With national debates raging across America on race relations, patriotism and confederate memorials, I often turn back to history to have a better understanding of the present and future. In fact, the understanding of historical events, places and people can provide not only a pathway to understanding present times, but also a means to a pathway towards positive change for the future. From our family collections I uploaded a nearly 50 year old magazine featuring a set of articles entitled, “Our Black Heritage” from the October 12, 1969 edition of the long obsolete Rhode Island Magazine. Continue reading
Recently I posted an image on Facebook of my great aunt and uncle at Easton’s Beach in Newport, RI around 1917. I noted my aunt, Lillie Forrester Carr was an early African American graduate of Julliard and went on to become an accomplished music teacher in New York. Her husband, James Dickerson Carr would become the first African American graduate of Rutgers University and later earn a law degree at Columbia University. Continue reading
For me, my African heritage ancestor’s trials of enslavement is not a distant historical occurrence, but something that shaped my family life then and to this very day. I have studied the subject extensively, lectured in many historic cities and countries, and I have been fortunate to preserve many family heirlooms dating back to the early days of slavery. This past June I had the very emotional experience of walking the grounds of the Pen (Livestock Plantation) in Jamaica where my maternal African-Jamaican ancestor was born into slavery during the late 18th century. What made the experience even more significant was to have the descendant of our family’s enslaver join me to retrace the events of 221 years ago that led to one of the most notable mass slave emancipations in history. So here I am walking down a solitary dirt road in Unity Valley within St Ann’s Parish of rural Jamaica, an African heritage man from America walking with a European heritage man from England with the shared family name of Barclay, and historical connections to the founders of Barclays Bank. Continue reading
For better or worse, far too many historical interpretations of the European Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the enslavement of Africans in the Western Hemisphere have overshadowed the narratives of the Africans themselves, rendering their past lives and accomplishments nearly invisible to the present-day audience. Award-winning African heritage author, Ralph Ellison vividly depicted this dilemma in his epic novel, Invisible Man highlighting the profoundly ironic condition of African heritage people in America then and even to this day stating, “I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand me, simply because people refuse to see me.” Continue reading
Many times, when you live and were raised in a historic community like my home in Newport, Rhode Island, you take for granted the significant sites and structures in the place you call home. My family has lived on Vernon Avenue for four generations. We have played baseball and tennis at Vernon Park next to our home. And up the street is the historic Vernon Family estate, “Elmhyrst” designed by famed Russell Warren, the leader of Greek Revival architecture in early America. But as I was surrounded by everything Vernon, it would later become clear to me that the Vernon name, which has been synonymous in Newport with our founding settlers and early commerce and political leadership, is also tied to the African Slave Trade. Continue reading
In all the years that I have worked researching and interpreting slave cemeteries, the most interesting and baffling discovery I have come across is the matching burial markers in Newport, RI and Dorchester, MA of a young slave girl named Ann. She died in June 1743 at two years of age. Her mother’s name was Mimbo and they were both slaves in the Robert Oliver household in Dorchester. Continue reading
Nearly two hundred years before the 1963 March on Washington for Peace & Jobs and before Richard Allen, Fredrick Douglas, Harriett Tubman, WEB Dubois, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, there was an African man who brought vision, intelligence, and leadership to the cause of African liberation and equality in 18th century America. John Quamino was born in 1744, most likely in Anomabu, a small town on the Gold Coast of West Africa which is today Ghana. His Quamino name is the English phoneticized pronunciation of Kwame coming from the Akan people’s tradition of providing the day name for boys born on Saturday. Arriving in Newport, Rhode Island around 1754, his own account describes his father, a prominent member of his tribe entrusting his son to a white merchant to be brought to America for education and was promptly enslaved and sold to a Benjamin Church of Rhode Island. While a slave in Newport, Quamino had access to both education and religion and became an active member in the First Congregational Church. He married an African woman named Duchess who was enslaved in the William Channing household, and in 1773, Quamino would purchase his freedom from the proceeds of a town lottery winning.
With a strong belief and desire to bring the Christian faith to the Africans, Quamino’s pastor, Reverend Samuel Hopkins raised a considerable sum of money from various New England church groups with plans to educate and train as missionaries two Newport Africans for the purpose of sending them back to Africa. On November 22, 1774 John Quamino along with a Bristol Yamma of Newport were sent to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), possibly being the first Africans to enroll in an American college. Hopkins also reached out to a Reverend Phillip Qarque, an African missionary from the Society of London for the Prorogating in Foreign Parts, who was stationed at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. Amazingly, Qarque had also made contact with John Quamino’s uncle and mother who were from a prominent family in Anomabu and were excited to reunite with their long lost relative thought to have been lost to slavery. With the commencement of the American Revolution and the soon to be British occupation of Newport, the plans for an African led mission to West Africa ended. Quamino undeterred, redirected his efforts to end slavery in America and promote the social and religious well-being of his fellow Africans.
Quamino would send a June 6, 1776 letter to Quaker and Abolitionist Moses Brown of Providence thanking him for his courage to free his slaves and take on the abolition of slavery, where he stated:
“Having some late understanding of your noble and distinguished character and boundless benevolence—with regards to the unforfeited rights of the poor unhappy Africans of this province and of your sundry petitions to the General Assemblies in their favor, has excited one of that nation, though an utter stranger, to present—gratitude and thanks before you—for all your excellent endeavours for the speedy salvation of his poor enslaved countrymen, and for what you were kindly disposed to do already of this kind in freeing all your servants. Hoping that you will be highly rewarded hereafter by Him who has promised to remember the merciful at the great reckoning day.”
Soon after, Quamino, like many free Africans would enlist on an American Privateer to earn enough funds to purchase the freedom of his wife and children. Regrettably, he was killed in battle during the American Revolution. The legacy of John Quamino can be seen throughout American civil rights history through those that actively led the efforts for freedom, civil rights and equality, but few paid the ultimate price like John Quamino who gave his life to a fledging America in the name of freedom and equality for all.