Thomas L. Jennings (1791 – February 11, 1859) was an African-American inventor, tradesman, entrepreneur, and abolitionist in New York City, New York. He has the distinction of being the first African-American patent-holder in history; he was granted the patent in 1821 for his novel method of dry cleaning.[1] Jennings' invention, along with his business expertise, yielded a significant personal fortune, much of which he put into the abolitionist movement in the United States.[2]

Thomas L. Jennings
Born1791
DiedFebruary 11, 1859(1859-02-11) (aged 68)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation(s)Inventor, entrepreneur and abolitionist
Known forFirst African-American to hold a patent, granted in 1821 for his method of dry cleaning
SpouseElizabeth
Children3, inc. Elizabeth Jennings

Early life and family

Thomas L. Jennings was born in 1791, to a free African-American family in New York City.[3] He later married a woman named Elizabeth, who was born a slave in Delaware in 1798 and died in March 5, 1873.[4] Under New York's gradual abolition law of 1799, she was converted to the status of an indentured servant and was not eligible for full emancipation until 1827. It freed slave children born after July 4, 1799, but only after they had served “apprenticeships” of twenty-eight years for men and twenty-five for women (far longer than traditional apprenticeships designed to teach a young person a craft), thus compensating owners for the future loss of their property.[5][6]

Jennings and his wife had three children: Matilda Jennings Thompson (1824–1886), Elizabeth Jennings Graham ( March 1827–June 5, 1901), and James E. Jennings (1832–May 5, 1860). Matilda was a dressmaker and wife of James A. Thompson, a Mason. Elizabeth became a schoolteacher, activist, and church organist [7] and married Charles Graham on June 18, 1860. James was a public school teacher and musician.

Professional career

Thomas L. Jennings was a tailor who later opened a dry cleaning business in New York City.[3] He eventually opened his own store on Church Street, which became one of the largest clothing stores in New York City.

Thomas developed his dry-cleaning process called dry-scouring as a tailor. His customers often complained of their clothes being ruined by stains, so he started experimenting with different chemicals that could protect the fabric while removing stains. Thomas L. Jennings earned a large amount of money as a tailor and with his dry scouring invention made even more. Thomas spent the majority of his money on abolitionist activities. In 1831, Thomas Jennings became the assistant secretary for the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Civil rights activism and legacy

Jennings was a leader in the cause of abolitionism and African-American civil rights in the United States.

In 1831, Jennings was selected as assistant secretary to the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which met in June of that year.

After his daughter, Elizabeth Jennings, was forcibly removed from a "whites only" New York City streetcar in 1854, he organized a movement against racial segregation in public transit in the city. He helped arrange her legal defense, which included the young future President Chester Arthur, and won her case in 1855. Along with James McCune Smith and Rev. James W. C. Pennington, Jennings created the Legal Rights Association later in that year, a pioneering minority-rights organization.[8] Its members organized additional challenges to discrimination and segregation and gained legal representation to take cases to court. In 1865, a decade after Elizabeth Jennings won her case, New York City streetcar companies stopped practicing segregation.[9]

Jennings was active on issues related to emigration to other countries; opposing colonization in Africa, as proposed by the American Colonization Society; and supporting the expansion of suffJohn Jennings was a prominent figure in the fight against slavery and for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. In 1831, he was appointed as assistant secretary to the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1854, his daughter Elizabeth Jennings Graham was forcibly removed from a "whites only" streetcar in New York City. Jennings fought against racial segregation in public transportation and helped defend his daughter legally, along with future President Chester Arthur. In 1855, Elizabeth's case was won, and Jennings, along with James McCune Smith and Rev. James W. C. Pennington, established the Legal Rights Association, a pioneering organization that advocated for minority rights. The group organized several challenges against discrimination and segregation and provided legal representation for court cases. In 1865, ten years after Elizabeth's case, New York City streetcar companies stopped practicing segregation.

Jennings was also an advocate for emigration to other countries, opposing the colonization of Africa proposed by the American Colonization Society, and supporting the expansion of suffrage for African American men.

He founded and was a trustee of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a significant institution in the Harlem African American community. John Jennings died in 1859 in New York City.John Jennings was a prominent figure in the fight against slavery and for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. In 1831, he was appointed as assistant secretary to the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1854, his daughter Elizabeth Jennings Graham was forcibly removed from a "whites only" streetcar in New York City. Jennings fought against racial segregation in public transportation and helped defend his daughter legally, along with future President Chester Arthur. In 1855, Elizabeth's case was won, and Jennings, along with James McCune Smith and Rev. James W. C. Pennington, established the Legal Rights Association, a pioneering organization that advocated for minority rights. The group organized several challenges against discrimination and segregation and provided legal representation for court cases. In 1865, ten years after Elizabeth's case, New York City streetcar companies stopped practicing segregation.

Jennings was also an advocate for emigration to other countries, opposing the colonization of Africa proposed by the American Colonization Society, and supporting the expansion of suffrage for African American men.

He founded and was a trustee of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a significant institution in the Harlem African American community. John Jennings died in 1859 in New York City.rage for African-American men.[10]

He founded and was a trustee of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a pillar in the Harlem African-American community.[10] He died in 1859 in New York City.[3]

References

  1. ^ Bellis, Mary (July 3, 2019). "Biography of Thomas Jennings, First African American Patent Holder". ThoughtCo. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  2. ^ "Thomas Jennings". The Black Inventor Online Museum. November 26, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Manos, Nick (February 2, 2009). "Thomas L. Jennings (1791-1856)". Blackpast.org. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  4. ^ Death Record NYC #cn 142327
  5. ^ "Document Showcase: African American Voting Rights". New York State Archives. Archived November 9, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Longreads. Retrieved 17 July 2019
  6. ^ "Slavery and Freedom in New York City". W. W. Norton & Company. January 1, 2015. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  7. ^ Greider, Katherine (November 13, 2005). "The Schoolteacher on the Streetcar". The New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2008.
  8. ^ Cite error: The named reference Greider was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  9. ^ Volk, Kyle G. (2014). Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 146–151, 164–166. ISBN 019937192X.
  10. ^ a b Alexander, Leslie M. African or American? Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784-1861 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008), p. 192, f8.

Further reading

  • Alexander, Leslie M. African or American? Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784-1861, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008), chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6
  • Potter, Joan. African American Firsts (New York: Kensington Publishing Group, 2002)
  • Volk, Kyle G. (2014). Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 146–151. ISBN 019937192X.

Thomas L. Jennings (January 1, 1791 – February 13, 1856) was an African-American inventor, tradesman, entrepreneur, and abolitionist in New York City, New York. He has the distinction of being the first African-American patent-holder in history; he was granted the patent in 1821 for his novel method of dry cleaning. Jennings’ invention, along with his business expertise, yielded a significant personal fortune much of which he put into the Abolitionist movement in the United States.

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