African-American Firsts of the 18th Century

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African-American Firsts in the 18th Century

Collage features Lucy Prince, Anthony Benezet and Absalom Jones. Public Domain

By the 18th Century the 13 colonies were growing in population. To support this growth, Africans were bought to the colonies to be sold into enslavement. Being in bondage caused many to respond in various ways. 

Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Terry Prince, who were both stolen from Africa and sold into slavery, used poetry to express their experiences. Jupiter Hammon, never achieved freedom in his lifetime but use poetry as well to expose an end to enslavement. 

Others such as those involved in the Stono Rebellion, fought for their freedom physically. 

At the same time, a small yet vital group of freed African-Americans would begin to establish organizations in response to racism and enslavement.  

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Fort Mose: The First African-American Settlement

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Fort Mose, 1740. Public Domain

In 1738,  Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose) is established by fugitive slaves. Fort Mose would be considered the first permanent African-American settlement in the Americas. 

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Stono Rebellion: September 9, 1739

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Stono Rebellion, 1739. Public Domain

The Stono Rebellion takes place on September 9, 1739. It is the first major slave revolt in South Carolina. An estimated forty whites and 80 African-Americans are killed during the revolt. 

 

 

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Lucy Terry: First African-American to Compose a Poem

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Lucy Terry. Public Domain

 In 1746 Lucy Terry recited her ballad "Bars Fight" and became known as the first African-American woman to compose a poem. 

When Prince died in 1821, her obituary read, “the fluency of her speech captivated all around her.”  Throughout Prince’s life, she used the power of her voice to retell stories and defend the rights of her family and their property.

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Jupiter Hammon: First African-American Published Poet

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Jupiter Hammon. Public Domain

 In 1760, Jupiter Hammon published his first poem, “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries.”  The poem was not only Hammon's first published work, it was also the first to be published by an African-American. 

As one of the founders of the African-American literary tradition, Jupiter Hammon published several poems and sermons. 

Although enslaved, Hammon supported the idea of freedom and was a member of the African Society during the Revolutionary War

In 1786, Hammon even presented “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York.” In his address, Hammon said, “If we should ever get to Heaven we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves.” Hammon’s address was printed several times by abolitionist  groups such as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. 

 

 

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Anthony Benezet Opens First School For African-American Children

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Anthony Benezet opened the first school for African-American children in colonial America. Public Domain

Quaker and abolitionist Anthony Benezet founded the first free school for African-American children in the colonies. Opened in Philadelphia in 1770, the school was called the Negro School at Philadelphia. 

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Phillis Wheatley: First African-American Woman to Publish a Collection of Poetry

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Phillis Wheatley. Public Domain

When Phillis Wheatley's  Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral  was published in 1773, she became the second African-American and the first African-American woman to publish a collection of poetry.

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Prince Hall: Founder of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge

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Prince Hall, Founder of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Public Domain

In 1784, Prince Hall established the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in Boston. The organization was founded after he and other African-American men were barred from joining a local masonry because they were African-American. 

The organization is the first lodge of African-American Freemasonry in the world. It is also the first organization in the United States with a mission to improve social, political and economic opportunities in society.

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Absalom Jones: Co-Founder of the Free African Society and Religious Leader

Absalom Jones, co-founder of the Free African Society and Religious Leader. Public Domain

 In 1787, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen established the Free African Society (FAS). The purpose of the Free African Society was to develop a mutual aid society for African-Americans in Philadelphia. 

By 1791, Jones was holding religious meetings through the FAS and was petitioning to establish an Episcopal Church for African-Americans independent of white control. By 1794, Jones founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. The church was the first African-American church in Philadelphia. 

In 1804, Jones was ordained an Episcopal Priest, making him the first African-American to hold such a title. 

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Richard Allen: Co-Founder of the Free African Society and Religious Leader

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Richard Allen. Public Domain

 When Richard Allen died in 1831, David Walker proclaimed that he was one of  “the greatest divines who has lived since the apostolic age.”  

Allen was born a slave and purchased his own freedom in 1780.

Within seven years, Allen and Absalom Jones had established the Free African Society, the first African-American mutual aid society in Philadelphia.

In 1794, Allen became the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

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Jean Baptiste Point du Sable: First Settler of Chicago

Jean Baptist Point du Sable. Public Domain

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is known as the first settler of Chicago around 1780. 

Although very little is known about du Sable’s life before settling in Chicago, it is believed that he was a native of Haiti.

As early as 1768, Point du Sable ran his business as a fur trader at a post in Indiana. But by 1788, Point du Sable had settled in present-day Chicago with his wife and family. The family ran a farm that was considered prosperous.

Following the death of his wife, Point du Sable relocated to Louisiana. He died in 1818. 

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Benjamin Banneker: The Sable Astronomer

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 Benjamin Banneker was known as the "Sable Astronomer."

In 1791, Banneker was working with surveyor Major Andrew Ellicot to design Washington D.C. Banneker worked as Ellicot's technical assistant and determined where the surveying of the nation's capital should begin.  

From 1792 to 1797, Banneker published a yearly almanac. Known as "Benjamin Banneker's Almanacs," the publication included Banneker's astronomical calculations, medical information and literary works. 

The almanacs were bestsellers throughout  Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia. 

In addition to Banneker's work as an astronomer, he was also a noted abolitionist.