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Article

Beard, Andrew Jackson  

Roland Barksdale-Hall

inventor, was born in Jefferson County, Alabama, the son of Milton Beard and Creasey Tatum, both former slaves on the Beard family plantation. He adopted the name of his former master at age fifteen after he was liberated by Union forces. A year later, he married Edie Beard, about whom nothing else is known. The couple raised three children: John, Jack, and Andrew Jr.; the latter died following graduation from high school. Like most former slaves, however, Beard was illiterate and remained so throughout his life.

After the Civil War, Beard worked as a sharecropper on his former master's farm until he was about eighteen years old and then moved to St. Clair County, Alabama. In 1872 he made a three week journey from Birmingham to Montgomery on an oxcart that carried fifty bushels of apples which he sold for approximately two hundred dollars He eventually ...

Article

Crum, George  

Charles Rosenberg

best known as the reputed inventor of the potato chip, who established his own restaurant in the resort community of Saratoga Springs, New York. His ancestry and ethnicity are a matter of speculation; he may have been best described in Saratoga Springs, New York: A Brief History as “of thoroughly mixed American blood.” He is generally reported in census data from 1850 to 1880 as mulatto and in later censuses as black. It is commonly said that his mother was of Native American descent and that he “looked Indian.”

Crum was born in Malta, New York, to Abraham (or Abram) Speck and his wife Catherine. Although oral accounts suggest Speck was from Kentucky and possibly had been enslaved there, the 1820 Federal Census shows a “Free Colored Person” male, age twenty-six to forty-five, of that name, living in New York, and the 1840 Census shows a free ...

Article

Flipper, Henry Ossian  

John C. Fredriksen

soldier and engineer, was born in Thomasville, Georgia, the son of Festus Flipper and Isabelle (maiden name unknown), slaves. During the Civil War and Reconstruction he was educated in American Missionary Association schools and in 1873 gained admission to Atlanta University. That year Flipper also obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy through the auspices of Republican Representative James C. Freeman. He was not the first African American to attend West Point, as Michael Howard and James Webster Smith preceded him in 1870, but neither graduated. Flipper subsequently endured four years of grueling academic instruction and ostracism from white classmates before graduating fiftieth in a class of sixty-four on 14 June 1877. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the all-black Tenth U. S. Cavalry, and the following year recounted his academy experience in an autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point (1878 ...

Article

Goode, Sarah E.  

Pamela C. Edwards

inventor and entrepreneur, blazed a path for black female inventors, yet little is known of her early life. Neither her parents' names nor her exact date or place of birth are known one biographer indicates that she was born in the 1850s and grew up in slavery. After the Civil War ended and former slaves in the South were emancipated, Goode, like thousands of African Americans, made her way north, taking up residence in Chicago by the early 1880s. In Chicago, she owned and operated a furniture store, and her entrepreneurial endeavors led to her become the first African American woman to receive a patent from the United States Patent Office. On 14 July 1885 Goode received her patent for a Folding Cabinet Bed comparable to modern sofa or hideaway beds The first of five black women to patent new inventions in the nineteenth century she was a ...

Article

Lanson, William  

Brandon Portal

possible former slave, self-taught master builder, engineer, contractor, and property manager, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His parentage is unknown. Although little is certain about Lanson's early life, a Connecticut Journal notice appeared on 5 December 1799 in which Solomon Fisk of Southington, Connecticut, put out a $10 reward for the return of a runaway “Negro servant” by the name of Lanson. It is possible that this was the same Lanson. At some point, Lanson married his wife, Nancy.

The first public record of Lanson was a contract for the extension of New Haven's Long Wharf, for construction that took place from 1810 to 1812 The Long Wharf expansion was essential to the prosperity of New Haven for decades the shallow harbor area had posed a danger to larger cargo ships and severely curtailed trade Lanson overcame this obstacle by extending the wharf ...

Article

Matzeliger, Jan Ernst  

Kenneth R. Manning

inventor, was born in Paramaribo, Surinam (Dutch Guiana), the son of Carl Matzeliger, a Dutch engineer in charge of government machine works for the colony, and a native Surinamese mother. At the age of ten, Matzeliger began serving an apprenticeship in the machine works. In 1871 he signed on to the crew of an East Indian merchant ship and set out to seek his fortune overseas. After a two-year voyage, he landed at Philadelphia, where he probably worked as a cobbler. In 1877 he settled in the town of Lynn Massachusetts the largest shoe manufacturing center in the United States His first job there was with the M H Harney Company where he operated a McKay sole stitching machine He also gained experience in heel burnishing buttonholing machine repair and other aspects of shoe manufacture Later he was employed in the shoe factory of Beal Brothers ...

Article

Murray, George Washington  

Charles Rosenberg

organizer and lecturer for the Colored Farmers Alliance, farmer and author, owner of eight patents for agricultural implements, and U.S. congressman from South Carolina (1893–1897), was born in Sumter County, South Carolina, to enslaved parents whose names have never been established and who died before 1865. Murray took up farming during his teen years after the Civil War and by 1880 had acquired his own land: forty-nine acres tilled and fifteen acres of woodland, worth about $1500 including buildings and improvements, producing income of around $650 a year.

He made several attempts to obtain an education. Applying to a local school in 1871, he was instead appointed teacher. Classes were held three to four months a year. Even when school was in session, he worked his fields in the morning and evenings. In 1874 he entered the University of South Carolina temporarily filled with students ...

Article

Parker, John P.  

Frank R. Levstik

abolitionist and entrepreneur, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a slave mother and a white father whose names are unknown. At the age of eight, Parker was sold as a slave to an agent in Richmond, where he in turn was purchased by a physician from Mobile, Alabama. While employed as a house servant for the physician, Parker learned to read and write. In Mobile he was apprenticed to work in furnaces and iron manufactures as well as for a plasterer. Beaten by the plasterer, Parker attempted to escape, only to be captured aboard a northbound riverboat.

From 1843 to 1845 Parker was hired out as an iron molder and stevedore in the Mobile area He proved to be an extraordinarily skilled molder which enabled him to earn enough money to purchase his freedom for $1 800 at the end of the two year period Obtaining ...

Article

Robbins, Parker David  

Alice Eley Jones

carpenter, statesman, and inventor, was born free in Bertie County, North Carolina, the eldest son of John A. Robbins, a farmer and carpenter, and Mary Robbins. Robbins hailed from a family and community of mixed-race, free black, and Chowanoke background in the counties of Bertie, Gates, and Hertford in northeastern North Carolina. The Algonquian-speaking Chowanokes lived on the west bank of the Chowan River that bears their name in northeastern North Carolina. Governor Ralph Lane was impressed by their villages in a 1585 Roanoke Island expedition. Parker's grandfather John Robbins was one of the chief men of the Chowanokes in 1790.

War and disease greatly reduced the Chowanoke population, and by 1790 during a sale of Chowanoke land it was reported whether falsely or not is unknown that the Chowanoke men had all died and the remaining women had intermarried with several free ...