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Attucks, Crispus (1723–05 March 1770), probably a sailor, was the first to be killed in the Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770. Generally regarded to have been of mixed ancestry (African, Indian, and white), Attucks seems to have hailed from a Natick Indian settlement, Mashpee (incorporated as a district in 1763, near Framingham, Massachusetts)....

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Olaudah Equiano. From the frontispiece of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1794. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54026).

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Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography....

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Gibbs, George Washington, Jr. (07 November 1916–07 November 2000), sailor, Antarctic explorer, and civil rights leader, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of George Washington Gibbs, Sr., a railroad fireman, and Florence Call.

After service in the Civilian Conservation Corps, on 8 May 1935 Gibbs enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a mess attendant third class in Macon, Georgia. During this time the messman branch was the only option for African Americans who joined the navy, preparing them for duties as officers' stewards and cooks. Gibbs took his training at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia....

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Lincoln, Abbey (6 Aug. 1930–14 Aug. 2010), jazz singer and songwriter, and actress, was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago, the daughter of Alexander Wooldridge, a handyman, and Evelyn Coffey. They settled in Calvin Center, Michigan when Wooldridge, the tenth of twelve children, was four years old. The family was poor when her father was contributing; they lived in deep poverty after her parents separated, the year unknown. In Calvin Center Wooldridge attended a one-room school and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she became immersed in gospel music. Despite poverty, there was a piano at home. She picked out melodies at the keyboard and sang, but had no formal training in music....

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Patten, Mary Ann Brown (1837–18 March 1861), navigator and sailor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of George Brown and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Married in April 1853 at the age of sixteen, she accompanied her husband, Captain Joshua Adams Patten, on two voyages aboard his ship, the major shipbuilders Foster & Nickerson’s big vessel, ...

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Mary Ann Brown Patten. Ninth-plate ambrotype, c. 1857, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Dorthy Knouse Koepke.

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West, Joseph (fl. 1669–1685), mariner and three-time governor of South Carolina, was of unknown ancestry. Little is known of his life before 1669. In July of that year the Lords Proprietors of Carolina chose Joseph West to command their fleet about to sail from London with the first settlers from England bound for the southern part of their grant. The proprietors entrusted to West’s care an expedition representing a large capital investment but failed to leave information about why they believed him capable of carrying out the mission. Moreover, no other sources have been uncovered that outline West’s early career. In 1669 he styled himself “merchant of London.” He was married to Joanna (maiden name unknown), who joined him in the New World. The couple left no offspring. He was probably a dissenter but of uncertain denominational affiliation. In his will recorded in 1691, he directed that his estate residue be given to London’s Quaker poor. If a Friend at the end of his life, he was not one in the 1660s, serving in the Royal Navy under James Carteret, a son of one of the proprietors. West’s association with the Carterets likely brought him to the attention of Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper (later the Earl of Shaftesbury), who was the prime mover of the proprietary in the late 1660s and 1670s. The earl became West’s patron and supporter....

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Young, John (17 March 1744–17 December 1835), seaman and adviser to King Kamehameha I of the Hawaiian Islands, seaman and adviser to King Kamehameha I of the Hawaiian Islands, was born in Liverpool, England. His parents’ identities are not known. Young had little or no formal education. At an early age he went to sea and before the American Revolution was aboard merchant ships sailing out of New York and Philadelphia. In 1789 he joined the ...