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Louisia Bustill Robeson
*Louisa Bustill Robeson was born on this date in 1853. She was an African and Native American schoolteacher.
Maria Louisa Bustill (sometimes called Louisa as a child) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of Igbo of Nigeria, Lenni-Lenape Native American, and Anglo-American descent. Her parents were Charles Hicks Bustill and Emily Robinson, prominent black Quakers. Bustill's ancestors had been free since the mid-1700s when her great-grandfather Cyrus Bustill was freed after several years of service to a new owner in Burlington, New Jersey.
In the 1870s, she attended Lincoln University. She was already a teacher when she met William Drew Robeson. She and her sister Gertrude married men who were Lincoln graduates, but her family thought Louisa had "married down" by choosing Robeson. Louisa married Robeson in 1878 after he completed his undergraduate degree and one in theology. They had seven children together; two died in infancy, and five lived to adulthood. Louisa taught school and worked as a tutor while her husband was the Presbyterian minister of the Witherspoon Church.
The city had a relatively large black community, about 18%, by the turn of the 20th century. It included families who had long been free, like Louisa's and others born in slavery. The town had many Southern ties, and residential segregation was enforced. Both the Robesons emphasized education and advancement for their children. The youngest surviving child, Paul LeRoy Robeson, became an internationally known athlete, orator, singer, actor, and activist.
By 1904, Louisa was nearly blind from cataracts. She was severely burned in a kitchen accident when an ember from the stove ignited her clothes. Maria Louisa Bustill Robeson died on January 20, 1904, with burns on over 80% of her body. She was buried in Princeton Cemetery.