Afonso I (also Affonso)
Kongo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Died c. 1550
Ruler of Kongo Kingdom
Afonso I (pronounced ah-FAHN-so) was a Christian king of Kongo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) who attempted to found the first Europeanized kingdom in Africa. During his reign (1506 to 1543) he established a partnership with the kings of Portugal, who had been sending explorers and traders to Kongo since the 1480s and 1490s. In 1518 Afonso's son, Henrique, became a bishop in the Roman Catholic church, further strengthening ties between Kongo and Portugal. Yet cultural and religious concerns were soon overshadowed by the slave trade, as Portuguese and Africans alike scrambled to make huge profits on the growing demand for slaves. Although Afonso took a stand against this alarming development, his kingdom was eventually destroyed and his experiment ended in tragedy.
(The entire section is 2200 words.)
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Born February 14, 1760
Died March 16, 1831
Freedperson, preacher, community leader
Richard Allen was born a slave. At the age of seventeen, Allen became deeply involved in the Methodist religion, a form of Christianity. After gaining his freedom at the age of twenty, he began traveling and preaching to blacks and whites alike. When he was twenty-seven, Allen emerged as a leader in Philadelphia's black community, co-founding the Free African Society as a first step toward establishing the country's first African church in 1794. Allen founded mutual aid societies, helped create numerous schools for black youths, and organized and presided over many conferences and conventions. Allen proved to a doubting society by example that blacks were more than capable of independently creating their own social and economic opportunities.
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Born May 9, 1800
Died December 2, 1859
Abolitionist, Underground Railroad
In October 1859, John Brown, a white abolitionist (someone who fights against the institution of slavery), led a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in what many historians refer to as the "first shots" of the American Civil War (1861-65). To most abolitionists, Brown became a great martyr, an almost saint-like figure who gave his life in a holy crusade to end slavery. In the South, Brown was despised. His violent raids and plans of a large-scale revolt—and rumors of more trouble to come—threatened the security of the South and inspired war preparations as far away as Georgia.
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Born c. 1810
Present-day Sierra Leone
Died c. 1880
Slave, revolt leader
Cinque, sometimes referred to as Joseph Cinque (pronounced sink-AY), led a slave revolt in 1838 aboard the ship Amistad, which was carrying captured Africans. Tried for his part in the mutiny, Cinque was defended by former U.S. president John Quincy Adams (1767-1848). Adams won the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841, and Cinque and the other mutineers were freed and returned to Africa.
The details of Cinque's early life in Africa are uncertain, and the facts of his death are likewise clouded in mystery. But in the years between his capture and his return to Africa in 1842, Cinque became a celebrated figure among both African American slaves and abolitionists (people who wanted slavery to be abolished). Since then, Cinque has remained a powerful symbol of the eternal desire for freedom. In 1997 the movie Amistad told the story of the revolt and the subsequent trial.
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Born October 28, 1798
New Garden, North Carolina
Died September 16,1877
Teacher, merchant, abolitionist, reformer,
relief worker, author
Levi Coffin was born and raised in the southern United States at a time when slavery was legal and widespread. However, the Coffin family had been practicing Quakers (religious body formally known as the Religious Society of Friends) for generations, and long opposed to slavery. Like many other people who wanted to see slavery abolished, the Coffins moved north in the 1820s, at first to Indiana and then to Ohio—where slavery was illegal. Levi Coffin quickly established profitable businesses, which allowed him to engage, at his own expense, in many antislavery activities. This included turning his home into a "station" for fugitive slaves fleeing north on the Underground Railroad. Over the years Coffin assisted an estimated three thousand fugitive slaves.
Much of what historians know about Levi Coffin and his work comes from Coffin's...
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Craft, Ellen and Craft, William
Born c. 1826
Charleston, South Carolina
Died January 28, 1900
Charleston, South Carolina
Slaves, freedpeople, abolitionists, teachers
The story of the Crafts' 1848 escape from slavery illustrates the great lengths slaves were willing to go in order to be free. Escaping slavery was never easy, but the odds against the Crafts were especially steep because they lived in the state of Georgia—a thousand miles away from the nearest free soil. Their journey to freedom did not end, however, until they were many thousands of miles away, in England, where slavery was illegal. After the Civil War (1861-65), their homesickness for the land where they grew up led them back to Georgia and farming.
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Chattel slave, fugitive slave,
freedman, abolitionist, orator, Journalist,
reformer, public servant
Frederick Douglass was born a slave but rose to great heights by the end of his life. After gaining his freedom Douglass devoted his life to abolishing slavery and fighting for equal rights for African Americans as well as women. He was one of the finest writers and speakers of his time and greatly influenced the development of American democracy. Douglass published three book-length autobiographies as well as a weekly newspaper, the North Star. His printing office in Rochester, New York, also served as a way station in the Underground Railroad, a secret network that helped runaway slaves escape to freedom in Canada.
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Equiano, Olaudah (also Gustavus Vassa)
Born c. 1750
African slave, writer, abolitionist
Olaudah Equiano (pronounced ek-wee-AHN-o; also called Gustavus Vassa) led a remarkable life. When he was a child living in Nigeria, he was captured by African slave traders. After being sent first to the West Indies and then to a plantation in Virginia, Equiano was bought by British Naval officer Michael Henry Pascal. While serving Pascal, he received many advantages, including an education. He also became a skillful sailor during the Seven Years War (1756-63; a worldwide conflict fought in Europe, North America, and India). After the war, Equiano was traded to Robert King, who was a Quaker (member of the Society of Friends, a Christian group). King provided Equiano with the experience to begin his own trading business, which enabled him to save enough money to buy his freedom. After writing The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), Equiano became a prominent abolitionist (a person who opposes slavery).
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Garrison, William Lloyd
Born December 10, 1805
Died May 24, 1879
New York , New York
Journalist, abolitionist leader, social reformer
William Lloyd Garrison was born into a very poor family in New England but was determined from a very early age to make something out of his life. He got his lucky break at the age of twelve when he became an apprentice with the owner and editor of the local newspaper. At twenty years old he started his own newspaper and although it didn't last long he knew he had found his calling. After a series of jobs as editor of different publications he also knew that he had found his cause: ending slavery in the United States. In 1831 Garrison created The Liberator, a weekly newspaper devoted to abolishing slavery, which he edited for thirty-four years.
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Grimké, Sarah and Grimké, Angelina
Born November 26, 1792
Charleston, South Carolina
Died December 23, 1873
Hyde Park, Massachusetts
Born February 20, 1805
Charleston, South Carolina
Died October 26, 1879
Hyde Park, Massachusetts
Abolitionists, women's rights activists
Sarah and Angelina Grimké were among the very first women to publicly speak out against slavery in the United States. They may also have been the first Americans to argue in print for women to receive the same legal and social rights as men. The Grimké sisters crusaded for the emancipation of slaves and women during a time in America when women could not vote, run for office, or go to college. No organized religion except the Quakers allowed women to speak out or participate in church affairs. It was a time when women were expected to have their names in the newspapers only three times in their lives: when they were born, married, and died.
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Died 1750 B.C.E.
King of Babylonia
Hammurabi was the king of Babylonia, an empire in ancient Mesopotamia. (Mesopotamia was a region located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in southwest Asia; in the Greek language, Mesopotamia means "between the rivers.") He developed a set of 282 laws called the Code of Hammurabi, which controlled nearly every aspect of Babylonian society. Several of the laws related to the ownership of slaves, who were considered the property of their masters. Nevertheless the code gave certain rights to the children of male slaves who married free-born women. Although Hammurabi was a humane and just ruler, his laws involved strict punishments of offenders in all levels of society. He is best known today for the concept of "an eye for an eye," which means the punishment should be equal to the crime.
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Bermuda Hundred, Virginia
American mulatto slave
The general story of the life of Sally Hemings—a mulatto (a person of mixed black and white ancestry) slave who served her master as a domestic servant and possibly his concubine (mistress)—was not all that unusual in late-eighteenthand early-nineteenth-century United States. What makes Sally Hemings's tale especially interesting is that her white master, and some argue, the likely father of her seven children, was Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third president of the United States (1801-1809). Hemings's relationship with Jefferson probably began sometime in 1788, when the two of them were in Paris, France, and lasted until his death in 1826.
Hemings's early years
Although she was three-fourths white, Sally Hemings was born a slave. In colonial America, the status of the mother—free or slave—determined the status of the child. Sally Hemings's father, John Wayles, was white but her...
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Jacobs, Harriet Ann
Born autumn 1813
Edenton, North Carolina
Died March 7, 1897
Slave, fugitive in the South and North, freed slave,
writer, antlslavery activist, reformer
The story of Harriet Jacobs's life as a slave in the nineteenth-century United States, from her birth in 1813 to her freedom in 1852, was published in 1861 as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself Although the Civil War (1861-65) was about to begin and many slave narratives had already been published, Incidents was the first full-length autobiography published by an African American woman in the United States. It was also the only slave narrative that took as its subject the sexual exploitation of female slaves; and the only slave narrative that identified its targeted audience as female.
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Comfort woman (prostitute)
for the Japanese military
Haksun Kim was one of an estimated 200,000 women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during its Fifteen Year War on eastern Asia (1930-45). The story of Kim's tragic life as a Korean "comfort woman" was originally published in Korea in a 1993 book, The Korean Comfort Women Who Were Coercively Dragged Away for the Military. It is one of nineteen life stories that were collected and published by the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Kim relates her abduction and enslavement by the Japanese military in a chapter of the English version of the book (True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women), "Bitter Memories I Am Loath To Recall."
Early years in Korea
Haksun Kim was born in 1924 to Korean parents living in China (who...
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Born February 12, 1809
Hardin County, Kentucky (near Hodgeville,
Died April 15, 1865
In 1863, during the height of the American Civil War (1861-65), sixteenth president of the United States Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a presidential order that granted freedom to slaves held in Confederate (southern) states. Hailed as the "Great Emancipator," Lincoln set in motion the turning point that ultimately ended the bloodiest conflict in American history. He did not live, however, to see the reconciliation of a divided nation. In 1865, five days after the Confederate surrender, Lincoln became the first U.S. president to be assassinated. He has since become a legendary figure not only in the United States but throughout the world. His story—the rise from humble frontiersman to one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history—is now regarded as a symbol of democracy.
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Morel, Edmund Dene
Born c. 1873
Died November 12, 1924
Journalist, author, public speaker,
government lobbyist, anti-war activist
Edmund Dene Morel was a twenty-eight-year-old, French-born shipping clerk and freelance writer working in Liverpool, England, when he discovered evidence of horrendous crimes being committed against the people of Africa by the king of Belgium, Leopold II (1865-1909). Instead of looking the other way, as he was encouraged to do by his employers, Morel spent the next ten years exposing the crimes of King Leopold. In pursuit of his goal, Morel founded and ran a weekly newspaper and an international human rights organization. His efforts stand as a great example of what a single person can do—even against the greatest of odds—to fight injustice in the world.
Early life of a writer...
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Born c. fourteenth century B.C.
Died c. thirteenth century B.C.
Hebrew leader, prophet
Moses was the great Hebrew leader who delivered the Hebrew people (also called the Israelites) out of slavery from Egypt during the thirteenth century B.C. According to the Bible, Moses gave the Hebrews the laws (Torah) that formed the basis of Judaism, the Jewish religion. He is also considered a prophet (one whose words are inspired by God) by Christians and Muslims. Christians are followers of the religion founded by Jesus of Nazareth (also called Jesus Christ; c. 6 B.C.-C. A.D. 30). Muslims are followers of Islam, the religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad (c. 570-632). Scholars are uncertain about the dates of Moses' birth and death because the Bible gives conflicting accounts of his achievements. Many of the events in the story of Moses, however, are based on facts that have been verified by other historical accounts.
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Born July 1808
Essex County, New York
Warren County, New York
Freeborn black, slave, slave narrative author
The story of Solomon Northrup's life as a free black man in the North who was abducted into slavery in the Deep South gained widespread notoriety in the early 1850s. This was due in part to the vast popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which the horrors of slavery in the American South were vividly portrayed. Solomon Northrup, with the help of an editor, told of his incredible misfortune in a book called Twelve Years a Slave, which was published in 1853. Northrup's autobiography of life as a plantation slave, an account that was hailed as entirely believable even by slavery's allies in the South, added credibility to Stowe's fictionalized depiction of the same subject.
Historians today view Northrup's book with great interest. It is the only slave narrative written from the point of view of a black person who was free for many years and then subjected to the cruelties of slavery. Northrup's story sheds...
(The entire section is 2187 words.)
Born c. 385
Died c. 461
Christian missionary, patron saint of Ireland
Throughout the world Catholics and non-Catholics alike celebrate March 17 as St. Patrick's Day with parades, festivals, and other special events. The patron saint (holy protector) of Ireland, Patrick has become a legendary figure, yet the real-life Patrick had little in common with the mythical St. Patrick. Born in the late fourth century, he was actually a simple man who was sold into slavery as a teenager. He then served as a Catholic missionary in Ireland during the fifth century, spreading Christianity outside the Roman Empire (the Romans did not occupy Ireland). Nevertheless, he did perform the near-superhuman feat of converting virtually the entire Irish population. The most reliable source of information about Patrick is his Confession, which he wrote in Latin when he was an old man. He composed this work to justify his career to church leaders who criticized his lack of education and questioned his commitment to Christianity.
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Brackish Pond, Bermuda (British Colony)
Death date unknown
West Indian slave of African descent
The publication in England in 1831 of The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself caused quite a stir. The story of Mary Prince's life as a slave in the West Indian colony of Bermuda was widely read by the general public and lawmakers alike at a time when the country was fiercely debating the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. Mary Prince's History was especially shocking as it was the first time that a British female slave's life story was published, complete with tales of murder, torture, sexual abuse, and general mistreatment of slaves.
"This is slavery," Mary Prince declared at the end of History. "I tell it to let English people know the truth; and I hope they will never leave off to pray God, and call loud to the great King of England, till all the poor blacks be given free, and slavery done up for evermore."
Oh happy days?...
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Born c. 784
near present-day Lemhi, Idaho
South Dakota (not determined)
Sacagawea (pronounced sak-uh-juh-WEE-uh) was a Shoshone (pronounced sho-SHO-nee) interpreter and guide for the Corps of Discovery, one of the most famous expeditions in American history. She was also the only woman member of the party. Most of the information about her life comes from the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, leaders of the exploring party. Her skills as an interpreter and as contact between the Shoshone and the explorers, her knowledge of the plants and wildlife along the route, and her common sense and good humor contributed to the journey's success. Nevertheless, there is much controversy surrounding the story of Sacagewea's life.
Captured by Hidatsa war party
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Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isayevich
Born December 11, 1918
Kislovodsk, Soviet Union
Slave in Soviet labor camps,
From 1927 to 1953, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was ruled by the dictator Joseph Stalin (1879-1953). During Stalin's rule, the government of the USSR enslaved millions of Soviet citizens in labor camps in central Russia, Siberia, central Asia, and above the Arctic Circle. Russian-born novelist, dramatist, and poet Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was one of those victims, accused of political crimes and forced as punishment into the Soviet corrective labor camp system known as the gulag (pronounced GOO-lahg) from 1945 to 1953.
First as a critic of Stalin's government, and then as a critic of the Soviet system in general for its abuse of human rights and its censorship of writers, for over thirty years Solzhenitsyn waged a...
(The entire section is 1999 words.)
Birth date unknown
Thrace (a region In southeast Europe near Italy)
Died 71 B.C.E.
Roman slave and gladiator, rebellion leader
The slave war started by Spartacus in 73 B.C.E. was the largest slave outbreak in Roman history. In the two years of armed revolt tens of thousands of slaves ran away from their owners to join the original rebels. Not long before the Spartacan war, the Romans had already brutally crushed two previous slave wars in Sicily (a large island off the southern tip of Italy), the First Servile War (135-133 B.C.E.), and the Second Servile War (104-100 B.C.E.). Spartacus and his followers for two years battled one of the world's greatest armies and in the process occupied and controlled at one time or another large parts of central and southern Italy. Spartacus and his followers were eventually defeated but it took a military force as great as Caesar would later require to conquer all of Gaul (France) to do it....
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Stowe, Harriet Beecher
Born June 14, 1811
Died July 1, 1896
Author, abolitionist, teacher
During the course of her long literary career, Harriet Beecher Stowe published sixteen books, hundreds of short stories, and countless articles, children's tales, and religious poems, but nothing ever equaled the success of her 1852 novel, known by its shortened name, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Almost overnight, the book ended her family's financial problems and made her an international celebrity. More important, historians give the popularity of Stowe's book credit for unifying public opinion in the North against slavery, a sentiment that ultimately led to the Civil War (1861-65) and the end of slavery in the United States.
The preacher family
Harriet Beecher was born the sixth child of...
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Born c. 1837
Tippu Tib (pronounced TEE-poo tib) was a brave and daring adventurer, a good administrator, and a great leader of men. Much of his financial success, however, came at the expense of other human beings. His exploits can hardly be called heroic by today's standards, yet Tippu Tib played an important role in the history of East and Central Africa in the late nineteenth century. The opening of Africa's interior to European explorers and missionaries with help from Tippu Tib led to great changes in that part of the continent. European exploration led to European colonization and the end of Arab domination of the African interior. For Tippu Tib, it led to his own destruction in the very countries that he conquered and held for almost thirty years.
(The entire section is 2220 words.)
Born May 20, 1743
Cap Francais, Saint Domingue
Died April 7, 1803
Fort de Joux, France
Former slave, Haitian general, revolutionary
As leader of Saint Domingue's slave revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture oversaw the expulsion of the French from their New World colony and the establishment of Haiti as the Western Hemisphere's second independent republic in 1804 (the first was the United States).
François-Dominique Toussaint (pronounced too-SAHN) was born a slave in 1743 on a sugarcane plantation two miles outside of Cap Francais, a city in Saint Domingue (a French colony occupying the western third of the Caribbean island, Hispaniola; the eastern two-thirds was a Spanish colony known as Santo Domingo). Toussaint was the grandson of a West African king whose son—Gaou-Guinou—had been captured in a war in Africa and sold to Count de Breda, a French colonist who grew sugarcane on the island and manufactured it into sugar for export to Europe.
(The entire section is 2384 words.)
Born c. 1797
Ulster County, New York
Battle Creek, Michigan
Abolitionist, women's rights advocate, preacher
Sojourner Truth was born a slave. After gaining her freedom, she began a quest to end slavery and to assist former slaves. Truth was an early civil rights advocate—she fought the segregation policy of Washington, D.C., streetcars shortly after the end of the Civil War (1861-65). She was also a noted speaker who lectured frequently on the ills of racism and sexism, and the injustice of denying women the right to vote. A deeply religious woman, Truth rose to prominence at a time when African Americans and women were expected to live in the shadows of society.
Childhood as a slave
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, New York, sometime in 1797 (the exact birth and death dates of...
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Born c. 1820
Dorchester County, Maryland
Died March 10, 1913
Auburn, New York
Fugitive slave, abolitionist, Underground Railroad
conductor, Union Army scout, spy, nurse, cook,
More than probably any single individual of her times, Harriet Tubman successfully rebelled against the slave system of the United States, devoting enormous amounts of time and energy for most of her life to fight for liberty and equality for her fellow African Americans.
Araminta, the young slave
Harriet Tubman was born a slave, one of eleven children of plantation slaves Benjamin Ross and Harriet Green. From the day she was born, according to the laws of the times, Harriet was the "property" of Edward Brodas, who also...
(The entire section is 2291 words.)
Born October 2, 1800
Southampton County, Virginia
Died November 11, 1831
Southampton County, Virginia
Slave, slave preacher, revolt leader
The South was never the same after Nat Turner's revolt of 1831. Turner and approximately seventy slaves killed about sixty white men, women, and children in Southampton County, Virginia—some even as they slept. The myth of the happy slave was forcefully exploded and slaveholders throughout the South no longer slept peacefully. Every little sound in the night reminded them of Nat Turner's reign of terror and the possibility that their slaves might do the same.
Marked at birth
On October 2, 1800, Nat Turner was born into slavery on a plantation in Southampton County, Virginia, about seventy miles southeast of Richmond. The plantation's owner, Benjamin Turner, had bought Turner's mother a year earlier from the slave market in...
(The entire section is 2438 words.)
Born c. 1767
Africa or St. Thomas, Danish West Indies
Died July 2, 1822
Charleston, South Carolina
Chattel slave, freedman, rebellion leader
Aliterate and worldly man, Denmark Vesey spent his life resisting the degrading forces of slavery and racism. He ultimately became the first slave revolt leader of note when in 1822 he organized thousands of slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, in a carefully planned uprising. Vesey's aim was to change the system by force, no matter what the cost.
Return to sender
Very little is known about Denmark Vesey's childhood years. Some historians claim he was born in the Danish colony of St. Thomas, an island in the Caribbean; others say he was born in Africa. The historical record begins in 1781, when Joseph Vesey, a sea captain and slave trader based in Bermuda, delivered 390 slaves from St. Thomas to St. Domingue (a French colony occupying the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola). On the voyage, Captain Vesey and his officers took special notice of a fourteen-year-old male from the Danish slave market. They...
(The entire section is 2121 words.)