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Bruce, Blanche Kelso (01 March 1841–17 March 1898), black political leader and U.S. senator during the Reconstruction era, was born in Farmville, Virginia, the son of Polly (surname unknown), a slave. The identity of his father is unknown, but he took the surname of the man who owned his mother before he was born. His childhood as a slave on a small plantation, first in Virginia, then briefly in Mississippi, and finally in Missouri did not significantly differ, as he later recalled, from that of the sons of whites. This relatively benign experience in slavery perhaps owed a great deal to the fact that he was a light-skinned mulatto and the favorite of a benevolent master and mistress. He shared a tutor with his master’s son and thus obtained the education that prepared him for later success. During the Civil War, despite the benevolence of his owner, he fled to freedom in Kansas, but after slavery was abolished he returned to Missouri where he reportedly established the first school in the state for blacks, at Hannibal....

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Rainey, Joseph Hayne (21 June 1832–02 August 1887), politician, was born a slave in Georgetown, South Carolina, the son of Edward L. Rainey and Gracia C. (maiden name unknown). The elder Rainey purchased his family’s freedom and moved with them in about 1846 (the exact date is unknown) to Charleston where he was employed as a barber at the exclusive Mills House hotel. He prospered and purchased two male slaves in the 1850s. Joseph Rainey received a modest education and was trained by his father as a barber. In 1859 he traveled to Philadelphia and married Susan E. (maiden name unknown). As a result of the intervention of several friends, the couple managed to circumvent the state prohibition against free people of color entering or returning to South Carolina, and they moved to Charleston. After the Civil War began, Rainey was conscripted to serve as a steward on a Confederate blockade runner. He was later compelled to work in the construction of Confederate fortifications around Charleston. He escaped with his wife to Bermuda on a blockade runner. They settled first in St. George and then in Hamilton. He resumed barbering, and his wife worked as a dressmaker. They returned to Charleston in 1865, shortly after the war ended....

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Smalls, Robert (05 April 1839–23 February 1915), congressman, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of an unknown white man and Lydia, a slave woman who worked as a house servant for the John McKee family in Beaufort. Descendants of Smalls believed that his father was John McKee, who died when Robert was young. The McKee family sent Robert to live with their relatives in Charleston, where he worked for wages that he turned over to his master. Smalls apparently taught himself the rudiments of reading and writing during this period. Later he attended school for three months, and as an adult he hired tutors. In 1856 Smalls married Hannah Jones, a slave who worked as a hotel maid. They had three children, one of whom died of smallpox. The couple lived apart from their owners, to whom they sent most of their income....

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Turner, Benjamin Sterling (17 March 1825–21 March 1894), Reconstruction politician, was born a slave near Weldon, Halifax County, North Carolina. His parents’ names are unknown. He was owned by Elizabeth Turner, a widow, who took the five-year-old Turner with her when, in 1830, she moved to Dallas County, Alabama, in the state’s rich cotton-producing and slave-dense Black Belt. He grew up in Dallas County and in Selma, on the Alabama River....

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Walls, Josiah Thomas (30 December 1842–15 May 1905), black Reconstruction congressman, was born near Winchester, Virginia. His parents’ names are unknown and Walls’s public statements regarding his parents’ status during slavery are contradictory. Quite possibly he was born the slave of Dr. John Walls, a Winchester physician, but his dark skin casts doubt on the premise that Dr. Walls was also his father....