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Allen, Richard (14 February 1760–26 March 1831), American Methodist preacher and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church, was born into slavery to parents who were the property of Benjamin Chew of Philadelphia. He and his parents and three additional children were sold in 1777 to Stokely Sturgis, who lived near Dover, Delaware. There he attended Methodist preaching and experienced a spiritual awakening. Allen, his older brother, and a sister were retained by Sturgis, but his parents and younger siblings were sold. Through the ministry of Freeborn Garretson, a Methodist itinerant, Sturgis was converted to Methodism and became convinced that slavery was wrong. Subsequently Allen and his brother were permitted to work to purchase their freedom, which they did in 1780. The next six years he worked as a wagon driver, woodcutter, and bricklayer while serving as a Methodist preacher to both blacks and whites in towns and rural areas in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. At one point Bishop ...

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Brooks, Walter Henderson (30 August 1851–06 July 1945), clergyman, temperance leader, and poet, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Albert Royal Brooks and Lucy Goode, slaves. Brooks’s father was an enterprising slave who owned his own “snack house” and a livery business that brought him into contact with some of Virginia’s wealthiest citizens, including his wife’s owner, German consul Daniel Von Groning. Albert Brooks purchased his wife’s freedom in 1862 for $800. Still a slave, Walter Brooks at age seven was sold to the Turpin & Yarborough tobacco firm. He woefully recalled his time there, writing: “It was all I could do to perform the task assigned to my little hands. What I do remember is that I stood in mortal fear of ‘the consequences’ of failing to do what was required of me.” When the Richmond manufacturer fell victim to wartime economic decline, Brooks was allowed to reside with his mother and began working in hotels, boardinghouses, and restaurants. In his youth he acquired the doctrines that served as the foundation for his life’s work. He learned temperance from his pastor, the Reverend ...

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Brown, Lydia ( July 1780–19 November 1865), missionary to Hawaii and pioneer of textile production on the islands, was born in Wilton, New Hampshire. Nothing about her life is known before she became a member of the seventh company of missionaries sent to Hawaii by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), arriving in Honolulu aboard the ...

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Sydney V. James and Gail Fowler Mohanty

Brown, Moses (12 September 1738–06 September 1836), merchant and philanthropist, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of James Brown, merchant, and Hope Power. The father died the next year, leaving a variety of properties and businesses, which indicates that his family was far from poor. Moses Brown had a few years of formal schooling before being apprenticed to his merchant uncle, Obadiah, to learn the intricacies of eighteenth-century commerce and to be adopted as a son and partner. After Obadiah died in 1762, Moses managed the business, and in 1774 married Obadiah’s daughter Anna, who bore three children, two of whom lived to maturity. Moses joined his three surviving brothers in the firm of Nicholas Brown & Co. to operate the family businesses. The profits of trade were diversified by manufacturing and money-lending. The Brown brothers inherited profitable candle and chocolate works and started a plant to smelt and work iron. They also tried at least one ill-fated slaving voyage....

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Brown, Obadiah (15 July 1771–15 October 1822), merchant and manufacturer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Moses Brown, a merchant, and Anna Brown. He sometimes used the name Obadiah M. Brown to distinguish himself from other Browns with the same first name. Sickly as a child, he initially was educated at home and then attended the Friends New England Yearly Meeting School in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, between 1784 and 1788. This was followed by an informal apprenticeship with Almy and Brown, a Providence cotton textile manufactory established by his father, one of four brothers who were successful Providence merchants and manufacturers. The manufactory was initially managed by Obadiah’s brother-in-law, William Almy, and a cousin, Smith Brown, although under the watchful eye of Moses Brown....

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Bryan, Andrew (1737–06 October 1812), clergyman, was born at Goose Creek, South Carolina, about sixteen miles from Charleston. His slave parents’ names are unknown. George Liele, the itinerant African-American Baptist minister from Savannah, Georgia, baptized Bryan in 1782. Bryan married Hannah (maiden name unknown) about nine years after his conversion. Jonathan Bryan, Andrew’s master and a New Light Presbyterian sympathetic to the evangelical movement in the South, allowed him to exhort both blacks and whites. About 1790 a white landowner allowed Bryan to build a wooden shed on the outskirts of Savannah at Yamacraw. Here Bryan held religious meetings for African Americans, both slave and free, between sunrise and sunset. When white opposition arose, Bryan and his hearers retreated to the nearby swamp to conduct their religious activities....

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Anthony Burns. Engraving, 1855. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90750).

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Burns, Anthony (31 May 1829?–27 July 1862), fugitive slave and pastor, was born in Stafford County, Virginia; his parents (names unknown) were slaves of the Suttle family. Burns’s father had died during his infancy. Influenced by his devout mother, he converted to the Baptist faith and later became an unofficial preacher to other slaves. Burns’s owner, Charles F. Suttle, farmed in Stafford until 1852, when he moved to Alexandria to become a commission merchant. Suttle prospered and sufficiently distinguished himself that both communities elected him to various offices....

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Cary, Lott (1780–10 November 1828), Baptist preacher and missionary to Africa, was born on a plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, thirty miles from Richmond, the son of slave parents, names unknown. His grandmother Mihala had a strong influence on Lott’s early religious development. He married around 1800 and with his first wife (name unknown) had two children. Lott’s master sent him to Richmond in 1804 as a hired slave laborer. He worked in the Shockoe Tobacco Warehouse first as a laborer, then as a shipping clerk....

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Dennis J. Comey. Photograph by Zamsky Studio, used by permission of Sarony Studios Inc. Courtesy of Francis F. Burch.

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Comey, Dennis J. (26 May 1896–14 October 1987), Roman Catholic clergyman and labor arbitrator, was born Dennis Joseph Comey in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Dennis Joseph Comey, an iron worker at the Baldwin Locomotive Works, and Catherine Veronica Reagan Comey; the parents had been farmers who emigrated from Timoleague, County Cork, Ireland. The oldest of thirteen children, he excelled in studies and athletics at St. Joseph's College Preparatory School in Philadelphia. On 30 July 1914 he entered the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, New York, and continued his classical studies. He earned his A.B. (1920), M.A. (1921), and Ph.D. (1929) in philosophy from Woodstock College, Maryland; he first taught Latin at Boston College High School (1921–1922) and then Latin, Greek, Spanish, and rhetoric at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (1922–1925). He pursued theological studies at Woodstock College, where he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on 20 June 1928. A year's concentration on ascetical theology at St. Beuno's College, Wales, preceded his solemn profession of his Jesuit vows in Rome, Italy, on 15 August 1931. In 1931 the Gregorian University in Rome named him a doctor of theology and in 1932 ...

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Cook, John Francis (1810?–21 March 1855), educator and clergyman, was born a slave in the District of Columbia. His mother was Laurena Browning Cook, but his father’s identity is unknown. His mother’s sister, Alethia Browning Tanner, was clearly a dominant influence in his early life. Although she was a slave, her owner allowed her to hire out her own time, and by operating a profitable vegetable market in Washington, D.C., she acquired the money to purchase her own freedom as well as that of her sister and about twenty-one other relatives and acquaintances, including her nephew. Freed at the age of sixteen, Cook apprenticed himself to a shoemaker in order to earn the money repay his aunt....

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Coppin, Fanny Jackson (1837–21 January 1913), educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father’s name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by ...

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Deinard, Ephraim (11 May 1846–24 June 1930), Hebrew author, bibliographer, and bookdealer, was born in Shossmaken, Courland, Russia, the son of Jekuthiel Gerson Deinard and Leah Cohen. In addition to attending traditional schools of Jewish learning, he also studied secular subjects with private tutors. By age eighteen he was contributing articles on current issues to the Hebrew weekly ...

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Dietz, Peter Ernest (10 July 1878–11 October 1947), Roman Catholic priest and labor activist, was born in New York City, the son of Frederick Dietz, a varnisher, and Eva Kern. His parents had emigrated from Bavaria, and the family was large and poor. After attending parish schools and a series of Catholic colleges in Pennsylvania and New York, Dietz, in 1900, entered the novitiate of the missionary community of the Society of the Divine Word in Moedling, Germany. Two years later, however, hoping to found a new religious order, he withdrew from the community. His plans came to naught, and in 1903 he returned to the United States, subsequently studying at Catholic University and at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Dietz affiliated himself with the diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, and was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal ...

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Early, Jordan Winston (17 June 1814–1903), minister, was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia. His mother died when he was three years old, and he was raised by an elderly woman known as Aunt Milly who cared for the plantation’s slave children while their mothers worked. She was a devout Christian, and Early later attributed the fact that he became a “useful and intelligent” man to her influence. Early attended many camp meetings in his boyhood, and he later recalled that he was religiously inclined from an early age. He loved nature and often hunted at night with a favorite uncle....

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Etting, Solomon (28 July 1764–06 August 1847), Jewish merchant and Baltimore civic leader, was born in York, Pennsylvania; he was the second oldest of the eight children of Elijah Etting, a Frankfurt merchant who came to York in 1758, and Shinah Solomon of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As a boy, Solomon acquired business skills, working in the family store. After Elijah Etting, who was an Indian trader, died in July of 1778, Solomon did not go to Baltimore with his mother and his sisters. Along with his brother Reuben, he stayed in York, evidently to protect and preserve the family's business interests. Solomon in 1782 also became an authorized slaughterer of kosher meats ( ...

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Evans, Henry (?– November 1810), free African-American preacher, shoemaker, and founder of the world's third oldest African Methodist Episcopal church, free African-American preacher, shoemaker, and founder of the world’s third oldest African Methodist Episcopal church, was born in Charles City County, Virginia. Little is known of his parents, upbringing, or eventual marriage....

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Evans, William (05 October 1787–12 May 1867), merchant and Quaker leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jonathan Evans, a house builder and Quaker elder, and Hannah Bacon, a Quaker minister. Nurtured in an influential family in the Religious Society of Friends, Evans was educated in Quaker primary schools and in 1799 enrolled in the new Westtown school, just outside Philadelphia. At age fourteen, he went to a countinghouse to learn bookkeeping but, finding himself unchallenged, was apprenticed to another Friend to master the drug business. In 1808 he opened his own small drug and paint store, which he owned if not operated the rest of his life. Though serious of mien and adust in personality, Evans found a wife in Deborah Musgrave on 11 December 1811; the union produced two children before her early death in 1815. Summoned to militia duty during the War of 1812, he refused to appear but escaped further proceedings. The cautious Evans waited nine years before getting married again, this time to Elizabeth Barton on 23 December 1824, when he was thirty-seven and she thirty. In the Quaker fashion their local meeting recognized them both as ministers, he in 1822. When he rose to speak in a meeting, he could be pointed in his criticism of those who disagreed with him on some practice or point of doctrine. His tart-tongued contemporary ...

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Henry Highland Garnet. Albumen silver print, c. 1881, by James U. Stead. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.