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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 ...


Allensworth, Allen  

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 ...


Ferrill, London  

Laura Murphy

minister, was born in Hanover, Virginia, to an enslaved woman, and was named after his mother's owner, a British man named Richard Ferrill. Upon Richard Ferrill's death his sister inherited both London and his mother, and when London was eight or nine she separated him from his mother by selling him to a Colonel Samuel Overton for six hundred dollars. Overton eventually freed Ferrill, though the details of his emancipation are not entirely clear.

Ferrill dated his religious conversion to a near death experience in his childhood when he nearly drowned Believing that he would have gone to hell had he died Ferrill made a covenant with God in the belief that it would change his fate His baptism at age twenty was an important moment in his life and he soon felt called to preach At a time when religious revivals in the South were often integrated ...


Liele, George  

Milton C. Sernett

pioneering Baptist clergyman and émigré to Jamaica, said of his slave origins, “I was born in Virginia, my father's name was Liele, and my mother's name Nancy; I cannot ascertain much of them, as I went to several parts of America when young, and at length resided in New Georgia” (Baptist Annual Register, ed. John Rippon [1793], 332). Liele's master Henry Sharp took him to Burke County, Georgia, as a young man. Liele wrote that he “had a natural fear of God” from his youth. He attended a local Baptist church, was baptized by Matthew Moore, a deacon in the Buckhead Creek Baptist Church about 1772 and was given the opportunity to travel preaching to both whites and blacks Liele preached as a probationer for about three years at Bruton Land Georgia and at Yamacraw about a half mile from Savannah The favorable ...


Malvin, John  

Kenneth L. Kusmer

abolitionist and political leader, was born in Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia, the son of a slave father (name unknown) and a free black mother, Dalcus Malvin. By virtue of his mother's status, Malvin was born free. As a boy, he was apprenticed as a servant to a clerk of his father's master; he later learned carpentry from his father. An elderly slave taught John how to read, using the Bible as his primary text. Malvin became a Baptist preacher and later, after moving to Cincinnati, was licensed as a minister, although he never held a permanent position in a church.

Malvin moved to Cincinnati in 1827, and two years later he married Harriet Dorsey During his four years in Cincinnati Malvin was active in the antislavery movement and personally helped several escaped slaves find their way north on the Underground Railroad He agitated against Ohio ...


Marrs, Elijah Preston  

Charles Rosenberg

soldier, preacher, educator, delegate to political and religious conventions, and writer, was born to Andrew Marrs, a free man, and Frances Marrs, at the time considered by law to be the property of one Jesse Robinson, in Shelby County, Kentucky. By law, Elijah Marrs inherited the slave status of his mother.

At the age of seven or eight Marrs was sent to work serving food in the Robinsons dining room Within a few years he was plowing corn fields and taking care of the cows Our master was not hard on us he later wrote and allowed us generally to do as we pleased after his own work was done Mothers he added including his own were necessarily compelled to be severe on their children to keep them from talking too much Many a poor mother has been whipped nearly to death on ...


Marshall, Andrew Cox  

Whittington B. Johnson

pastor and businessman, was probably born in Goose Creek, South Carolina. His mother was a slave, and his father was the English overseer on the plantation where the family lived; their names are unknown. Shortly after Marshall's birth, his father died while on a trip to England, thus ending abruptly the Englishman's plans to free his family. Marshall, his mother, and an older sibling (whose sex is not revealed in extant records) were subsequently sold to John Houstoun of Savannah, a prominent public official.

Houstoun was the second of five masters that Marshall had during his half century of servitude. Marshall became devoted to Houstoun, whose life he once saved, and Houstoun apparently grew fond of Marshall, for whose manumission Houstoun provided in his will. Nevertheless, when Houstoun, who had twice served as governor of Georgia and later as mayor of Savannah, died in 1796 the executors of ...


Meachum, John Berry  

Loren Schweninger

craftsman, minister, and businessman, was born a slave in Virginia. The names of his father, a Baptist preacher, and his mother are unknown. A skilled carpenter and cooper, Meachum was allowed to save some of his earnings, and eventually he bought his freedom. Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, he married a slave, Mary, and then purchased her out of bondage; they had an unknown number of children. About 1815 he moved with his wife to St. Louis, reportedly with only three dollars in his pocket. There Meachum used his carpentry skills to find a job as a cooper. He established his own cooper's shop a few years later and began buying St. Louis real estate.

During the 1830s in order to help fellow African Americans become free Meachum started buying slaves training them in barrel making and letting them earn money to pay him back for their ...


Paul, Nathaniel  

John Saillant

abolitionist and minister, was born in New Hampshire, probably in Exeter, Rockingham County, to unidentified parents. His brother, Thomas Paul, became a minister and community leader in Boston, Massachusetts. The Free Will Baptist Church educated both black and white youths, and Paul may have been a student with his brother at its academy in Hollis, New Hampshire. In 1820 he became pastor of the First African Baptist Church in Albany, New York. Influenced by evangelicals and reformers, northern New York was a hotbed of abolitionist activity on the part of both blacks and whites. New York had extirpated slavery gradually, first, in 1799, legislating that all blacks born to slave mothers on or after 4 July 1799 would be indentured servants and then, in 1817, declaring that all slaves born before 4 July 1799 would be freed on 4 July 1827.

In an 1827 ...


Paul, Thomas  

Milton C. Sernett

Baptist minister and community leader, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. The names of his parents are unknown. Converted and baptized at age sixteen Paul began preaching when he was about twenty-eight and conducted an itinerant ministry. In 1804 he settled in Boston. He was ordained on 1 May 1805 at Nottingham West, New Hampshire, and later the same year married Catherine Waterhouse. The couple had three children.

A number of African Americans in Boston attended white Baptist churches, but they were assigned seats in the galleries and could not vote on church affairs. Recognizing their desire for more religious freedom Paul conducted nondenominational meetings for them first in Franklin Hall on Nassau Street and later in historic Faneuil Hall.

In 1805 these black Baptists decided to form an independent congregation that became known variously as the African Church and First African. Twenty-four members met on 8 August ...


Preston, Richard  

Harvey Amani Whitfield

slave, minister, and community leader, was born in Virginia in the early 1790s. Almost nothing is known about his childhood or young adulthood except that he had been a slave preacher. Preston's life changed during the War of 1812 when his mother and approximately four thousand black American refugees escaped to the safety of British ships that had conducted raids along the American eastern seaboard. About half of these former slaves migrated, via the British Royal Navy, to Nova Scotia. Admiral Alexander Cochrane had offered freedom to African Americans in an effort to disrupt the economy and terrorize local whites Preston did not escape with his family but he purchased his freedom after the conclusion of the war Preston left the United States and traveled to British North America in search of his relatives Eventually he found his mother in Nova Scotia at Preston a small ...


Uncle Jack  

R. Iset Anuakan

preacher, teacher, and ex-slave, was born in Africa. Kidnapped and brought to America at age seven, the man later referred to alternately as “Uncle Jack” and “the African Preacher” was sold into slavery and resided in Nottoway County, Virginia. Very little is known of his early life, family, and exact place of origin before 1753 when he was purchased on the docks of the James River by a man named Stewart. He grew into manhood in Nottoway County, performing various plantation labors. At the age of forty, he encountered several missionaries who traveled throughout Virginia. They introduced him to tenets of the Bible, coaxing him in what would become his greatest vocation and earn him the title of “African Preacher.” Christianity's essential ideas of grace, salvation, and the resurrected life inspired him out of the despair and bleak condition of slavery.

Jack hungered to learn more and ...