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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 ...


Asher, Gad  

Lance Johnson

slave and soldier of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, was born in Guinea, Africa, to unknown parents. At age four, he was taken from his family and shipped along the Middle Passage to America, to be sold into slavery. He landed in Connecticut's Branford Harbor, a popular center of the slave trade because of its commercial ties to the West Indies. He was purchased by a man named Titus Bishop, a North Branford farmer, for forty pounds. It was Bishop who gave him the name “Gad.” Despite Branford's ties to slavery, there were few other slaves living in the town. The total population of blacks, slaves or free, numbered close to fifty until after the year 1800.

In 1775 as the Revolutionary War was just beginning Bishop gave Asher a proposition If Asher would serve in Bishop s place in the Continental Army the former would ...


Baker, Brister (Bristol)  

Kane Cross

was possibly born in Connecticut, but other than that he was born into slavery, nothing is known about his parents or his early years. Baker enlisted to fight in the Revolutionary War on 24 May 1777, in the town of New Haven. His name appears as both Bristol and Brister in multiple documents, presumably due to his being a slave before enlisting in the army. His discharge papers list the name as Brister.

Baker served during the years 1777–1783 until he was discharged in 1783; his discharge letter was signed and approved by General George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army, and does not indicate that he was a black soldier. It seems Connecticut recruiters had a difficult time bringing in soldiers, because by March 1777 Brigadier General Samuel Parsons reported that of the nine Connecticut regiments only two had 250 men far short of the ...


Barbadoes, James G.  

Roy E. Finkenbine

was an abolitionist and community activist. Nothing is known of the circumstances of his birth, early life, or education, although his surname may indicate West Indian origins.

Barbadoes emerged as an important figure in the small but influential African American community in Boston's West End by the mid-1820s. From 1821 to 1840 he operated a barbershop in Boston. He was a prominent member of the African Baptist Church and of African Lodge #459, the preeminent black fraternal organization in the nation. An amateur musician applauded for both his vocal and his instrumental talents, he performed regularly before local audiences. But he was best known as an “indefatigable political organizer.”

In 1826 Barbadoes joined with the controversial essayist David Walker and several others to organize the Massachusetts General Colored Association MGCA which over the next few years led local protests corresponded with race leaders throughout the North supported the emerging ...


Blackwell, Ed  

Nathaniel Friedman

jazz drummer, was born Edward Joseph in New Orleans, Louisiana, to unknown parents. He grew up steeped in his hometown's musical tradition, influenced by two tap‐dancing siblings to take up the drums. New Orleans percussionists like Paul Barbarin were Blackwell's earliest models, making him one of several future avant‐gardists whose roots were in jazz's oldest traditions.

In 1951 Blackwell relocated to Los Angeles, where he played in the rhythm and blues outfits of Plas and Raymond Johnson. More significantly he made the acquaintance the saxophonist Ornette Coleman with whom he would be associated for his entire career Coleman also working with various degrees of success in the Los Angeles rhythm and blues scene sought to introduce an unprecedented degree of melodic harmonic and rhythmic freedom into jazz This new approach required an almost telepathic bond between band members as interaction was governed by little more than improvisational ingenuity In ...


Boen, William  

Darshell Silva

a Quaker, was born a slave near Rancocas, New Jersey, and was sometimes known as William Bowen or “Heston.” His owner treated him well, and Boen was allowed to learn to read and write. As a boy, Boen was afraid of dying during an Indian attack because of all of the stories circulating among the neighbors about others that were killed by Indians. Whenever he worked in the woods alone, he was on constant guard for Indian arrows. He felt he was not yet ready to die until he accepted what was within him that made him do good and reject evil, as the Quakers he was growing up around had done. The Society of Friends is a Christian sect founded by George Fox in 1660 that rejects formal sacraments a formal creed priesthood and violence They are also known as Quakers and are recognized by their plain speech ...


Brown, Abraham  

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 ...


Brown, James  

Glenn Allen Knoblock

a sailor during the War of 1812, served with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie. A native of Maryland, Brown was a free man and resident of Somerset, Pennsylvania, when he married his wife Elizabeth, also from Maryland, in April 1812. Although details are lacking, Brown may have served in a local militia unit in 1812–1813 before being sent to serve in Perry's newly formed Lake Erie squadron in the spring of 1813. When Perry arrived at Erie, Pennsylvania, to finalize the construction of the twenty-gun brigs Lawrence and Niagara the mainstays of his fleet he found that he was severely lacking in manpower and requested more men from his superior Commodore Isaac Chauncey After some dispute and delay a disappointed Perry finally received 150 men commenting that The men that came are a motley set blacks Soldiers and boys Altoff ...


Brown, Robert  

Glenn Allen Knoblock

a soldier and sailor during the War of 1812, was born in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the war he likely served in a Pennsylvania militia regiment, but sometime after March 1813 he was sent for duty at sea aboard the Lake Erie squadron under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry. Short on manpower during the outfitting of his fleet at Erie, Pennsylvania, including the twenty-gun brigs Lawrence and Niagara, Perry was forced to plead with his superior, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, to send him more men. After much wrangling, Chauncey finally sent Perry 150 men in two separate drafts, including African Americans Robert Brown, Jesse Walls, and James Brown Unfortunately Perry was unhappy with the caliber of the men he received complaining to Chauncey that The men that came are a motley set blacks Soldiers and boys I cannot think that you saw them after they ...


Collins, Hannibal  

Glenn Allen Knoblock

a sailor during the War of 1812, fought in the Battle of Lake Erie with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Little is known about Collins's personal life although it is possible he was born into slavery in Newport, Rhode Island, or the surrounding area. As of the 1790 Census there were still over nine hundred slaves in the state, which pursued a policy of gradual emancipation after 1784. Hannibal may have been a slave for less than a decade of his life, although this is not certain. The 1810 Federal Census does detail two white Collins families in Newport that either owned slaves or had black persons residing in their household; the entry for John Collins details just one person of color in his household, whereas that of Job Collins details seven Although not specifically identified as such these individuals may have been slaves However the same census ...


Doclas, Nicholas  

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 ...


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 ...


Duplex, Prince, Jr.  

Charles Rosenberg

the son of a Revolutionary War veteran of the same name, was born in Wolcott, Connecticut, and served as the first clerk of the African Ecclesiastical Society in New Haven. Although sparse and sometimes conflicting accounts in published literature have confounded records of the father and son, recently genealogical research in Tompkins County, New York, has clearly identified and distinguished the two from original records.

On 18 July 1756 “Prince, the negro servant child of Samuel Riggs & Abigail his wife” was baptized, according to church records in Derby, Connecticut. Although the word “slave” was not routinely used during that period, he was a servant “for life,” valued at £50, and was inherited at Rigg's death by his daughter Abigail, married to a Reverend Mr. Chapman. Duplex enlisted 18 May 1777 in one of the Connecticut regiments commanded by Colonel Sherman and Colonel Giles Russell formed to fight ...


Duplex, Prince, Sr.  

Charles Rosenberg

one of at least 289 people of African descent who enlisted in the Connecticut Line during the American Revolutionary War, was born in Southington, Connecticut, where by the laws of that time he was the property of Samuel Riggs, a status inherited from his mother. He was baptized on 18 July 1756. Historical sketches published in 1875 mention that he had a brother named Peter, whose later life is unknown.

Prince's mother and father were later assigned as servants for Reverend Benjamin Chapman, pastor of Southington Congregational Church, who had married Riggs's daughter Abigail in 1756. When Riggs died in 1770, probate of his property listed “a negro boy Prince £50,” who presumably was part of Abigail's share of her father's estate. The young men's parents may be the Peter and Hannah initially bequeathed by Riggs to his wife The entire family eventually ...


Dupuy, Charlotte  

Carla J. Jones

slave litigant, was born Charlotte Stanley on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the daughter of Rachel and George Stanley. Charlotte, commonly known as Lotty, spent her childhood enslaved, along with her mother and two siblings, by Daniel Parker in Dorchester County, Maryland. Whether George Stanley was born a slave is uncertain, but he was free by 1792 when he purchased Rachel and Charlotte's siblings Leah and Jonathan. He immediately manumitted his wife and stipulated the freedom of the two children upon their reaching the legal age. Charlotte, for reasons that are still unclear, remained enslaved in Parker's household until age nine, when she was sold to James Condon for one hundred dollars Condon was a tradesman who lived nearby with his wife and at least one other slave Rachel paid her daughter frequent visits and the Condons may have promised Charlotte eventual freedom Condon s ...


Estabrook, Prince  

Marlene L. Daut

the first black soldier in the American Revolution and slave to Benjamin Estabrook, was born around 1740 in an unknown locale and of unknown parentage. Estabrook was the first known African American soldier to fight in the American Revolution and earned his freedom by serving throughout most of the War of Independence, but he is most famous for his involvement at the inaugural battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, where he is said to have fought beside his master's eldest son, Joseph Estabrook, then only seventeen years old. Little is known of how Prince ended up in the Lexington area, but he had reportedly lived with the Estabrook family since at least 1773.

Estabrook was a part of Captain John Parker's Company in West Lexington, referred to as the Lexington Minutemen, and may have joined the militia as early as 1773 ...


Ford, West  

Linda Allen Bryant

caretaker of the historic Mount Vernon home of President George Washington, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the eldest son of Venus, a house slave owned by George Washington's brother, John Augustine, and his wife, Hannah. Though some reports suggest that Ford was the son of President Washington—and that Venus told her mistress that George Washington was her child's father—historians dispute Ford's paternity, suggesting instead that one of Washington's nephews may have been his father.

From 1785 until 1791 George Washington frequently visited the Bushfield Plantation. As he grew older Ford served during these visits as Washington's personal attendant. Washington took him riding and hunting, and Ford often accompanied him to Christ Church, where he was provided with a private pew. After Washington became president of the United States, his open visits with Ford ceased.

Following the death of their father, John Augustine Washington's sons, Bushrod and Corbin ...


Free Frank  

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 ...


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 ...


Grimes, William W.  

Kara M. McClurken

minister and abolitionist, was born William Waugh Grimes in Alexandria, Virginia, the eldest of five children of Thomas Grimes and Elizabeth Ann Waugh. Little is known about Grimes's early life other than that he started earning a living at the age of nine, after his father died. In 1841 Grimes traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the inauguration of William Henry Harrison, and he was employed during the early part of the decade by several members of Congress, including Millard Fillmore, then a Whig congressman from New York. In 1847 Grimes married Mary Ann Brown. Following the death of President Zachary Taylor on 9 July 1850, Grimes worked in the White House for the Fillmore family; he remained there until 1855, when he left to work full time as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

Grimes joined Union Bethel African ...