad, was born in Rahway, New Jersey.

A towering figure in nineteenth-century black civil rights circles on the East Coast and beyond, Amos Noë Freeman's words and deeds as a civic leader for nearly seventy years were rivaled only by the exemplary company he kept. His closest colleagues in the abolitionist movement included Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Theodore Dwight Weld, Henry Ward Beecher, Beriah Green, Gerrit Smith, Theodore Sedgwick Wright, Simeon Jocelyn, Archibald Grimké, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, and former Oneida Institute classmates Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, Amos G. Beman, and J. W. C. Pennington.

Little is known about Freeman s parentage or childhood including whether he was ever enslaved or indentured having been born in a state where the gradual abolition ...


Laine A. Scott

poet and teacher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Archibald Henry Grimké, an attorney and diplomat, and Sarah E. Stanley. Angelina's parents separated when she was very young, and she, an only child, was raised by her father. Her mother's absence undoubtedly contributed to Grimké's reverential treatment of maternal themes in her poetry, short stories, and especially her only published play, Rachel (1920). Her father dominated Grimké's life until his death in 1930. His continual insistence on her personal propriety and academic achievement seemed to inhibit his daughter's self-determination as much as it inspired her to make him proud of her.Growing up in Boston Grimké enjoyed a comfortable middle class life Her distinguished family name gave her certain advantages such as an education at better schools and frequent exposure to prominent liberal activists But as the daughter of a white woman ...


Eric Gardner

the first child of Hannah Francis and Charles Highgate, was born in Albany, New York. Census records for 1850 list her as living with her parents, three younger siblings, and a boarder in Albany’s Ward 6. Five years later, according to a New York State census, the family had moved to Syracuse. She grew up in a home on the edges of the black middle class; her father was a barber and, along with her mother, also kept a boardinghouse. The Highgates were deeply engaged in abolitionism and broader civil rights struggles and counted among their friends black activists like Jermain Loguen and Caroline Loguen and Henry Highland Garnet and Julia Garnet as well as white Unitarian activist Samuel Joseph May. Highgate attended Syracuse’s Plymouth Congregational Church, a largely white but also deeply anti-slavery body, and in 1861 she was one of the earliest African American students to graduate ...


Jessica M. Parr

Samuel Gridley Howe was born to a prominent Boston family. His father, Joseph Neals Howe, owned a rope-manufacturing company in this thriving port city. His mother, Patty Gridley, was renowned for her beauty. Howe entered the Boston Latin School at the age of eleven, graduating in 1818. At the age of seventeen he entered Brown University, the only one of the three Howe sons to attend college, owing to a decline in the family's financial situation.

Following Howe's graduation from Brown in 1821, he matriculated at the Harvard Medical School. After he completed his medical studies in 1824, his restless nature and democratic sensibilities led him to join the Greek army as a surgeon and soldier during the Greek war of independence. Howe returned to Boston in 1831, where he met a friend from his undergraduate days named John Dix Fisher. In 1829 Fisher ...


Sam Onyejindu Oleka

educator, civil rights activist, and politician, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, the second son of Captain Ralph Quarles and Lucy Jane Langston. Lucy Langston was Captain Quarles's part-Amerindian and part-black slave, whom he freed with her daughter Mary. Quarles, who died in 1833, left the greater portion of his personal wealth and property to his three sons. Charles Langston's younger brother, John Mercer Langston wrote that their father gave Charles a start in education that influenced him throughout life He had a weak body but was compensated with a firm mind and intellectual endowment Although he had a well controlled disposition and temper this did not come to him easily and naturally and he tended to be impetuous and aggressive He was restive under discipline and opposition yet resolutely obedient to the training his father gave him because he ...


Delano Greenidge-Copprue

Charles Henry Langston was born in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Captain Ralph Quarles, a white plantation owner, and Lucy Langston, one of his slaves. Langston's parents were open about their mixed-race relationship and did not allow public prejudice to get in the way of their children's education. In 1834 both Captain Quarles and Lucy Langston died, leaving their three sons in the hands of a family friend, William Gooch, who moved the children to Chillicothe, Ohio. The following year, Langston and his brother Gideon became the first African Americans enrolled in the preparatory department of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, renowned for its abolitionist fervor. In 1836 Langston left Oberlin's preparatory department and taught at African American schools in Chillicothe and Columbus, Ohio. Langston reenrolled at Oberlin in 1841 and completed his studies in 1843.

With his formal education concluded Langston became active in social ...


Richard J. Boles

minister, teacher, missionary, and abolitionist, was born free in New York City during the spring of 1793. His parents and the circumstances of his childhood are unknown. Around 1800 Levington relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he spent most of his adolescence and worked in the bookstore of Sheldon Potter. There he became a friend and protégé of Sheldon's brother, Alonzo Potter, who eventually became the Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania and who helped secure Levington's entry into the Protestant Episcopal ministry. In 1819 Levington moved to Albany, New York, under Potter's mentorship. Potter became a professor at Union College and he unofficially instructed Levington part-time there until he returned to Philadelphia in 1822 In Albany Levington was employed as a teacher in a school for African American children and he attended St Peter s Church It was likely through his teaching position that ...