Black American History and Women Timeline 1800–1859

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The first half of the 19th century is a seminal period in the history of the North American Black activist movement, with many of the key figures who would influence generations of advocates fighting against racism and prejudice and for the rights of Black Americans making their appearance. This is the period that gives rise to such important events as the Underground Railroad, activists such as Frederick Douglass, and anti-enslavement publications such as The Liberator.


Sally Hemmings
No portraits of Sally Hemmings are actually preserved, this is a representation based on descriptions.

Public Domain

September 1: James Callendar accuses Thomas Jefferson of keeping "as his concubine, one of his own slaves"—Sally Hemings. The accusation is first published in the Richmond Recorder. Just a year before his death, Callendar turns on his former patron, beginning his piece with the words:

"It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years past has kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves. Her name is Sally. The name of her eldest son is Tom. His features are said to bear a striking although sable resemblance to those of the president himself."

February 11: Lydia Maria Child is born. She will become a North American 19th-century Black activist and writer who also advocates for women's rights and Indigenous peoples' rights. Her best-known piece today is the homey "Over the River and Through the Wood," but her influential anti-enslavement writing helps sway many Americans toward activism. She will also publish "An Appeal in Favor of the Class of Americans Called Africans" in 1822 and "Anti-Slavery Catechism" in 1836.


Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury, Connecticut
The Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury, Connecticut.

Lee Snider / Photo Images / Getty Images

February 19: The Ohio Constitution is adopted, outlawing enslavement and prohibiting free Black people the right to vote. "The convention members (fail) to extend the suffrage to African-American men in the constitution by a single vote," according to Ohio History Central. But the document is still "one the most democratic state constitutions in America to that time," the website states.

September 3: Prudence Crandall is born. The Quaker, North American 19th-century anti-enslavement activist, and teacher will defy prevailing patterns of racial discrimination when she opens one of the nation's first schools for Black girls in Connecticut in 1833.


Portrait of American journalist, teacher, playwright, and poet Angelina Weld Grimke (1880 - 1958).
Portrait of American journalist, teacher, playwright, and poet Angelina Weld Grimke.

Interim Archives / Getty Images

February 20: Angelina Emily Grimke Weld is is born. Grimke, is a southern woman from a family of enslavers who, along with her sister, Sarah Moore Grimke, will become a North American 19th-century Black activist and women's rights proponent. With her sister and her husband, Theodore Weld, Angelina Grimke will also write "American Slavery As It Is," a major anti-enslavement text.


Philadelphia Cityscapes And City Views
Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

July 25: Maria Weston Chapman is born. She will become a prominent North American 19th-century Black activist. She will begin her activism work in 1834, particularly for the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. She will have a long literary career publishing "Songs of the Free, and Hymns of Christian Freedom" in 1836, start editing the Female Anti-Slavery Society annual reports, titled Right and Wrong in Boston also in 1836, publish "Liberty Bell" and help edit The Liberator and Non-Resistant, North American 19th-century Black activist publications, in 1839, organize the Anti-Slavery Fair in Boston in 1842, begin editing the National Anti-Slavery Standard on 1844, and publish "How Can I Help to Abolish Slavery" in 1855.

September 9: Sarah Mapps Douglass is born. She will become a North American 19th-century Black activist and educator. In 1831, Douglass helps raise money in support of William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper, The Liberator. She and her mother are also among the women who, in 1833, found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.


New Jersey flag - Fotosearch - GettyImages-124284129
New Jersey flag.

Fotosearch / GettyImages

New Jersey passes legislation that restricts the right to vote to free, White, male citizens, removing the vote from all African Americans and women, some of whom had voted before the change.

January 25: Ohio passes Black Laws restricting the rights of free Black people further toughening restrictions, enacted in 1804, that had been pushed by White settlers from Kentucky and Virginia, and a growing group of businessmen who had ties to southern enslavement. The Buckeye state thus becomes the first legislative body in the country to approve such laws. These laws will remain in effect until 1849.


On board a slave ship - the transatlantic trade in African slaves

Corbis / Getty Images

January 1: importing enslaved people to the United States becomes illegal; about 250,000 more Africans are imported to the United States after it became illegal to do so.


New York begins recognizing marriages of African Americans.

The African Female Benevolent Society of Newport, Rhode Island, is founded. The group focuses on the needs of the Black Newport community by clothing and educating many underprivileged children.

November 27: Fanny Kemble is born. She will publish the anti-enslavement "Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839." Kemble is actually born in Great Brittan to an acting family and also becomes a famous actress, who also does acting tours in the U.S. During one her tours, she meets and marries Pierce Mease Butler, who inherits a plantation in Georgia, which enslaves hundreds of Black people. Kemble and Butler live in Philadelphia, but she visits the Georgia plantation one summer. It is upon that visit that she bases her journal. Kemble also expresses her anti-enslavement views in an 11-volume memoir.


A U.S. Postal Service mailbox

 Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images


The Congress bans employment by the U.S. Postal Service of any African Americans


Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe and "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

Getty Images

June 14: Harriet Beecher Stowe is born. She becomes the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which expresses her moral outrage at the institution of enslavement and its destructive effects on both White and Black Americans. The book helps build anti-enslavement sentiment in America and abroad. When Stowe meets President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, he reportedly exclaims, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"


Boston incorporates African American schools into the city's public school system.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Kean Collection / Getty Images

November 12: Elizabeth Cady Stanton is born. She will become a leader, writer, and activist in the 19th-century women's suffrage movement as well as the anti-enslavement movement. Stanton often works with Susan B. Anthony as the theorist and writer, while Anthony is the public spokesperson for the women's-rights movement.


Lucy Stone
Lucy Stone. Archive Photos / Getty Images

August 13: Lucy Stone is born. She will be the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree and the first woman in the United States to keep her own name after marriage. She also becomes a noted editor and North American 19th-century anti-enslavement activist and women's rights advocate.


Harriet Tubman with Slaves She Helped During the Civil War
Harriet Tubman, extreme left, holding a pan, with a group of freedom seekers whom she had helped escape enslavement.

Bettmann / Getty Images

Harriet Tubman, enslaved from birth, is born in Maryland. Tubman's organizing ability later proves critical to the development and execution of the Underground Railroad, a network of opponents of enslavement that helped freedom seekers before the Civil War. She will also become a North American 19th-century Black activist, women's rights advocate, soldier, spy, and lecturer.

February 15: Susan B. Anthony is born. She will become a reformer, North American 19th-century anti-enslavement activist, women's rights advocate, and lecturer. Together with Stanton, her lifelong partner in political organizing, Anthony plays a pivotal role in the activism that leads to American women gaining the right to vote.


New York state ends property qualifications for White male voters but keeps such qualifications for Black male voters; women are not included in the franchise.

Missouri removes the right to vote from African Americans.


Rhode Island removes the right to vote from African Americans.


Mary Ann Shadd Cary.

October 9: Mary Ann Shadd Cary is born. She will become a noted journalist, teacher, and North American 19th-century Black activist. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Cary, with her brother and his wife, will emigrate to Canada, publishing "A Plea for Emigration or Notes of Canada West" urging other Black Americans to flee for their safety in light of the new legal situation which denies that any Black person has rights as a U.S. citizen.


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

Public domain

September 24: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is born in Maryland to free Black parents. She will become a writer and North American 19th-century Black activist. She will also become an advocate of women's rights and a member of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Her writings, which focus on themes of racial justice, equality, and freedom, include "Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects," which includes an anti-enslavement poem, "Bury Me in a Free Land."

In October: Frances Wright purchases land near Memphis and founds Nashoba plantation, purchasing enslaved people who would work to buy their freedom, become educated, and then when free move outside the United States. When Wright's plantation project fails, she takes the remaining enslaved people to freedom in Haiti.


Sarah Parker Remond
Sarah Parker Remond.

Public Domain

June 6: Sarah Parker Remond is born. She will become an anti-enslavement lecturer whose British lectures help keep England from entering the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. Before giving these speeches, in 1853, Remond also tries to integrate a Boston theater and is hurt when a policeman pushes her—more than a century before Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a public bus, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Remond sues the officer and wins a $500 judgment. In 1856, she will be hired as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society.


New York State ends the practice of enslavement.


Martin O'Malley
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley dedicated a monument to the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 2000.

Getty Images

August 15–22: Race riots in Cincinnati erupt "when gangs of white residents (begin) attacking Black residents in the street and (descend) on their homes," according to the Zinn Education Project. The riots result in more than half the Black residents in the city being forced out of town.

The first permanent order of African American Catholic nuns is founded, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, in Maryland. Nearly 175 years later, in 2000, Mayor Martin O'Malley and officials gather at 610 George Street "for the unveiling of a stone monument commemorating the site where, in a rented house, no longer extant, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the oldest order of black nuns in the nation," according to The Baltimore Sun.


North Carolina bans the teaching of any enslaved person to read and write


Portrait of Joseph Cinqué
Portrait of Joseph Cinqué. Getty Images

September: Enslaved men and women of the ship Amistad take over the ship and demand that the U.S. recognize their freedom. While it begins more than 4,000 miles from the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal courts, the Amistad case, which reaches the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841, remains one of the most dramatic and meaningful legal battles in America’s history, turning the federal courts into a public forum on the very legality of enslavement. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually frees the captives, and the 35 survivors return to Africa in November 1841.

Jarena Lee publishes her autobiography, titled "The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee," the first by an African American woman. Lee is also the first authorized female preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to BlackPast and she is heavily involved in the North American 19th-century Black activist movement.

Alabama bans preaching by any African Americans, free or enslaved


The masthead of weekly abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, 1850.
The masthead of weekly abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, 1850.

Kean Collection / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Maria W. Stewart begins a series of four public lectures on religion and justice, advocating for racial equality, racial unity, and advocacy for rights among African Americans. A North American 19th-century Black activist and lecturer, she is the first United States-born woman of any race to give a political speech in public. Indeed, she predates—and greatly influences—later Black activists and thinkers such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. A contributor to The Liberator, Stewart is active in progressive circles and also influences groups such as the New England Anti-Slavery Society.

February: The Female Anti-Slavery Society is founded in Salem, Massachusetts, by and for African American women. Like most free Black anti-enslavement societies, the Salem organization addresses issues important to free Black people and participates in the campaign against enslavement. A number of other female anti-enslavement societies will be established in various U.S. cities in coming years.

September 2: Oberlin College is founded in Ohio, admitting women and African Americans as students along with White men. Tuition to the college is free.


Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Mott.

Kean Collection / Getty Images

Sarah Mapps Douglass, after working as a teacher in New York, returns to Philadelphia to lead the school for Black girls that her mother had founded with the help of wealthy Black Philadelphia businessman James Forten when Douglass was 13 years old.

In Connecticut, Prudence Crandall admits a Black student to her girls' school. She reacts to disapproval by dismissing the White students and reopens it as a school for African American Girls in March 1933. She will stand trial later this year for admitting the Black student.

May 24: Connecticut passes a law forbidding the enrollment of Black students from outside the state without the permission of the local legislature. Under this statute, Crandall is jailed for one night

August 23: Crandall's trial begins. The defense uses a constitutionality argument that free African Americans had rights in all states. The judgment, handed down in July 1834, goes against Crandall, but the Connecticut Supreme Court reverses the lower court's decision, though not on constitutional grounds.

December: The American Anti-Slavery Society is founded, with four women attending, and Lucretia Mott speaks at the first meeting. In the same month, Mott and others found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The Philadelphia group operates for more than three-and-a-half decades, dissolving in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War.


September 10: Crandall closes her school for African American girls in the face of harassment from the community.

New York absorbs Black schools into the public school system.

South Carolina bans teaching any African Americans in the state, free or enslaved.


Fanny Jackson Coppin
Fanny Jackson Coppin, first African-American woman to serve as principal of a school. Public Domain

January 8: Fannie Jackson Coppin is born. Enslaved from birth, Coppin gains her freedom (with the help of her aunt), attends Rhode Island State Normal School, and then Oberlin College, where she is the first Black person chosen to be a pupil-teacher. After graduating in 1865, Coppin is appointed to the Institute for Colored Youth, a Quaker school in Philadelphia. During her life, she works as a "teacher, principal, lecturer, missionary to Africa, and warrior against the most cruel oppression," according to Coppin State University, the Black college in Northwest Baltimore, Maryland, which will be named for her in 1926 (as Fanny Jackson Coppin Normal School).

Angelina Grimke publishes her anti-enslavement letter, "Appeal to the Christian Women of the South" and her sister Sarah Moore Grimke published her anti-enslavement letter, "Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States"


Charlotte Forten Grimké
Charlotte Forten Grimké. Fotosearch / Archive Photos / Getty Images

August 17: Charlotte Forten is born. (She later becomes Charlotte Forten Grimke.) She will become known for her writings about the schools in the Sea Islands for formerly enslaved people and serve a teacher at such a school. Grimke also becomes an anti-enslavement activist, poet, and wife of prominent Black leader Rev. Francis J. Grimke.

Garrison and others win the right of women to join the American Anti-Slavery Society, and for the Grimke sisters and other women to speak to mixed (male and female) audiences.

The Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women is held in New York. The convention is one of the first times women meet and speak publicly at this scale.


Helen Pitts Douglass
Helen Pitts Douglass.

National Park Service

February 21: Angelina Grimke speaks to the Massachusetts legislature, the first woman to address an American legislature. Presenting anti-enslavement petitions signed by 20,000 Massachusetts women, she tells the body: "We are citizens of this republic and as such our honor, happiness, and well-being are bound up in its politics, government, and laws," according to the website MassMoments. The Grimke sisters also publish "American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses."

Helen Pitts is born. She will become the second wife of Frederick Douglass. She also becomes a suffragist and a North American 19th-century anti-enslavement activist. Her marriage to Douglass, as an interracial marriage, is considered surprising and scandalous.

May 15–18: The Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women meets in Philadelphia. One of the motions at the convention, according to documents held by the Library of Congress, reads:

"Resolved: Whatever may be the sacrifice, and whatever rights may be yielded or denied, we will maintain practically the right of petition, until the slave shall go free, or our energies...are paralysed in death."


Women are permitted to vote for the first time at an annual convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society.


Lydia Maria Child
Lydia Maria Child. Archive Photos / Getty Images

Lucretia Mott, Lydia Maria Child, and Maria Weston Chapman make up the executive committee of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society.

June 12–23: The World Anti-Slavery Convention is held in London. It does not seat women or allow them to speak; Mott and Stanton meet over this issue and their reaction leads directly to organizing, in 1848, the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

Abby Kelley's new leadership role in the American Anti-Slavery Society leads some members to secede over women's participation.

Lydia Maria Child and David Child edit Anti-Slavery Standard, the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society. It will be published regularly until the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870.


Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin. Public Domain

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin is born. A journalist, activist, and lecturer, she will become the first Black American to graduate from Harvard Law School and later serve on the Boston City Council and the state legislature. She will also become the first Black municipal judge in Boston.


Portrait of Edmonia Lewis, 1870
Portrait of Edmonia Lewis, 1870.

Public Domain

Sojourner Truth begins her North American 19th-century Black activist work, changing her name from Isabella Van Wagener. Freed from enslavement by New York state law in 1827, she serves as an itinerant preacher before becoming involved in the anti-enslavement and women's rights movements. In 1864, Truth will meet Abraham Lincoln in his White House office.

July: Edmonia Lewis is born. A woman of Black American and Native American heritage, she will become a well-known sculptor. Her work, which features themes of freedom and anti-enslavement activism, becomes popular after the Civil War and earns her numerous accolades. Lewis depicts African, Black American, and Native American people in her work, and she is particularly recognized for her naturalism within the neoclassical genre.


June 21: Edmonia Highgate is born. She will become a fundraiser, after the Civil War, for the Freedman's Association and the American Missionary Society, whose mission is to educate formerly enslaved people.


Elizabeth Blackwell, about 1850
Elizabeth Blackwell, about 1850.

Museum of the City of New York / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Rebecca Cole is born. She will be the second Black American woman to graduate from medical school and work with Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to graduate from medical school and to become a practicing physician, in New York.


Black and white photograph of Harriet Tubman.
Harriet Tubman.

Public Domain

July 19–20: The Woman's Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Included among its attendees are Frederick Douglass and other male and female anti-enslavement activists; 68 women and 32 men all sign the Declaration of Sentiments.

July: Tubman gains her freedom, returning repeatedly to free more than 300 freedom seekers. Tubman becomes well known as an Underground Railroad conductor, North American 19th-century Black activist, spy, soldier, and nurse as well as for her service during the Civil War and her advocacy of civil rights and women's suffrage.


Hallie Quinn Brown
Hallie Quinn Brown. Courtesy Library of Congress

January 13: Charlotte Ray is born. She will become the first Black American woman lawyer in the United States and the first woman admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia.

June 5; "Uncle Tom's Cabin" begins publication as a serial in National Era.

March 10: Hallie Quinn Brown is born. She will become an educator, lecturer, reformer, and Harlem Renaissance figure. Brown will graduate from Wilberforce University in Ohio and teach in schools in Mississippi and South Carolina. In 1885 she will become the dean of Allen University in South Carolina and study at the Chautauqua Lecture School. She will teach public school in Dayton, Ohio, for four years, and then serve as lady principal (dean of women) of the Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, working with Booker T. Washington.

Johanna July is born. A Black Native American person of the Seminole Tribe, she learns to tame horses at an early age and becomes a female cowhand, or "cowgirl."

September 18: The Fugitive Slave Act is passed by Congress. Part of the Compromise of 1850, it is one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in American history. The law requires that enslaved people be returned to their owners, even if they are in a free state. It brings the injustice of enslavement home, making the issue impossible to ignore helps inspire Harriet Beecher Stowe to write "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Cary and her family move to Canada to avoid capture and enslavement under new U.S. policies and laws

Lucy Stanton graduates from Oberlin Collegiate Institute, now Oberlin College, the first Black American woman to graduate from a four-year college in the U.S.

December: Tubman makes her first trip back to the South to help members of her family to freedom; she will make a total of 19 trips back to help freedom seekers to safety.


Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi look on as a memorial bust of Sojourner Truth is unveiled.
Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi look on as a memorial bust of Sojourner Truth is unveiled.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images /

May 29: Sojourner Truth gives her "Ain't I A Woman" speech to a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in reaction to male hecklers. Later published in the Anti-Slavery Bugle on June 21, 1851, it beins:

"And ain't I a woman?"
"There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again."


Uncle Tom's Cabin Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

March 20: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is published in book form, in Boston, selling more than 300,000 copies the first year.

December 13: Frances Wright dies. "Born in Scotland and orphaned at the age of two, (she) rose from rather inauspicious beginnings to fame as a writer and reformer," says the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Wright becomes particularly known for her writings decrying the system of enslavement.


izabeth Taylor Greenfield
Known as the "Black Swan," Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was a famed singer in the 19th Century. Public Domain

March 24: Cary begins publishing a weekly, The Provincial Freeman, from her exile in Canada, becoming one of the first female journalists in Canada, the first Black woman in Canada and North America to publish a newspaper.

March 31: Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield appears at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and later that year performs before Queen Victoria. Ironically, for the New York performance, no Black people are allowed into the venue to see Greenfield—also known as "The Black Swan"—due to local ordinances.


Lincoln University (Pennsylvania)
Lincoln University (Pennsylvania). Groberson / Wikimedia Commons

July 11: Katy Ferguson dies. She has been an educator who ran a school in New York City for poor children.

Sarah Emlen Cresson and John Miller Dickey, a married couple, found Ashmun Institute, to educate African American men. According to the school's website:

"In October 1853, the Presbytery of New Castle approved Dickey’s plan for the establishment of 'an institution to be called Ashmun Institute, for the scientific, classical and theological education of colored youth of the male sex.' "

The school, still in operation, is renamed Lincoln University in 1866 in honor of the recently assassinated president.


Newspaper About Dred Scott Decision
A copy of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper has a front page story on the Supreme Court anti-abolitionist Dred Scott Decision of 1857. The story includes illustrations of Dred Scott and his family.

Library of Congress / Getty Images

The Dred Scott decision of the United States Supreme Court declares that African Americans are not U.S. citizens. For almost 10 years, Scott had struggled to regain his freedom—arguing that since he lived with his enslaver, John Emerson, in a free state, he should be free. However, after a long battle, the High Court rules that since Scott is not a citizen, he cannot sue in a federal court. Also, as an enslaved person, as property, he and his family have no right to sue in a court of law either, the court rules.


Lydia Maria Child. Public Domain

October 2: Lydia Maria Child writes to the Governor Wise of Virginia, regretting the action of John Brown, in raiding the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, but asking for admission to nurse the prisoner. Published in the newspaper, this leads to a correspondence that is also published. In December, Child's responds to a pro-enslavement advocate defending the South's "caring attitude" toward enslaved people, included the famous line, "I have never known an instance where the 'pangs of maternity' did not meet with requisite assistance; and here at the North, after we have helped the mothers, we do not sell the babies."

"Our Nig; Or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black" by Harriet Wilson is published, the first novel by an African American writer.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Black American History and Women Timeline 1800–1859." ThoughtCo, Dec. 27, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, December 27). Black American History and Women Timeline 1800–1859. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Black American History and Women Timeline 1800–1859." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2021).

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