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Browne, William Washington  

David M. Fahey

fraternal society leader and banker, was born in Habersham County, Georgia, the son of Joseph Browne and Mariah (maiden name unknown), field slaves. As a young child he was called Ben Browne and was chosen to be the companion of his owner's son. A subsequent owner who lived near Memphis trained Browne as a jockey for race circuits in Tennessee and Mississippi. During the Civil War he plotted an escape with fellow slaves. When his owner learned of the conspiracy, he transferred Browne to a plantation in Mississippi. Despite the difficulties of tramping fifty miles without a compass, Browne persuaded three other young slaves to join him in a successful escape to the Union army at Memphis. After learning that his owner could demand his return, Browne fled upriver as a stowaway.

Browne later worked as a saloon servant in Illinois where his barroom experiences made him a teetotaler and ...

Article

Churchwell, Peter  

Brian Neumann

was born into slavery in Albemarle County, Virginia, to William and Dicey Churchwell. His owner was lawyer Reuben L. Gordon, who probably brought him to Orange County, Virginia sometime before 1840. On 25 December 1857, he married Maria Grey, who was probably also enslaved. Their daughter Harriet was born soon afterward, and Maria died in childbirth around 1859.

Churchwell escaped from slavery in August 1862 and made his way to Washington, D.C., where he spent the next two years working as a coachman. He enlisted in the Union army there on 13 July 1864 as a substitute for German lumber worker Jacob Leonhardt He mustered in as a private in Company H of the 23rd USCT Infantry Regiment later that day His enlistment records describe him as five feet two and a half inches tall with black hair black eyes and a black complexion After briefly ...

Article

Covey, Edward  

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Edward Covey, about twenty-eight years old in 1834, lived with his wife and infant son, Edward, on a rented farm of 150 acres located about seven miles from Saint Michaels, Maryland. The Covey home was small, unpainted, and hidden nearly a mile from the main road. Before setting up as a small farmer, Covey worked as an overseer, where he may have gained his reputation as a “Negro breaker.” In 1834 he rented the services of Frederick Douglass for an entire year. Douglass, nearly sixteen years old, initially submitted to the regular whippings but he eventually fought back and later recorded that this was when he finally felt like a man.

Douglass's owner, Thomas Auld, leased his slave's services to Covey; through this arrangement, Covey would receive low-cost farm labor and Auld could expect a more submissive slave in return. On 1 January 1834 Douglass traveled the ...

Article

Douglass, Lewis Henry  

Donald Yacovone

Civil War soldier, reformer, and businessman, was the second of five children of the abolitionist leader and orator Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) and Anna Murray Douglass (1813–1882). Lewis, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his father settled shortly after his flight from slavery, proved the most successful of the Douglass children and the one his father most relied upon in later years. After the family moved to Rochester, New York, the eight-year-old Lewis and his siblings became beneficiaries of his father's successful efforts to desegregate the city's public schools—a tradition that Lewis maintained as an adult when he lived in the District of Columbia. As soon as he was old enough, he helped his father with the publication of his antislavery newspapers and after his father fled Federal authorities in the wake of John Brown's 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry the nineteen ...

Article

Dumas, François Ernest  

Caryn Cossé Bell

businessman, Civil War veteran, and Reconstruction politician, was the son of the influential Creole New Orleanian Joseph Dumas, one of the owners of the Dumas Brothers French Quarter clothiers, a firm that specialized in imported French cloth and luxury apparel. Joseph Dumas invested his share of the firm's profits in real estate and accumulated a considerable fortune in property holdings and slaves. In 1860 African American Louisianans like François and Joseph Dumas constituted the wealthiest population of free blacks in the United States.

Joseph Dumas's import business necessitated that the Dumas family sojourn frequently in France, and it was there that François, was born, raised, and educated. François arrived in New Orleans shortly before the Civil War to manage the family business. He married Marguerite Victoria Victor, and the couple had five children, three girls and two boys. By 1860 he had become one ...

Article

Howard, Milton  

Beverley Rowe Lindburg

Civil War soldier, cabinetmaker, and fifty-two-year employee of the Rock Island (Illinois) Arsenal, was born free but was kidnapped by slave traders at around the age of five along with his mother, father, brother, and a sister (all of whose names are unknown) from their home near Muscatine, Iowa. He was first sold as house slave to a man named Pickett from Alabama, and later to an Arkansas planter whose last name he took for a surname; he was generally known as “Milt.” Reports of his age vary greatly: census, military, and burial records indicate he was born between 1821 and 1845.

Howard and another house slave were married in a formal ceremony at the Pickett Plantation a privilege that was customarily afforded only to house servants Several children were born to the couple but all family ties were severed when Howard was sold to the Arkansas ...

Article

Ikard, Bose  

Liz Stephens

cowboy and trail-driver on the Goodnight-Loving Trail and close associate of the cattleman Charles Goodnight, was born a slave in Summerville, Mississippi, and later moved to Parker County, Texas, with the family of his owner and probable father, Dr. William Ikard. Bose Ikard's mother was named King and was also William Ikard's slave. Though the Texas Historical Commission lists Ikard's birth as 1843, and Ikard's own headstone lists 1859, a probable year of birth was 1847, the same year as that of William Ikard's “legitimate” son, with whom Bose was largely raised.

Ikard's association with Goodnight arose from their proximity as neighbors in Parker County, working in the same industry. With a move from Mississippi to Texas in 1852 the Ikard family became part of the primary industry of the region, cattle. The sale of one female slave, possibly Ikard's mother, to another neighbor, Oliver ...

Article

Jai, Anna Madgigine  

Bethany Waywell Jay

slave, plantation mistress, and refugee, was born Anta Majigeen Ndiaye in Senegal during years of intense warfare and slave raids. While there is no conclusive evidence of Jai's lineage, legends in both Florida and Senegal suggest that she was a princess in Africa who was captured and sold into slavery after her father led an unsuccessful bid for power in the Wolof states of Senegal. While little is known of Jai's life before her arrival in Spanish Florida, historian Daniel Schafer suggests that she was one of the 120 Africans who survived the nightmarish Middle Passage from Africa to Cuba on board the Sally. In 1806 Jai was purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley a slave trader and planter from Florida From Cuba Jai sailed with Kingsley to his Laurel Grove plantation near what would later become Jacksonville Florida As the nineteenth century progressed Jai s life ...

Article

John Henry  

John Garst

“steel-driving man” and legendary hero, may have been a historic person born a slave in Mississippi, Virginia, or some other Southern state. In ballad and legend he is simply “John Henry,” but “John Henry” is a common combination of given names, so Henry may not have been his surname.

Songs about John Henry were collected as early as 1905. In 1916 the former West Virginia governor W.-A. MacCorkle confused him with John Hardy, an African American gambler and murderer who was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894 and is the subject of his own ballad. By the mid-1920s the ballad “John Henry” was being recorded commercially by Riley Puckett (1924), Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), and other white “hillbilly” performers, and shortly thereafter recordings by such African American bluesmen as Henry Thomas (1927) and Mississippi John Hurt (1928 began ...

Article

Johnson, William Isaac  

Brian Neumann

was born into slavery in Albemarle County, Virginia, to unknown parents. His owners were Anderson and Nancy Johnson, who probably moved him and his family to Goochland County in the 1840s. Anderson put him to work before he turned ten years old, forcing him to tend the chickens, sheep, and cows. When he was a teenager, Anderson trained him as a butler and hired him out to a man in Richmond.

Decades later Johnson still vividly remembered the violence of slavery. Speaking to a Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviewer in 1937, he described Anderson beating his slaves, placing them in shackles, and selling them into the Deep South if they tried to escape. Johnson, however, also emphasized Black agency and resistance. He recalled his fellow slaves refusing to work, hiding in the woods to avoid being hired out, and forging slave passes to help others escape from bondage.

Anderson ...

Article

Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs  

Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe

Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1820?–26 May 1907), White House dressmaker during the Lincoln administration and author, was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, the daughter of George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs, slaves. Her birth date is variously given from 1818 to 1824 based on different documents that report her age. The identity of her father is also uncertain; in later life Keckley reportedly claimed that her father was her master, Colonel A. Burwell. George Pleasant, who was owned by a different master, was allowed to visit only twice a year and was eventually taken west.

Elizabeth s life as a slave included harsh arbitrary beatings to subdue her stubborn pride frequent moves to work for often poor family members and being persecuted for four years by Alexander Kirkland a white man by whom she had a son Her life improved when she was loaned to a Burwell daughter ...

Article

King, Horace  

John S. Lupold

bridge designer and builder, was born near Cheraw, South Carolina, the son of Edmund and Susan King, slaves of African, European, and American Indian ancestry. King, his mother, his sister Clarissa (Murray), and his brother Washington were purchased circa 1830 by John Godwin and his wife, Ann Wright Godwin. According to some accounts, King may have been related to Ann's family, the Wrights of Marlboro County, South Carolina. King was already a master carpenter by the time Godwin purchased him, and Godwin expanded King's skills by teaching him how to build bridges. King was literate, although he never attended Oberlin College, as was incorrectly told in family myth.

The Godwins and their slaves moved west in 1832 when Godwin won a contract from Columbus Georgia to construct a four hundred foot wooden bridge across the Chattahoochee River They settled in Girard now Phenix City at the ...

Article

Lima, Geraldo de  

Nana Yaw B. Sapong

domestic slave, slave trader, and merchant prince, was born Adzoviehlo Atiogbe in Agoue in Dahomey (Benin) in 1804 He is also known as Adzoviehlo Atiogbe or Geraldo de Vasconcellos A man of several names he is one of the least understood and most complex characters in modern West African history Geraldo de Vasconcellos probably a Brazilian name given to him by his master in servitude entered into a period of apprenticeship under Brazilian slave trader Cesar Cerquira Lima who had a slave factory warehouse at Vodza in present day Ghana Slaves were kept in the Vodza factory before shipment to various destinations Cesar Cerquira Lima was one of a succession of Brazilian traders who had been establishing factories along the eastern coastline of the Gold Coast in the nineteenth century Geraldo de Vasconcellos became one of Cesar s trusted agents in Anlo who kept the supply of slaves steady ...

Article

Lucas, Bohlen  

Steven J. Niven

slave driver, farmer, and Democratic Party activist was born a slave probably in Washington County Mississippi The names of his parents are not recorded On the eve of the Civil War and only sixteen he was working as a driver of slaves on a Delta plantation a position generally reserved for experienced laborers in their thirties or forties That Lucas achieved such a position at such an early age is suggestive of his willingness to work hard and to both obey and command authority Drivers enjoyed a fair degree of autonomy in their work and occupied a difficult middle position between their fellow slaves and those who owned them but most understood that the needs and desires of their owners came first Though some drivers interceded to protect the slaves from harsh treatment by white overseers or masters a minority abused their position by seeking sexual favors ...

Article

Thompson, Holland  

Steven J. Niven

waiter, storekeeper, and politician, was born near Montgomery, Alabama, to slave parents whose names-are unknown. His parents had been brought to Alabama from South Carolina in the 1830s by their owner, William H. Taylor, who became a wealthy planter in Montgomery County. Taylor also owned Thompson but appears to have allowed him to hire out his time as a waiter at the Madison House hotel in Montgomery prior to the end of the Civil War. Thompson learned to read and write and probably enjoyed greater freedom than most slaves in Alabama, though as a slave he was not allowed to marry legally. He did, however, have a common-law wife, Binah Yancey, who was born in 1842 in Alabama and was owned by William Lowndes Yancey a prominent Alabama secessionist politician Like her husband Binah Yancey was able to read and write and enjoyed a ...

Article

Tippu Tip  

Elizabeth Heath

Born Hamed bin Muhammed el-Murjebi in Zanzibar, Tippu Tip began his career at the age of twelve, when he began to accompany his father on short trading trips. In 1850 he set out on his own Within fifteen years he built one of the most extensive trade empires in Central Africa Trading slaves and ivory for firearms Tippu Tip s large caravans also served as his personal armies and hunting bands He accumulated incredible wealth and power expanding his territorial control through raids as well as deals with regional chiefs and other traders By the early 1880s he was the most powerful trader in Central and East Africa Tippu Tip s caravans carried goods between Zanzibar on the east coast of Africa and Kasongo on the west coast of the Lualaba river His bands of followers hunted elephants and raided villages for slaves in Central African forests Many of ...

Article

Tippu Tip  

Isabelle de Rezende

Zanzibari merchant, was certainly the most famous and successful of the nineteenth-century Swahili merchants (sometimes called “Arabs”) from the East African island of Zanzibar. From the 1860s to 1890 he led caravans into the African hinterland in search of ivory and slaves establishing market towns and trading posts at Kisangani from the 1880s called Stanley Falls on the Congo and at Kasongo on the Lualaba upper Congo Tippu Tip established a cultural political and commercial zone of influence known as Maniema roughly located between Lakes Tanganyika and Kivu to the east and the Lomami River to the west The caravans of Tippu Tip arrived in eastern Congo shortly before Belgian King Leopold II s declaration of sovereignty for the Congo Free State CFS in that region While Zanzibari and Europeans overlapped and accommodated one another for a few years in the 1880s Zanzibari and CFS commercial and political interests ...

Article

Walker, William  

Floyd Ogburn

farmer, was born a slave in Southampton County, Virginia. Almost nothing is known of his parents, who were also slaves. Until his nineteenth or twentieth birthday he belonged to a Dr. Seaman, who also owned his mother and father. In August 1841 Walker's master sold him to Natt Blake and General Downs, who kept him and six hundred other slaves in a slave pen in Petersburg, Virginia, pending transportation to cotton farms in the Deep South. After penning the slaves for six weeks amid “echoes and groans,” Blake and Downs marched them aboard the Pellican, which immediately sailed to New Orleans, Walker never seeing or hearing from his parents again (Gaines, 10).

The Pellican a floating carcass on the sea held six hundred slaves like cattle among toxic air and cholera It reached New Orleans six weeks after departing Petersburg losing thirty six of its human ...

Article

Williams, Isaac D.  

Jacob Andrew Freedman

slave-narrative author, businessman, and entrepreneur, was born in King George, Virginia, one of five children. Little is known about Isaac's parents except that his father was a free man. His mother's status is unknown. It is believed, although not certain, that as a boy Isaac served not as a slave but as an indentured servant. However, when Isaac's father was presented with the choice of either being enslaved or leaving for Liberia, he smuggled himself to England, parting ways with his family forever. Isaac was placed under the guardianship of John O. Washington owner of a plantation with over 700 slaves Williams had been meant to apprentice as a carpenter until the age of twenty one when he would have been responsible for deciding his own fate But Washington died when Williams was seventeen and although no new guardian was appointed he continued to live and ...