Anna Murray Douglass

Anna Murray Douglass

Wife of Former Slave Frederick Douglass Anna Murray Douglass was an American abolitionist, member of the Underground Railroad, and the first wife of orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Her life illustrates the challenges faced by women who marry famous men. Early Years Anna Murray was born free to Bambarra and Mary Murray in Denton, Maryland in 1813. Anna was ambitious; by the age of 17 she had moved to Baltimore and established herself as a laundress and housekeeper and was earning a decent income, especially for someone so young. Murray facilitated Frederick’s second escape attempt by providing money for a train ticket and a sailor’s disguise. She followed him to New York City, where they were married by the prominent…

Read Article

The Forten Sisters

The Forten Women of Philadelphia The Fortens were one of the most prominent black families in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Wealthy sailmaker James Forten and his wife Charlotte Vandine Forten headed the family; their daughters were: Margaretta, Harriet, and Sarah. The Fortens were active abolitionists who took part in founding and financing at least six abolitionist organizations. The Forten sisters were educated in private schools and by private tutors. Image: Sisters by Keith Mallett Margaretta Forten (1806-1875) Margaretta was an African American abolitionist and suffragist. She worked as a teacher for at least thirty years. During the 1840s she taught at a school run by Sarah Mapps Douglass; in 1850 she opened her own school. Margaretta never married and lived with her…

Read Article

Civil War Beaufort SC

The U.S. Navy Attacks the South Carolina Coast The Battle of Port Royal on November 7, 1861 was the beginning of the end of the Old South. Beaufort was the first southern city captured by Union forces, remaining in their hands throughout the war. The town had been completely abandoned by its white citizens by the time Federal forces arrived there. Freedmen and their teachers (lower right) Beaufort Public Library was not damaged in the Battle of Port Royal After the battle, the freedmen flocked there, hoping to find an education. Beaufort, South Carolina Beaufort lies 10 miles inland along the Beaufort River which leads to the Port Royal Sound and empties into Atlantic Ocean midway between Charleston and Savannah,…

Read Article

Slaves in the White House I

Slaves and Presidents at the White House Construction on the President’s House began in 1792 in Washington, DC, a new capital situated in a sparsely settled region far from a major population center. Eleven U.S. presidents were slaveholders. Seven of those owned slaves while living at the White House: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor. Image: Black cook working in the White House kitchen Damp and moldy, the ground floor was a difficult place for the White House staff to work and live. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Slave Quarters at the White House Not only did enslaved men and women work in the White House, but they also lived there;…

Read Article

Black Women Writers of the 19th Century

African-American Women Authors in Antebellum America Image: Middle-class black women who loved to read did not have many role models. Credit: Jeffrey Green Prior to the Civil War, the majority of African-Americans living in the United States were held in bondage. Although law forbade them, many found a way to learn to read and write. More African-Americans than we could have imagined published poetry, biographies, novels and short stories.

Black Women After the Civil War

African American Women in Postbellum America Image: A freed family on a plantation gathered for a photograph After the Civil War, African American women were promised a new life of freedom with the same rights provided to other American citizens. But the newly freed women in the South had little or no money, limited or no education and little access to it, and racism impacted every area of their lives. The transition from enslavement to freedom was a difficult and frightening one for most black women who emerged from enslavement knowing “that what they got wasn’t what they wanted; it wasn’t freedom, really.” The Civil War promised freedom to African American women, but as the Confederate Army and slaveowners fleeing…

Read Article

Black Women Before the Civil War

African American Women in Antebellum America Amid the harshness of slavery, American women of African descent managed to preserve the culture of their ancestry and articulate their struggles. Black female poets and writers emerged throughout the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Many prominent free black women in the North were active in the Abolitionist Movement. Slave Women Enslaved women in every state of the antebellum Union undoubtedly considered escaping from bondage, but relatively few attempted it – often to avoid splitting up their families. Some bought their liberty with hard-earned money; others filed freedom suits and were declared free by the courts. Historian Deborah Gray White explains the life of slave women: “Black in a white society, slave in a…

Read Article

Wives of U.S. Colored Troops

Wives Fought to Keep Families Together Image: Unidentified African American soldier in Union Uniform with his wife in dress and hat and two daughters in matching coats and hats. As the news of the attack on Fort Sumter spread, free black men hurried to enlist in the Union Army, but a 1792 Federal law barred African Americans from bearing arms for the United States. However, by the summer of 1862 the escalating number of former slaves and the pressing need of men to fill the ranks for the Union Army caused the government to reconsider. Backstory African Americans have volunteered to serve their country in time of war since the American Revolution. The National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) in…

Read Article

Mary Peake

Teacher of Runaway Slaves at Fortress Monroe Mary Peake was a teacher, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves in the summer of 1861, under the shade of a tree that would become known as the Emancipation Oak in present-day Hampton, Virginia. This makeshift outdoor classroom provided the foundation of what would become Hampton University. Image: Mary Peake Early Years In 1823, Mary Smith Kelsey was born free in Norfolk, Virginia. Her father was an Englishman “of rank and culture” and her mother was a free woman of color, described as light-skinned. When Mary was six, her mother sent her to the town of Alexandria (then part of the District of Columbia) to attend school…

Read Article

Black Civil War Nurses

African American Nurses in the Civil War Nursing was not a woman’s job before the Civil War, but by 1865, there were over 3,000 nurses serving the Union and Confederacy. In the North, most women nurses worked in military hospitals. Image: Black nurses with the 13th Massachusetts Infantry The 13th Mass fought in numerous battles, from the Shenandoah Valley to Bull Run to Antietam So many women volunteered as Union nurses that the U.S. government hired Dorothea Dix to serve as the superintendent of women nurses. African American nurses were not included in those numbers, nor were they recognized for their service for decades to come. Some were paid; many volunteered. During the Civil War, black women did serve as…

Read Article