AFAM 2296 Final Project- Iman Khan

Although there are many slave narratives and stories of the brutalities of slavery, there are also numerous stories of Black success and entrepreneurship in antebellum America, especially in Boston, MA. The demographics in Boston, MA varied even amongst Blacks. There were hierarchies in wealth and status. Economic conditions were usually based on birthplace, skin tone and literacy (Horton).

There were certain individuals however, that made special contributions to society. Many operated boarding houses, women obtained multiple jobs and actually contributed the crucial income for the family (Horton).

However, this did not come without opposition. There was a push amongst Black individuals to take control of their own institutions, such as education. They faced backlash and resentment from white citizens and there were attempts to sabotage their work, but they persevered to fight for their rights (White).

PHOTO FOUND FROM: Gardner, Eric. “‘The Complete Fortune Teller and Dream Book’: An Antebellum Text ‘By Chloe Russel, a Woman of Colour.’” The New England Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 2, 2005, pp. 259–288. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30045526. Accessed 5 Dec. 2020.

Chloe Russel

Chloe Russel is one of the most interesting yet still somewhat unknown Black writers from 18th century Boston. Most of the information that has been released about her has been from gathered evidence and inferences from that evidence (Gardner).

She is the famous author of The Complete Fortune Teller and Dream Book. Most assume that it was written by her, but it has yet to be completely confirmed. There are editions found similar to her work and a possible involvement of publisher Tom Hazard. The only complete version of this text is from 1824 (Gardner).

Based on various pieces of writing and census records, Russel was born in 1745 in Sierra Leone. After being captured at 9 years old and taken to Boston, MA, she was sold to a Planter named George Russel. He was a kind master, but when he died, his tyrant-like son took over and overworked, beat and deprived Russel of food to the point where she tried to commit suicide. However, a vision of her Father stopped her from taking her life which began her spiritual journey. From then on, she discovered her gift of fortune telling and spirituality. She was publicly known for this gift and was often paid to help others either find or interpret something (Gardner).

Writer Eric Gardner points out that the census records also show Russel’s entrepreneurial side. She was one of the six Black female property owners in Boston, MA. She worked as a washer-woman, a cook and a mother to three children. She was able to do all that while purchasing and maintaining her own property (Gardner).

PHOTO FOUND FROM: Wilson, Cynthia. “ROBERT MORRIS, SR. (1823-1882).” Robert Morris, Sr. (1823-1882), Black Past, 6 Feb. 2020, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/morris-robert-sr-1823-1882/.

Robert Morris

Robert Morris was the one of first Black attorneys in the United States. He was born in 1823 in Salem, MA and was raised there as well. He attended Master Dodge’s School and eventually worked for attorney and abolitionist Ellis Gray Loring. He later fought in the Civil War and spoke out against the injustices Black soldiers faced (Wilson).

Most notably, Morris was a lawyer. He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1847, making him one of the first Black lawyers in the U.S (Wilson). He worked at a law firm with Macon Bolling Allen, the first black lawyer in the United States; Morris was the second (Huffman).

Morris was an active abolitionist who opposed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and helped find freedom for fugitive slaves (Wilson). He even helped Shadrach Minkins to Canada, which violated the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He was charged with treason and Minkins was captured. However, Morris and thousands of others helped Minkins escape. Morris had petitioned for writ of habeas corpus to the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of Minkins (Huffman).

He also worked with William Lloyd Garrison in the abolitionist movement (Wilson). One of the main causes Morris focused on was academic equality for Black children. He wanted more opportunities for them because Boston had only 2 schools for children of color and 159 for whites. He filed suit and served as the nation’s first Black litigant (Huffman). Although he lost the case, his mark still remains in history.

Morris married and had a son (Wilson). He died on West Newton Street in Boston, MA in 1882 (Wilson, Huffman).

PHOTO FOUND FROM: https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/brownrw/menu.html

Chloe Spear

Chloe Spear was a great Black entrepreneur in the early 19th century (Horton). She was born in Africa and was captured as a child. She was bought by Mr. B and brought to Boston, MA at age 12. She worked with a local teacher to learn to read and write until her Master found out and stopped her. She eventually finished her literacy on her own in later years because of her effort to read holy scripture (Lady of Boston).

While still a slave, married Cesar Spear and had several children. They had seven children who all eventually passed, leaving her with one grandson (Lady of Boston).

She served as the head of the household with a husband and seven children. She worked as a domestic for a prominent Black family, then took over her husband’s boarding house duties after. She would then spend her nights doing her chores at home only to repeat the same cycle again the next day (Horton).

Despite the societal norms that placed men as head of the household, she controlled her own money and purchased an unfurnished house for $700 without her husband, Cesar Spear, knowing about any of it. The only involvement he had was that they had to place the home in his name because she was not legally unable to at the time. The income she brought was crucial to their livelihoods (Horton).
She reflected on her life as a slave taken from Africa and hailed “hallelujah” for finding freedom and success (Lady of Boston). She continued the rest of her life as a righteous Christian woman (Lady of Boston).

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Sources

Horton Text: Horton, James Oliver, and Lois E. Horton. Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North. Holmes & Meier, 1999.

Gardner Text: Gardner, Eric. “‘The Complete Fortune Teller and Dream Book’: An Antebellum Text ‘By Chloe Russel, a Woman of Colour.’” The New England Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 2, 2005, pp. 259–288. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30045526. Accessed 5 Dec. 2020.

Summary of Chloe Spear: Lady of Boston. “Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear, A Native of Africa, Who Was Enslaved in Childhood, and Died in Boston, January 3, 1815. Aged 65 Year. By a Lady of Boston.” Northern Illinois University Digital Library, Boston: James Loring, 1 Jan. 1970, digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-lincoln:37941.

Chloe Spear: Unknown, Rebecca, Brown, Rebecca, Webb, Mary, and Northeastern University. Women Writers Project. Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear, 1832. (2015). Web.

Robert Morris: Wilson, Cynthia. “ROBERT MORRIS, SR. (1823-1882).” Robert Morris, Sr. (1823-1882), Black Past, 6 Feb. 2020, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/morris-robert-sr-1823-1882/.

Robert Morris: Huffman, Zack. “The Life & Legal Strides of Boston Abolitionist Robert Morris.” CNS, 22 Feb. 2019, www.courthousenews.com/the-life-legal-strides-of-boston-abolitionist-robert-morris/.

Black Entrepreneurship: Walker, Juliet E. K. “The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship (Second Edition).” Google Books, 1998, books.google.com/books?id=mfiV6kQm2OYC&lpg=PR5&ots=PWxi8mlnfI&dq=colonial%20black%20entrepreneurship%20boston&lr&pg=PR5#v=onepage&q=colonial%20black%20entrepreneurship%20boston&f=false.

Black Entrepreneurship: White, Arthur O. “The Black Leadership Class and Education in Antebellum Boston.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 42, no. 4, 1973, pp. 504–515. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2966563. Accessed 5 Dec. 2020.