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

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Garnet, Henry Highland (23 December 1815–13 February 1882), clergyman and abolitionist, was born in New Market, Kent County, Maryland, the son of George and Henrietta (later called Elizabeth), slaves. Henry escaped with his parents and seven siblings to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1824, assisted by the Quaker ...

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George, David (1742–1810), lay preacher and African-American émigré to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, lay preacher and African-American émigré to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, was born on a Nottoway River plantation in Essex County, Virginia. His parents, slaves known as John and Judith, were of African origin and had nine children. While a youth David labored in the corn and tobacco fields and witnessed frequent whippings of other slaves, including his mother, who was the master’s cook....

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Healy, Eliza (23 December 1846–13 September 1919), Roman Catholic religious sister, was born a slave in Jones County, Georgia, the daughter of Michael Morris Healy, a well-to-do plantation owner, and Mary Eliza (maiden name uncertain, but possibly Clark), one of his slaves. Eliza Healy’s father was a native of Ireland who had immigrated to Jones County near Macon, Georgia, where, after acquiring land and slaves, he became a prosperous planter. Michael Healy chose a light-skinned slave as his concubine. Nine of the children she bore him survived. Healy acknowledged his children and carefully made provisions for their eventual removal outside of Georgia, where at that time, the manumission of slaves was virtually impossible....

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Healy, James Augustine (06 April 1830–05 August 1900), Roman Catholic bishop, was born near Clinton, Georgia, the son of Michael Morris Healy, a planter, and Mary Eliza (maiden name uncertain, but possibly Clark). Healy’s Irish father had married Healy’s mother, a mulatto slave, despite strict Georgia law that made the union illegal and all of their children technically slaves. Healy’s early years were spent in the insular world of the family’s 1,600-acre plantation. When he reached school age, he and his brothers Hugh and Patrick were placed by their father in a Quaker school in Flushing, New York. There the boys, though possessing the same legal rights as their classmates, still endured the status of social outcasts because of their mixed race. This experience solidified Healy’s already guarded nature and created in him an attachment to his family that he maintained throughout his life....

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Healy, Patrick Francis (02 February 1834–10 January 1910), Jesuit priest and university president, was born in Jones County, Georgia, the son of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish-American planter, and Mary Eliza (maiden name uncertain, but possibly Clark), a mulatto slave. The senior Healy deserted from the British army in Canada during the War of 1812 and by 1818 had made his way to rural Georgia where he settled, speculated in land, and acquired a sizable plantation and numerous slaves. He fathered ten children by an African-American woman he had purchased. Healy acknowledged Mary Eliza as “my trusty woman” in his will, which provided that she be paid an annuity, transported to a free state, and “not bartered or sold or disposed of in any way” should he predecease her. Healy also acknowledged his children by Mary Eliza, although by state law they were slaves he owned, and he arranged for them to leave Georgia and move to the North, where they would become free....

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Josiah Henson. Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1877. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-31848).

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Henson, Josiah (15 June 1789–05 May 1883), escaped slave and preacher, was born in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm owned by Francis Newman. As a child, Henson frequently saw his parents abused and severely beaten. On one occasion, as a punishment for defending his wife, Henson’s father was sentenced to a physical mutilation that left him permanently scarred. Although he was raised without religion, Henson was immediately converted to Christianity after his first exposure to it at a revivalist camp meeting. As a young boy, he was sold to Isaac Riley....

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Holsey, Lucius Henry (03 July 1842–03 August 1920), minister and denominational leader, was born near Columbus, Georgia, the son of James Holsey, a plantation owner, and Louisa, a slave. When his father died in 1848, Holsey was sold to his white cousin, T. L. Wynn, who lived in Hancock County, Georgia. After Wynn’s death in 1857, he became the slave of ...

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Jasper, John (04 July 1812–30 March 1901), Baptist preacher and orator, was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia, the son of slave parents, Philip Jasper, a slave preacher, and Nina, head servant of the Peachy family. (His father served as a preacher at slave funerals.) John worked as a cart boy accompanying the plantation ox cart and on errands around the Peachy “great house.” In 1825 his master hired him out to Peter McHenry, for whom he worked one year in Richmond before returning to the Peachy plantation. He later labored in the coal mines of Chesterfield County. Jasper’s master sent him to Richmond a third time to work at Samuel Hargrove’s tobacco warehouse. Jasper led a life he later confessed to have been irreligious and riotous. A fellow slave taught him to read and spell....

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Liele, George (1751–1828), pioneering Baptist clergyman and African-American émigré to Jamaica, pioneering Baptist clergyman and African-American 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” ( ...