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Tue, 03.25.1806

Charlotta Gordon Pyles, Abolitionist born.

Charlotta Gordon Pyles

*Charlotta Gordon Pyles was born on this date in 1806. She was a Black abolitionist and lecturer.

Born into slavery in Tennessee, Pyles also lived on Hugh Gordon's plantation near Bardstown, Kentucky, along with her children. After Gordon's death, his daughter Frances inherited the Pyles family and moved from Kentucky to Iowa, where she freed Charlotta and some of her family. According to some birth record accounts, Charlotta's mother was a Seminole Indian, and her father was an African slave.

She grew up on Hugh Gordon's plantation in Bardstown, Kentucky, and Gordon's daughter Frances inherited Charlotta and her family when Hugh Gordon died. Frances Gordon planned to free the Pyles family from slavery because her Wesleyan Methodist faith advocated for manumission. Despite Frances Gordon's wishes, her brothers opposed manumission and twice contested their father's will in 1853 and 1854, claiming that Frances was incompetent as she was 80 years old and slightly crippled. She defended herself in court against her siblings and prevailed.

Frances took the Pyles family to the north, and the family would eventually settle in Keokuk, Iowa. Along with Charlotta's son, Benjamin, two sons-in-law remained in slavery. Pyles decided to buy their freedom by charging for public lectures in cities like Philadelphia and New York. Despite having no formal education in public speaking, she was able to raise the money.

On her lecture tour, she caught the attention of Fredrick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Douglas even wrote a poem about Pyles in his North Star Paper on December 14, 1855. After her lectures, Pyles continued to fight against slavery as her home in Keokuk became a haven for runaway slaves on their escape to Canada. Her granddaughter was Grace Morris Allen Jones, a school administrator clubwoman. Charlotta Pyles also contributed to the women's suffrage movement before she passed away on January 19, 1880. She is buried in Keokuk, Iowa. 

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