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Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (24 December 1853–1890?), author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in ...

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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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Craft, Ellen (1826?–1891), abolitionist and educator, was born on a plantation in Clinton, Georgia, the daughter of Major James Smith, a wealthy cotton planter, and Maria, his slave. At the age of eleven Ellen was given by her mistress (whose “incessant cruelty” Craft was later to recall) as a wedding present to Ellen’s half sister Eliza on the young woman’s marriage to Robert Collins of Macon, Georgia. Ellen became a skilled seamstress and ladies’ maid, esteemed for her grace, intelligence, and sweetness of temper. In Macon she met another slave two years her senior, ...

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Ferguson, Katy (1779?–11 July 1854), child welfare worker and school founder, was born a slave on board a schooner en route from Virginia to New York City. Her formal name was Catherine Williams, but she was known as “Katy.” Separated from her mother at the age of eight after the woman was sold by their master, a Presbyterian elder, Katy never saw her mother again. Although she never learned to read or write, Katy was allowed to attend church services, and before she was sold, her mother taught her the Scriptures from memory. Katy was deeply religious and a strong adherent of the Presbyterian faith. At the age of ten she promised her master that she would dedicate her life to God’s service if given her freedom. This request was denied, but Katy eventually obtained her freedom; she was purchased for $200 by an abolitionist sympathizer when she was fifteen or sixteen years old. Originally she was given six years to repay this debt, but eventually her benefactor accepted eleven months of service and $100 from a New York merchant for her freedom. Thereafter, as a free woman, Katy supported herself by catering parties for wealthy white families and by cleaning linens and other delicate fabrics....

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Freeman, Elizabeth (1742–28 December 1829), slave, nurse, and slavery lawsuit plaintiff, was born either in New York or Massachusetts, the daughter of parents probably born in Africa. She apparently became the slave of Pieter Hogeboom of New York quite early. The only trace of her parents is Freeman’s bequest to her daughter of two articles of clothing—a black silk gown given to Freeman by her father as a gift, and another gown that supposedly belonged to Freeman’s mother. During her lifetime and even after her death, she was known as “Mum Bett” or “Mumbet,” a name derived from “Elizabeth.” Lacking a surname for most of her life, she sued for freedom under the name “Bett” and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman” after winning her lawsuit in 1781....

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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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Hearne, Azeline (1825–1890?), slave concubine and freedwoman beneficiary of her former master's will, was probably born in Louisiana; fragments of evidence suggest she died in Texas sometime in the early 1890s. Nothing is known about her parents or siblings, except that she had at least one sister whose children were perhaps the only relatives who survived her. Nor is much known about Hearne's early life, except that for the last twenty years of her enslavement she cohabitated with and bore the children of her wealthy, unmarried owner, Samuel (“Sam”) R. Hearne. After the Civil War, during a protracted illness, Sam Hearne wrote a will in which he acknowledged his years of miscegenation by bequeathing his entire estate, which included a large Brazos River cotton plantation in Robertson County, in east-central Texas, to his and Azeline's son “Dock” — their only offspring who survived early childhood. Sam's physician, in a bold act that prevented Sam's wishes from being buried with him at his death in November 1866, filed his will for record at the county courthouse in Franklin. The endeavors of Sam's brothers and cousins to annul his will in the probate and district courts resulted in the Freedmen's Bureau upholding its validity, banning further actions in the civil courts regarding it, and taking over its administration. In early 1868, when Dock died from malaria, a legatee clause in Sam's will designated Azeline as Dock's solitary heir; this vested ownership of the estate, including the cotton plantation, in her....

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Hemings, Sally (1773–1835), enslaved lady's maid and seamstress, enslaved lady’s maid and seamstress whose given name probably was Sarah, was born in Virginia, the daughter of the slave Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings and, allegedly, John Wayles, a merchant and planter. (Family members spell the surname both ...

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Jacobs, Harriet (1813–07 March 1897), autobiographer and reformer, was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, the daughter of Elijah, a skilled slave carpenter, and Delilah, a house slave. In her slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself...

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Johnson, Jane (c. 1814-1822–02 August 1872), escaped slave, , is believed to have been born into slavery as Jane Williams in or near Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Williams and Jane Williams, who themselves were slaves; the exact year of her birth is unknown. Virtually nothing is known of her early life, which she presumably spent on Virginia plantations; it is believed that she lived for part of that time in Caroline County and had several owners. She is presumed to have married a fellow slave surnamed Johnson about 1843; with him she apparently had three sons, one of whom was sold to an unknown master. At the beginning of 1854 Johnson and her remaining two sons were sold by her only known master, Cornelius Crew, a plantation owner in Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia, to ...

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Johnson, Sarah (29 September 1844–25 January 1920), caretaker and housekeeper at Mount Vernon, in Fairfax County, Virginia, was the daughter of Hannah Parker, a slave owned by Jane Charlotte Washington, widow of George Washington's great-nephew and then-owner of the Mount Vernon Estate, built by President ...

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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....

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Laney, Lucy Craft (13 April 1854–23 October 1933), educator, was born in Macon, Georgia, the daughter of David Laney and Louisa (maiden name unknown). Both parents were slaves: they belonged to different masters, but following their marriage they were permitted to live together in a home of their own. David Laney was a carpenter and often hired out by his owner, Mr. Cobbs. Louisa, purchased from a group of nomadic Indians while a small child, was a maid in the Campbell household. One of Lucy Laney’s most cherished memories was “how her father would, after a week of hard slave work, walk for over twenty miles … to be at home with his wife and children on the Sabbath” ( ...

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Miller, Sally (1809–01 January 1849?), slave, was born in Georgia, the daughter of Candice, a and an unknown white man. Sally Miller spent her first thirteen years as a slave in Alabama, and was then sold to John F. Miller, a wealthy businessman in New Orleans. Sally Miller worked as a domestic servant for him and his elderly mother, Sarah Canby. In 1838 Louis Belmonti, a café owner in the city, purchased her. Though marriage between slaves was not recognized under law, Sally Miller considered herself married to “Yellow Jim,” another slave owned by John Miller and Canby. After Yellow Jim died, she lived with Jim Bigger, another slave. While a slave of Miller and Belmonti, Sally Miller had four children, likely by four different men. In 1843 a German immigrant discovered Sally Miller working in Belmonti's café and recognized her as Salomé Muller, who had disappeared in 1818 after arriving in New Orleans from Alsace with her family. Other Germans who had emigrated with the Mullers noted her physical resemblance to the missing girl, and Sally Miller was embraced by the city's German community as one of its own....

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Barbara Bennett Peterson

Stockton, Betsey (1798–24 October 1865), educator, was born in slavery of unrecorded parentage. As a child Betsey was given by her owner, Robert Stockton, as a wedding gift to his daughter when she married Reverend Ashbel Green, the president of the College of New Jersey. Most of Betsey Stockton’s early life was passed as a slave domestic in the Green home at Princeton, except for four years that she spent with Green’s nephew Nathaniel Todd when she was an adolescent. At Todd’s she underwent a period of training intended to instill more piety in her demeanor, which had not been developed in the affectionate, indulgent Green household. Stockton returned to the Green home in 1816 and was baptized in the Presbyterian church at Princeton in 1817 or 1818, having given evidence through speech and deportment of her conversion to Christian ways. At the time of her baptism Stockton was formally emancipated from slavery, the Greens being reform-minded people who supported the abolition of slavery and believed she was prepared for freedom. Stockton became very well educated through their tutoring and the use of their enormous private library. So competent did Stockton become that the Greens finally placed her in charge of their entire household, and she remained as a paid domestic and family member....

Article

Trudier Harris

Terry, Lucy (1730–1821), poet, , is generally recognized as the first African-American woman to have written a poem, the substance of her documented literary effort. Penned in 1746 but not published until 1855, when it appeared in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts...

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Sojourner Truth. From a carte de visite, possibly made in 1864, with an inscription below the picture: "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-119343).

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Truth, Sojourner (1799–26 November 1883), black abolitionist and women's rights advocate, black abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont’s slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York state law in 1827, but she did not marry again....

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Harriet Tubman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-7816).

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Tubman, Harriet (1820–10 March 1913), legendary Underground Railroad conductor, was born Araminta “Minty” Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland, the daughter of Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, slaves. Often a hired-out worker, at age five she did household chores and child-tending. At seven she ran away to avoid a beating for stealing a lump of sugar. After taking refuge for five days in a pigpen, where she competed unsuccessfully for food, Minty returned and accepted her flogging. As a child nurse and housekeeper at nine, Minty was disabled by physical abuse and starvation. Placed in the fields at thirteen, she was glad to be among the folk and taking in the wonders of nature....