William B. Powell Jr. (1834-1915)

WILLIAM B. POWELL JR. (1834-1915)

Image courtesy National Archives

William B. Powell Jr., one of the first African American physicians to receive a contract as a surgeon with the Union Army, was free born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1834.  His father, William Powell Sr., also in the medical practice, was African American, and his mother was Native American.  When Powell was young he found work in New York as an apothecary, sparking his interest in medicine.  In 1851, Powell Sr. moved the family to Liverpool, England to escape the fugitive slave laws, and the younger Powell spent much of his young adult life in England.  It was there that he is believed to have received his medical training from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in London; although adequate documentation does not exist, so it is uncertain whether or not he received a degree.  Powell returned to New York with his family in 1861 and began practicing medicine.

By 1863, African Americans were able to serve in the Union army and in May of that year Powell applied to contract with the army as acting assistant surgeon.  He was assigned a position in April at the Contraband Hospital (later Freedman’s Hospital) in Washington D.C., so named for its care of fugitive slaves and black soldiers.  In October of that year, Powell took charge of the hospital as head surgeon Major Alexander T. Augusta left to serve with the 7th U.S. Colored Infantry.  Powell remained at Contraband Hospital until November of 1964.

Powell continued to practice medicine until declining health and disability forced his retirement in 1891.  He began to petition the U.S. government to grant him an army pension, which was always denied on the grounds of insufficient medical evidence of his disability and because he was a contracted surgeon, not a military officer.  In 1902, he returned to England to care for his dying brother and remained there until his own death in 1915 at the age of 79.  William B. Powell never received his military pension.

Source: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/powell-william-b-jr-1834-1915/

Jane Adora Major Jackson

16 December 1814 – 5 February 1888

The Underground Railroad (UGRR) had a strong foundation in New Bedford. We may never know how many freedom seekers were secretly sheltered at the Jackson home, but we do know that Jane and her husband, the Reverend William Jackson, made freedom possible for many who had escaped. 

Jane Major’s parents, George and Annis Major, were of coastal Virginia. Jane met William Jackson, born a freeman of color at the Philadelphia, Baptist Church. He had a passionate determination to become a minister. Jane, age 22, and William, age 18, married in Philadelphia on May 25, 1837. William was called as the fifth minister of the African Baptist Church of Blockley Township, Pennsylvania. 

When William was called to be the pastor of New Bedford’s Second Baptist Church from 1851-52, Jane remained in Philadelphia to care for their children three of whom were ill. They were the parents of five sons and four daughters. But tragically between the 1840s and the mid-1850s the family grieved the deaths of six of their nine children.    

In 1853 their son Edgar was born. Jane, her infant son, and their two surviving daughters, Emma, and Mary, moved to New Bedford to join William. There she reunited with family members and met numerous social activists and abolitionists. New Bedford City Directory has the Jackson family at Cedar. By 1858 the family lived on Smith Street, where they sheltered fugitives.   

As the Civil War loomed, the possibility of men of color joining the Union forces became a reality. Jane’s husband joined the Union Army in 1863 as “chaplain” of the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. In the fight against slavery, Jane, and other women relatives of the New Bedford colored regiments rallied by raising funds, giving aid, sewing and assisting the soldiers’ families. Jane was one of the founders of a community sewing circle in New Bedford, circa 1860. It was later named The Jane Jackson Sewing circle. Their first meeting was in the home of Ezra and Emma Johnson and the members included ‘Mrs. Sarah Carter Woodlin, Mrs. Nellie Johnson Backman, Miss Daisy Cole, Mrs. Josephine Carter Smith, Mrs. Emma Handy Wright, Miss Mary Alice Jackson, and Mrs. Love Curtis Chamberlain.

Jane was an activist but did not live to see her sewing group become the Eleventh Auxiliary Sewing group of the Grand Army of the Republic circa 1900. She collapsed on February 5, 1888 while walking through a snowstorm to church. She never regained consciousness. She is buried in New Bedford’s Oak Grove Cemetery. 

The Jacksons’ great-great-granddaughter Valerie Craigwell White came to New Bedford in 2018 to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Reverend William Jackson birthday. 


Ivy S. MacMahon


Information from


Blake, Lee. “Jane Jackson Letters.” Received by Ivy S. MacMahon, 24 May 2020.

Cruz, Carl. “Jane Jackson Circle GAR; (Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic).” Received by Ivy S. MacMahon, 17 June 2020. 

Morrison-Reed, Mark D., editor. Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism. Skinner House, 2011.

Rock, Ellen. “Re: LGAR Inquiry.” Received by Ivy S. MacMahon, 15 July 2020.


John Mashow (1805- 1893)

Clarissa Davis



Clarissa fled from Portsmouth, Va., in May, 1854, with two of her brothers. Two months and a half before she succeeded in getting off, Clarissa had made a desperate effort, but failed. The brothers succeeded, but she was left. She had not given up all hope of escape, however, and therefore sought “a safe hiding-place until an opportunity might offer,” by which she could follow her brothers on the U.G.R.R. Clarissa was owned by Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Burkley, of Portsmouth, under whom she had always served.

Of them she spoke favorably, saying that she “had not been used as hard as many others were.” At this period, Clarissa was about twenty-two years of age, of a bright brown complexion, with handsome features, exceedingly respectful and modest, and possessed all the characteristics of a well-bred young lady. For one so little acquainted with books as she was, the correctness of her speech was perfectly astonishing.

For Clarissa and her two brothers a “reward of one thousand dollars” was kept standing in the papers for a length of time, as these (articles) were considered very rare and valuable; the best that could be produced in Virginia.

In the meanwhile the brothers had passed safely on to New Bedford, but Clarissa remained secluded, “waiting for the storm to subside.” Keeping up courage day by day, for seventy-five days, with the fear of being detected and severely punished, and then sold, after all her hopes and struggles, required the faith of a martyr. Time after time, when she hoped to succeed in making her escape, ill luck seemed to disappoint her, and nothing but intense suffering appeared to be in store. Like many others, under the crushing weight of oppression, she thought she “should have to die” ere she tasted liberty. In this state of mind, one day, word was conveyed to her that the steamship, City of Richmond, had arrived from Philadelphia, and that the steward on board (with whom she was acquainted), had consented to secrete her this trip, if she could manage to reach the ship safely, which was to start the next day. This news to Clarissa was both cheering and painful. She had been “praying all the time while waiting,” but now she felt “that if it would only rain right hard the next morning about three o’clock, to drive the police officers off the street, then she could safely make her way to the boat.” Therefore she prayed anxiously all that day that it would rain, “but no sign of rain appeared till towards midnight.” The prospect looked horribly discouraging; but she prayed on, and at the appointed hour (three o’clock—before day), the rain descended in torrents. Dressed in male attire, Clarissa left the miserable coop where she had been almost without light or air for two and a half months, and unmolested, reached the boat safely, and was secreted in a box by Wm. Bagnal, a clever young man who sincerely sympathized with the slave, having a wife in slavery himself; and by him she was safely delivered into the hands of the Vigilance Committee.

Clarissa Davis here, by advice of the Committee, dropped her old name, and was straightway christened “Mary D. Armstead.” Desiring to join her brothers and sister in New Bedford, she was duly furnished with her U.G.R.R. passport and directed thitherward. Her father, who was left behind when she got off, soon after made his way on North, and joined his children. He was too old and infirm probably to be worth anything, and had been allowed to go free, or to purchase himself for a mere nominal sum. Slaveholders would, on some such occasions, show wonderful liberality in letting their old slaves go free, when they could work no more. After reaching New Bedford, Clarissa manifested her gratitude in writing to her friends in Philadelphia repeatedly, and evinced a very lively interest in the U.G.R.R. The appended letter indicates her sincere feelings of gratitude and deep interest in the cause—

NEW BEDFORD, August 26, 1855.

MR. STILL:—I avail myself to write you thes few lines hopeing they may find you and your family well as they leaves me very well and all the family well except my father he seams to be improveing with his shoulder he has been able to work a little I received the papers I was highly delighted to receive them I was very glad to hear from you in the wheler case I was very glad to hear that the persons ware safe I was very sory to hear that mr Williamson was put in prison but I know if the praying part of the people will pray for him and if he will put his trust in the lord he will bring him out more than conquer please remember my Dear old farther and sisters and brothers to your family kiss the children for me I hear that the yellow fever is very bad down south now if the underground railroad could have free course the emergrant would cross the river of gordan rapidly I hope it may continue to run and I hope the wheels of the car may be greesed with more substantial greese so they may run over swiftly I would have wrote before but circumstances would not permit me Miss Sanders and all the friends desired to be remembered to you and your family I shall be pleased to hear from the underground rail road often.

Yours respectfully,


Amelia Piper

Amelia Piper, Abolitionist (1796-1856)

Amelia Piper fled Alexandria VA with her husband and four children between 1826 – 1830 and came to New Bedford by sea. Family lore has it that they came to New Bedford on a schooner owned by the Rotch family.  Once safely housed in New Bedford, the Piper family members did indeed work for William Rotch Rodman as domestics, farmhands, and ship workers for many years.  Amelia was born in Alexandria and was not listed on any of the records of free blacks in Virginia. Amelia and her husband William may not have been free when she and her family came to New Bedford.

At the time, there were many New Bedford sea captains and crew members who traded down the Atlantic coast who would assist fugitives in their attempts to flee the South. New Bedford had a reputation as an abolitionist stronghold and a place where fugitives were welcomed and protected; slavery had officially ended in Massachusetts in 1783. Amelia, her husband William, and son Robert are mentioned in several slave narratives written by freedom seekers who spent time in New Bedford. Amelia’s name appears in several articles in the Liberator that reviewed the activities of New Bedford abolitionists at anti-slavery rallies in the city and in Boston.

As one of the managers of the New Bedford Female Union Society, she organized one of the first anti-slavery fairs held in New Bedford on January 1, 1840. The fair was held to raise funds in aid of the Liberator newspaper and the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Women abolitionists supported the activities of the Anti-slavery society by developing special handiwork for sale, collecting and selling the autographs of famous men and women, and selling baked goods. The fairs were usually held once a year and New England cities such as Boston and New Bedford would take turns hosting the fairs. Funds would be used to support the speaking tours of noted abolitionists, pay the printing bills of the Liberator, and on occasion help pay for the freedom of fugitives in danger of being returned to slavery. The New Bedford Female Union Society was an African American women’s anti-slavery group and while women were organized to end slavery, the groups were still by and large segregated. Quoting from a letter signed by Amelia as the manger and published in the Liberator, the group met twice weekly “to ply our needles and fingers, to talk over the wrongs of our countrymen and women in chains, and pray that the time will soon come when every yoke shall be broken.”1

Amelia and her husband helped many fugitives who came to New Bedford by providing shelter and assisting them in managing their new life in freedom. These fugitives are referred to in the letters of abolitionists and conductors on the Underground Railroad as “packages”. Those escaping will remain nameless but Amelia’s role as a conductor will not as her bravery was recorded in the slave narratives of appreciative fugitives. One of the best-known fugitives assisted by Amelia and William was John Jacobs, brother of Harriet Jacobs who shipped out of New Bedford with help from the Pipers. The Piper family served as a go-between for John and his sister, writer and abolitionist Harriet Jacobs while he was out to sea.  Amelia and William Piper were the first members of three generations of a family that were active abolitionists and Underground Railroad activists who fought for the end of slavery in the United States.   

1 The Liberator, August 23, 1839. Anti-Slavery Fair. Boston, MA

William Cooper Nell. Selected Writings 1831-1874. Edited by Dorothy Porter. Black Classic Press, 2002. P. 343

James de Abajian, comp. Blacks in Selected Newspapers, Censuses and other Sources.., 3 vols. Boston: G.K. Hall 1977

Photo of Amelia Piper in the collection of Lee Blake

Lee Blake    LTWBio

Elizabeth Piper Ensley

Private Joseph J. Monte

Private Joseph J. Monte | Portrait By: Dr. Joseph “Zack” Souza (1888-1935)

Joseph J. Monte aka Jose Jaime Monteiro was born in Fogo, Cabo Verde on November 25, 1888. He immigrated to the United States in September of 1900 and became a United States citizen on May 5, 1919. He enlisted in the United States Army on March 19, 1918 during World War I and was assigned to Company H with the 307 th Infantry Regiment. During the War, Private Monte participated in the Oise-Aisne Offensive and the Baccarat and Vesle Defensive. He was wounded on July 5 at the battle of Alsace Lorraine and despite being wounded, he continued at the Battle of Fismes where he was seriously wounded. Pvt. Monte was taken as prisoner of war to Anhault-Zerbst, Germany where he was held until his release in December 1918. Upon his release, he was hospitalized in England and when he returned to the United States he was Honorably discharged on May 22, 1919. In January of 1935, Veteran Joseph J. Monte was awarded the Purple Heart, the first known Cape Verdean American. He died on March 26, 1935 and is buried in Saint John’s Cemetery, New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1938, the City of New Bedford honored him with the naming of Joseph J. Monte Playground, on the site of the former Vocational High School.
-New Bedford Historical Society

Private Monte WW1 Honor PDF

Manuel ” Mannie” Edward Costa, Sr.

Manuel “Mannie” Edward Costa, Sr. was born on March 9, 1918 in New Bedford, Massachusetts on the corner of Canon St and the Acushnet Ave which has since been changed to the Manuel E. Costa Sr. Memorial Way. His parents, Eduardo Gomes Costa and Maria Santos Oliveira Costa were born in Santo Antoa, Cape Verde and came to the United States in the early 1900’s. Manuel had two brothers, Antone J. Oliveira, born in Cape Verde and Epifanio Costa, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Manuel was raised in Port Chester, New York in the earlier part of his life where he attended elementary and high school and received honors for never missing a day of school throughout his entire school years. When his family moved to New Bedford, Manuel enrolled in the Army Officers’ school and later became a first Lieutenant and served in the army for 3 years. He attended Lincoln University and Brown University where he was a four-letter man in Basketball, Football, Track and High Jumping. Later, he would graduate from Bridgewater State Teachers College with a major in History.

He married Ruth Davis Costa and they had two children, Manuel “Butch” E. Costa, Jr. and Jeanne Maria Costa. Later, Manuel remarried (Tryna Metcalf Costa , Donna Rose Costa and Dulce Soares Costa) and fathered 6 more children, David Dance, Donald Cleaves, Nicole, Jason, Aaron and Alexandra Costa.

During his life in New Bedford, Manuel was a mentor, teacher, civil rights activist, writer, TV host, coach, politician, social worker, gymnast instructor, thespian/actor and the list goes on.

There was never a time when Manny wasn’t providing help to the needy or providing support and services to someone such as completing papers for immigration, advocating for someone who may have been having difficulty with a teacher or school system, individuals who had to appear in court without representation, needed housing, needed employment, needed a loan from the bank, needed to meet with authorities or when an individual did not speak English or could not represent themselves effectively.

In the early 40’s, “Mannie” began the ‘House of Champions’ taking young men off the streets and teaching them the art of boxing. Many of these young men were troubled and often found themselves in front of a judge where Mannie would speak for them. Many of these young men won competitions and eventually changed their lives around.

Manuel organized great basketball teams and through many exhibition games, raised money to help these young individuals to attend higher education and realize their dreams. He advocated for higher education in the Cape Verdean community, often writing letters to colleges helping those individuals to receive scholarships and other assistance.

Manuel regularly wrote letters to the editor of the Standard Times, especially, when something or someone affected the community in a negative way. He picketed a law firm for a whole year in hot and cold weather because they wronged a fellow Cape Verdean.

He was relentless when it came to the rights of individuals, especially, the Cape Verdean and other people of color and would protect the rights of all people if they couldn’t speak for themselves. During the Christmas season, Manuel was often seen riding through a poorer section of the city handing out gloves, hats and scarves in the winter and ice cream and popsicles in the summer.

In 1998, Manuel was recognized by the City of New Bedford for all his great deeds. The City of New Bedford renamed Cannon Street (near Monte’s playground), which is in the heart of the Cape Verdean community, the ‘Manuel E. Costa Memorial Way’.

At that time, one city official stated, “There will never be another man like Manuel Costa in New Bedford that will do what he did during his lifetime. It would take 12 men to fill his shoes”.

Past Poet Laureate, Everett Hoagland also stated “Manuel “Mannie” Edward Costa Sr. is the closest New Bedford ever came to having a Paul Robeson”.

Manuel Costa’s employment and affiliates included, Lieutenant in the Army, Director of the Human Relations Commission, Director of the Foster Grandparent Program, teacher, social worker, court advocate, NAACP and the first Cape Verdean candidate for ward councilor in New Bedford. He was also a licensed mortician and also created what is called today, the ‘Tonkers Tumblers’.

Manuel also played a significant role in the struggle for Cabo Verde independence sending letters of support to government officials in the U. S. In addition, he is the author of “The Making of the Cape Verdean”. The only book in existence that chronicles the lives of Capeverdianos from the time they arrived in New Bedford in the late 1800’s to the 1970’s.

Manuel Edward Costa, Sr. passed on March 2, 1992 at the age of 72