Lydia Hamilton Smith

Abolitionist and African American Businesswoman S. Epatha Merkerson plays Lydia Hamilton Smith in the 2012 film Lincoln, alongside Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. The movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Merkerson owes much of her fame to her role as Lt. Anita Van Buren on the original Law and Order television series. Lydia Hamilton Smith had a special relationship with U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. She became Stevens’ housekeeper in 1847, and for 25 years she managed his homes and businesses. Through their partnership she gained the skills and social contacts necessary to become a successful businesswoman after his death. Lydia Hamilton was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1815, to…

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Susie King Taylor

African American Civil War Nurse and Teacher Susie Baker began life as a slave on August 6, 1848, at the Grest Plantation in Liberty County, Georgia, 35 miles south of Savannah. She was the first of nine children of Hagar Ann Reed and Raymond Baker. Her mother was a domestic servant for the Grest family. The Grests treated Susie and her brother with great affection, their childless mistress even allowing them to sleep on her bed when her husband was away on business. This easy-going atmosphere, Susie’s first experience of mutual trust between black people and white, became part of the standard by which she judged all later relationships with white people. About 1854 Mr. Grest allowed Susie and her…

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Abolitionism

Abolitionism was a political movement that sought to end the practice of slavery and the slave trade. ‘The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage’ was the first American abolition society. It was established in Philadelphia in 1775, primarily by Quakers, who believed that one man owning another was a sin. Its operation was suspended during the British occupation of Philadelphia and the Revolutionary War. It began again in 1784, with Benjamin Franklin as first president. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, an agreement was reached that allowed the Federal government to abolish the international slave trade by 1808. The principal organized bodies of this reform were the Society of Friends, the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society, and…

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Charlotte Forten

Women in Education: Teacher of Emancipated Slaves Charlotte Forten was the first northern African American schoolteacher to go south to teach former slaves. As a black woman, she hoped to find kinship with the freedmen, but her own education set her apart from the former slaves. For two years she stayed on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, but ill health forced her to return north. In 1864, she published “Life on the Sea Islands” in The Atlantic Monthly, which brought the work of the Port Royal Experiment to the attention of northern readers. Childhood Charlotte Forten was born in Philadelphia in 1837 into an influential and affluent family, all of whom were active in promoting equal rights for African Americans….

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Author, Feminist and Social Reformer Frances Ellen Watkins was born to free parents in Baltimore, Maryland in 1825. She was not yet three years old when her mother died, and she was raised by her uncle, Reverend William Watkins, a teacher and radical advocate for civil rights who founded the William Watkins Academy for free African American children for Negro Youth ( where Frances was educated). The education she received there, and her uncle’s civil rights activism greatly influenced her writing. Frances attended her uncle’s school until she was thirteen years old, when she was sent out to earn a living. She found work as a babysitter and seamstress for the Armstrong family. Mr. Armstrong owned a bookstore, and he…

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Hallie Quinn Brown

Feminist, Author and Social Reformer Hallie Quinn Brown was an abolitionist, educator, writer and women’s rights activist in the Civil War era. She was born March 10, 1845 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to former slaves, Thomas and Frances Scroggins Brown. Both were well-educated and actively involved with the Underground Railroad. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Hallie moved with her parents and five siblings to Chatham, Ontario, where her father earned his living as a farmer, and the children attended the local school. In 1870, the family settled in Wilberforce, Ohio, so Hallie and her younger brother could attend Wilberforce College, a primarily black institution. Hallie graduated in 1873 with a Bachelor of Science degree. After graduation, Brown…

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Ellen Craft

Abolitionist and Fugitive Slave from Georgia Ellen Craft was a slave from Macon, Georgia who escaped to the North in 1848. Craft, the light-skinned daughter of a mulatto slave and her white master, disguised herself as a white male planter. Her husband William Craft accompanied her, posing as her personal servant. She traveled openly by train and steamboat, arriving in Philadelphia on Christmas Day 1848. Her daring escape was widely publicized, and she became one of the most famous fugitive slaves. Ellen Smith was born in 1826 in Clinton, Georgia, to a biracial slave woman named Maria and her white master, Colonel James Smith. Ellen was so light-skinned that she was often mistaken for a member of her father’s family….

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Lost Colony of Roanoke

Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony Roanoke Island is located between the Outer Banks and the mainland coast of North Carolina. It is well known as the site of the Lost Colony, where the first settlement of British colonists disappeared in 1587. It is not so well known for another colony that was established during the Civil War. The island was important militarily because it is located near the opening of two major sounds and is protected somewhat from the harsh weather in the Atlantic Ocean. Image: Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony Monument Fort Raleigh National Historic Site In 2001, the Dare County Heritage Trail committee erected a marble monument to commemorate the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island. In 2004, the monument was…

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Elizabeth Keckley

Dressmaker and Confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln Elizabeth Keckley was a former slave who became a successful seamstress and author in Washington, DC, after buying her freedom in St. Louis. She created an independent business with clients who were the wives of the government elite: Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, Mary Randolph Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in 1818 in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia. Her biological father was a white plantation owner, Colonel A. Burwell. Her mother Agnes was married to George Hobbs, who lived 100 miles away on another plantation. I was my mother’s only child, which made her love for me all the stronger….

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Fannie Jackson Coppin

Teacher of African American Children For 37 years Fannie Jackson Coppin was teacher, then principal at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, making her the first African American woman to receive the title of school principal. During her tenure, she made many improvements at the school, believing that a broader range of education would be necessary to enable African Americans to become self-supporting. Fannie Jackson was born a slave in Washington, DC, on October 15, 1837. Fannie’s grandfather bought his own freedom and that of four of his children, being one. But Fannie’s mother, Lucy, remained a slave. In 1849 her aunt Sarah Orr Clark bought Fannie’s freedom for $125. Fannie was sent to live with another aunt…

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