Return to search page.
Avery, Rose and Minnie [Becca Richards]
During the last two months of 1857, there were several articles in the newspapers in London, England, about two fugitive slaves from Kentucky said to be named Rose and Minnie Avery. The young women were between 18 and 20 years old. In November, the women were seen begging on Black-man Street, both were said to be dressed in the white attire that U.S. slaves wore. The women were taken to the police station by Constable Hinchliffe, 85M, who said he had witnessed one of the women carrying a box used to collect money, and the other woman carried a placard that read "Fugitive Slaves." At the Southwark Police Court, the women said that they were fugitive slaves from a plantation in Kentucky and had escaped to Philadelphia, PA, after their father died and their mother was sold. They said that a benevolent person and free colored persons had taken care of them and later paid their passage on the ship "Jane" that took them to Greenock, England. They supposedly had arrived the previous spring and had not been able to find employment in domestic services in Greenock, so they had walked to London and were living on Bishopsgate-street with a Mrs. Flynn and her husband Mr. Flynn who was a laborer. The women said that they still had not found employment and had resorted to begging on the street. When ask if they had any skills, they said that they could knit. The women had one shilling and the magistrate gave them 4s from the poor box. The news of the slave fugitives from Kentucky was soon printed in the newspapers. The women were described in the North Wales Chronicle newspaper as very attractive, well educated, quadroons who were half-castes ["Story of two Kentucky fugitive female slaves," 11/21/1857, issue 1607]. The police station received numerous letters with small sums of money and offers to take-in the young women. The women had already received a portion of the money, and they were to buy wool for the making of gloves and caps, which they were to sell rather than begging on the streets. Each week, they received money from the donations received at the Southwark Police Station. In December, on their return to court, the women said that they had rented a room from a Mrs. Smith in Crown-court, Wentworth-street, for 2s per week. This was verified by the constable. The women presented the gloves and caps that they said they had made, and they showed how much money they had in their possession. They said that they had been given 5s and 10s from strangers who had heard about their plight, but most of their money had been used for food and a few clothes. The magistrate ordered that they be given a few more shillings from the contributions sent to the court on their behalf. The women also presented a letter that was supposedly from a man in Brighton who wanted to take them in as a nurse and to work in his shop, but the letter was not signed. The magistrate ask that the women report back to court in a week, and sooner if the man who wrote the letter came back to see them. In the mean time, the women's story would continue to be investigated by the Mendicity Society and the Southwark Police Court. As the women were leaving court, a New York merchant gave the constable £2 with which to purchase clothing and boots for the women. The women received the items. When they returned to court, there were three reports, one from the Mendicity Society, one from police investigator Officer Hewett, and one from the M division of the police department. According to the reports and the witnesses who were also in the courtroom, the women were impostors. The older of the two women lived with a black man on Crown-court, Wentworth-street. She may have been from America, but only recently arrived in England. The younger woman lived with an Irish woman who may have been her mother. Her father was an older black man who lived at St. Luke's Workhouse, Chelsea, and the younger woman had visited him and given him money. She had also written a letter to him and signed her name as Becca Richards. Also, the ship "Jane" that had supposedly brought the two women to England, had not been in Greenock for 18 months. The younger woman and the older black man denied knowing each other, though witnesses in the courtroom identified her as the person who had visited him several times and said that she had written the letter. The magistrate concluded that the younger woman was a fake, and therefore, both women were fakes. The women were directed to leave the court and were warned that if they were picked up again for begging, then they would be severely punished. Benevolent persons who had sent money to the courts and the police station, for the women's care, would be contacted and asked if they wished their money to go to the women through application, or have the money added to the poor box. For more see "Southwark. - Kentucky Fugitive Slaves," The Morning Post, 11/18/1857, p.7; "Southwark," Daily News (London, England), 11/18/1875, issue 3591; "Fugitive slave girls from Kentucky," The Morning Chronicle, 11/26/1857, issue 28371; "Fugitive slave girls in London from Kentucky," Hampshie Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, 11/28/1857, p.3; "The Fugitive slaves from Kentucky," The Morning Chronicle, 12/1/1857, issue 28375; "Kentucky fugitive slaves; extraordinary deception," North Wales Chronicle, 12/12/1857, issue 1609; and "The Kentucky fugitive slaves turn out to be impostors," Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, 12/12/1857, p.3.
Subjects: Freedom, Hoaxes, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / Greenock and London England, Europe
Black Herman's Actual Death
Birth Year : 1892
Death Year : 1934
Black Herman was the stage name of Benjamin Rucker, an African American magician, illusionist, root doctor, and medicine man. He was born in Amherst, VA. He claimed his medicines could stamp the devil out of a tortured soul, and during his performance, a tortured soul from the audience (his brother or a friend), would drink the potion and be cured. Black Herman would hold up a snake or some other creature as proof of the devil's exit. Black Herman also performed stage illusions including his own death and resurrection. An audience would witness a supposedly dead Black Herman in a coffin, and when the coffin was being transported for burial, Black Herman would slip out of the coffin and leave town. When the coffin was retrieved from the ground a week or so later, Black Herman would arrange to get back into the coffin, and when the coffin was placed before an audience, he would step out of the coffin looking the picture of health. As he had claimed, some thought Black Herman was beyond death. However, on April 17, 1934, Black Herman was performing in Louisville, KY, when he collasped and died on stage. Some audience members refused to believe that he was actually dead, they expected him to reappear from his coffin in a week or so. According to his death certificate, Benjamin Rucker's body was received at Cooper Undertakers on W. Chestnut Street in Louisville. Once the body was prepared, there were so many viewers that the body was then taken to the train station where spectators could view the body for 10 cents per person before Rucker's body and coffin were taken by train to New York. The burial took place in Woodlawn Cemetery. Benjamin Rucker was the son of Pete and Louise Williams Rucker. For more see Black Herman's Secrets of Magic-mystery and Legerdemain by Black Herman; and the Black Herman entry in Vaudeville Old & New by F. Cullen et al.
See photo images of Black Herman and additional biographical informtion at the MagicTricks.com website.
Subjects: Hoaxes, Undertakers, Cemeteries, Coroners, & Obituaries, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Amherst, Virginia / Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky
Colonization Conspiracy (East St. Louis, IL)
Start Year : 1916
Prior to the East St. Louis race riots of 1917, a conspiracy took place when Democrats charged that Republicans were colonizing Negroes from the South to increase the power of the G.O.P. The state of Illinois was a doubtful win for the Woodrow Wilson presidential campaign, so, the idea was cooked up to accuse the Republicans of vote fraud among Negroes and also of importing southern Negroes to be used as strikebreakers and union busters. It was a tactic that had been used without much success in previous elections. For the 1916 election, there was a colonization investigation with the supposed findings, by Assistant Attorney General Frank Dailey, that over the previous year, 300,000 Negroes of voting age had been colonized in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Ten to twelve thousand had settled in East St. Louis. The Department of Justice agents interviewed many of the so-called colonists and found that they had come North seeking higher wages more so than politics. But, the newspapers were told that the colonists had been brought North as illegal voters; the jobs never existed, and there was a guilty party in Kentucky: "unscrupulous Republican politicians in Northern Kentucky had given labor contractors the names of Negroes who were to be duped." For more see E. M. Rudwick, "East St. Louis and the "Colonization Conspiracy" of 1916," The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 33, issue 1 (Winter, 1964), pp. 35-42 [quotation from page 40]; and "The Colonization Conspiracy," chapter 2 of Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917, by E. M. Rudwick.
Subjects: Hoaxes, Migration North, Riots and Protests Outside Kentucky, Colonies, Colonization
Geographic Region: East Saint Louis, Illinois / Kentucky
Goshen, Colonel Ruth
Birth Year : 1824
Death Year : 1889
Colonel Ruth Goshen, a circus employee who was billed as an 8-foot giant, went by many different names: Ruth, Routh, Deruth and Rutherford. His birthplace was also in question until just prior to his death; circus managers would claim that Goshen was born in Jerusalem, or Prussia, or Turkey, or that he was an African American from Kentucky. Neither his names nor birth locations were correct: Goshen was not Arabic nor African American nor Turkish nor Prussian. Nor was he 8 feet tall. Goshen was about 7'6" tall and his real name was Arthur Crowley [Caley]; he was born on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, bordered by England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. For more see "Colonel Ruth Goshen" in American Sideshow: an encyclopedia of history's most wondrous and curiously strange performers, by M. Hartzman; Arthur Caley, at the A Manx Note Book website; and "The Giant is Dead," The New York Times, 02/14/1889, p. 3.
See photo image of Colonel Ruth Goshen at Wikipedia.
Subjects: Circus, Hoaxes
Geographic Region: Isle of Man, Europe / Kentucky
Death Year : 1836
Joice Heth was supposedly a 161 year old African American woman, billed by P. T. Barnum as having been the nurse of George Washington when he was a baby. When her popularity started to fade, Barnum circulated the rumor that she was not human but rather an automaton made from various materials. After Heth's death in 1836, Barnum arranged a public autopsy - 50 cents admission - which proved that Heth was no more than 80 years old. Heth was actually a disabled slave who supposedly was brought to Paris, KY, by Mr. John S. Boling and later purchased by R. W. Linsday, who exhibited her around several states, including Kentucky, before selling her to Barnum. For more see The Showman and the slave, by B. Reiss.
See the handbill with an image of Joice Heth and additional information at the "Joice Heth Archive website at cuny.edu.
Geographic Region: Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky
Ishmaelites of Kentucky
There are two discussions about the existence of the the Tribe of Ishmael.
According to earlier sources, between 1785 and 1790, an Islamic denomination called Ishmaelites was first noticed in Nobel County (now Bourbon County), KY. The group was led by Ben and Jennie Ishmael. Individual members were of a multiracial background of African, Native American, and poor whites. The first generation included escapees from slavery and the Indian Wars, all having made their way to Kentucky from Tennessee, North & South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. In the early 1800s, the Ishmael's son John led the group across the Ohio River to the area that today is part of Indianapolis; soon afterward the group became a nomadic community. They were viewed as odd and referred to as gypsies. The group was suspected of having a high infant death rate, and in the 1880s it was common for the children to be taken away from their parents. Adult members were arrested on an array of charges, then imprisoned, committed, or bound to servitude. By the late 1800s, three-fourths of the patients at the Indianapolis City Hospital (a mental institution) were from the Tribe of Ishmael. In 1907 the compulsory sterilization law was passed in Indiana, and the procedure was used to further reduce the number of new births by Ishmaelite members. For more see Black Crescent: the experience and legacy of African Muslims in the Americas, by M. A. Gomez, pp.196-200; and O. C. M'Culloch, "The Tribe of Ishmael: a study on social degradation," Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction at the Fifteenth Annual Session Held in Buffalo, NY, July 5-11, 1888, pp. 154-159. See also The Tribe of Ishmael: a group of degenerates... at the Eugenics Archive website.
According to more recent sources, the Tribe of Ismael is a myth, and Ben and Jennie Ishmael were Christians. One of the current sources is the 2009 title Inventing America's "Worst" Family by Nathaniel Deutsch. The book traces how the Ishmael Family, a poor Christian family that included a Civil War veteran, was used as a representation of the urban poor in the late 1800s, then during the 1970s, became a very much admired family credited with founding an African American Muslim movement and community. For additional information see E. A. Carlson, "Commentary: R. L. Dugdale and the Jukes Family: a historical injustice corrected," BioScience, vol.30, issue 8 (August 1980), pp. 535-539; R. Horton, "Tribe of Ishmael" in The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, by D. J. Bodenhamer, et al.; and E. F. Kramer, "Recasting the Tribe of Ishmael," Indiana Magazine of History, v.104 (March 2008), pp.36-64 [available online in IUPUI Scholar Works Repository].
Subjects: Communities, Early Settlers, Freedom, Hoaxes, Kentucky African American Churches, Migration North, Religion & Church Work
Geographic Region: Nobel County (Bourbon County), Kentucky / Indianapolis, Indiana / Tennessee / North Carolina / South Carolina / Virginia / Maryland
Johnson, William H.
Birth Year : 1895
William H. Johnson was an African American Baptist preacher and miner who lived in Middlesboro, KY. In 1946, he began mailing letters to persons of German descent in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, claiming that he was Hitler, had escaped from the Russian army and was now living in Kentucky. The impostor said that he needed money. Johnson was arrested in 1956 by postal inspector W. W. Lewis. Johnson had received between $10,000 and $15,000 over the 10-year period. Johnson was sentenced to three years in prison. For more see More Offbeat Kentuckians, by K. McQueen; "Negro admits swindling Adolf Hitler followers," Florence Morning News, 08/15/1956, p.1; "Hitler trial continued; 15 from area given terms," Middlesboro Daily News, 11/15/1956, p.1; and "Hitler poser to face prison term," Atchison Daily Globe, 04/12/1957, p.2.
Subjects: Hoaxes, Miners, Mines, & Steel Mills, Religion & Church Work
Geographic Region: Middlesboro, Bell County, Kentucky / Virginia / Tennessee