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Stewart, Maria W. (1803–17 December 1879), writer, black activist, and teacher, was born Maria Miller in Hartford, Connecticut (information about her date of birth and parentage is not known). Orphaned at five years old and indentured to a clergyman’s family until she was fifteen, Maria Miller supported herself as a domestic servant and gained a rudimentary education by attending “Sabbath schools.” Miller’s marriage on 10 August 1826 to James W. Stewart, a Boston shipping agent, placed her in the small and vibrant free black Boston community that had established organizations and institutions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for northern blacks coming out of bondage. Stewart’s brief period of financial security ended when unscrupulous executors cheated the young widow out of her inheritance following the death of her husband in 1829....

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Walker, David (1796?–06 August 1830), used-clothing dealer and political writer, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, the son probably of a free black woman and possibly of a slave father. Almost nothing is known about either parent; only a little more is known about Walker’s years in the South. Walker was born in a town where by 1800 African Americans predominated demographically over whites by more than two to one. Their influence on the town and the region was profound. Most labor—skilled or unskilled—was performed by black slaves who were the foundation of the region’s key industries: naval stores production, lumbering, rice cultivation, building construction, and shipping. The Methodist church in Wilmington was largely the creation of the local black faithful. The skill and resourcefulness of the African Americans amid their enslavement deeply impressed Walker....