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American Founders Gallery

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Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761 – July 1804) was born in the West Indies to an enslaved mother and a British naval captain and raised by her great uncle in England, the Earl of Mansfield, as a noblewoman. Belle and her research may have impacted Chief Justice Lord Mansfield’s ruling that declared English slavery illegal in 1772. This landmark decision effectively abolished slavery in England, signaled the beginning of the end Atlantic slavery, and helped to foment the American Revolution. The case was brought by James Somerset who, having been held in slavery in the United States, liberated himself and demanded his freedom in a London court while he and his owner were living abroad.


Ira Frederick Aldridge (July 24, 1807 – August 7, 1867) was an actor, born in New York City, who gained international acclaim and accolades as an interpreter of Shakespeare in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a young man, Aldridge attended the Free African School and Shakespeare productions at the African Grove Theater, founded by the Afro-Caribbean playwright William Alexander Brown, in Greenwich Village in the early 1820s. (Slavery in New York was not abolished until 1827.) Aldridge toured Europe as a performer and earned the nickname “African Roscius” as well as Prussia’s Gold Medal in Arts and Sciences, Russia’s Golden Cross of Leopold, Switzerland’s Maltese Cross, and a memorial plaque at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theater. “Aldridge traveled farther, was seen by more people in more nations, and won a greater number of prestigious honors, decorations, and awards than any other actor in the nineteenth century.”


Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – December 14, 1780) was a British composer, author, actor, merchant, and activist. He was born on a slave ship in route to Colombia and later entered domestic service in England. He ultimately became a shop owner and active in social and political life. The 1780 publication of his collected letters circulated as a best-selling book that advanced abolitionist politics in England.


Leonard Parkinson (n.d.) was a maroon captain who led Jamaica’s Second Maroon War in 1795. Throughout the Americas fugitive slaves formed powerful independent communities known as maroons. Jamaica’s various maroon communities were especially successful, having negotiated land and autonomy from the British government after Jamaica’s First Maroon War (1781-1738).  When the terms of the treaty were violated, Captain Parkinson led troops in a second war during 1795 and 1796, and ultimately negotiated a treaty with British Major-General George Walpole.

Dr Edward-Bouchet

Dr. Edward Alexander Bouchet (September 15, 1852 – October 28, 1918) was a physicist who was among the first Americans to earn a doctorate in the field. In 1867, completing his degree at Yale (he earned summa cum laude honors as an undergraduate), Bouchet became the sixth person in the nation to be awarded a Ph.D. in physics. He was a life-long educator who headed the science department of Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth.


Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (August 31, 1842 – March 13, 1924) was a newspaper publisher, journalist, suffragist, and activist during the second half of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth. She was born in Boston to parents from England and Martinique. Josephine St. Pierre married George Ruffin, a Virginia-native and attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School and served on Boston’s city council, in the Massachusetts state legislature, and ultimately as a municipal judge. Josephine collaborated with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her work to extend the franchise to women. In the 1890s she published the newspaper Women’s Era as well as founded the Women’s Era Club.  In 1895, she spearheaded the consolidation of black women’s clubs throughout the United States into the National Association of Colored Women. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and other members of the NACW went on to help found the NAACP in the early twentieth century.


James Armistead (December 10, 1760 – August 9, 1830) was a patriot spy during the American Revolution and among the first double agents in United States history.  The intelligence Armistead gathered from Benedict Arnold and Lord Cornwallis was crucial to the American victory at Yorktown. After the war, Armistead petitioned the Virginia Assembly for his freedom and included a testimonial from the Marquis de Lafayette under whom he had served.  James Armistead thereafter adopted the surname Lafayette, became a successful farmer, and raised a family in Virginia.


James Forten (September 2, 1766 – March 4, 1842) was a Philadelphia native, prosperous entrepreneur, and veteran of the American Revolution who helped to organize the American Antislavery Society and rallied black military support during the War of 1812. Forten spent roughly half of his considerable fortune on promoting civil rights, including purchasing the freedom of others, supporting anti-slavery journalism, and founding a school. His wife and daughters founded the nation’s first bi-racial abolitionist society for women.


Andre Rebouças (January 13, 1838 – April 9, 1898) was an engineer, public intellectual, and political activist who helped to found the Brazilian Antislavery Society in 1880.  As a lieutenant in the engineering corps during the Paraguayan War in 1864, he invented the torpedo. After the war, Rebouças was a professor at Rio’s Polytechnical School and authored over one hundred articles that advanced abolitionism and addressed Brazil’s social and economic issues.  His father, Antonio Rebouças, the son of a slave, was a lawyer who served in the Brazilian Parliament and was an advisor to Portugal’s King Pedro II.


Soldiers in the Spanish Colonial Army circa 1770. The military figure on the left is an officer from Veracruz, Mexico, on the right, a soldier from Havana, Cuba. Free men of color served widely in the colonial militias of Spain, France, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands defending various territories in the Americas.  Afro-Cuban and Afro-Mexican soldiers helped to shape United States history when they assisted the Patriots in Florida during the American Revolution.