Harriet E. Wilson (March 15, 1825 – June 28, 1900)
Harriet E. Adams Wilson is considered the first female African-American novelist as well as the first African American to publish a novel on the North American continent. Her novel "Our Nig: Sketches From The Life Of A Free Black" was published in 1859 and rediscovered in 1982. Though her work is considered to be fictional, researchers believe this interracial woman's novel is more of an autobiography. Her African American father died when she was very young and her Irish mother abandoned her at the farm of Nehemiah Hayward Jr., a well-to-do Milford, New Hampshire farmer. Because she was orphaned, she was made an indentured servant to the Hayward family, a customary way for society to arrange support at the time. In exchange for her labor, the child would receive room, board and training in life skills. She was mentally and physically abused from the age of six to eighteen. At the end of her indenture, she worked as a seamstress and house servant in various households in southern New Hampshire and in central and western Massachusetts. She met and married Thomas Wilson in 1851 who abandoned her soon after they married. The couple had one son, George Mason Wilson who died in 1860 at the age of 7. Wilson is one of the many little known success stories within the historical timelines of American history and certainly, African American history. She was a successful entrepreneur during a time when a woman, indeed a Black woman, faced both racial and gender biases. Her business was hair care products. Fifty years before Madam CJ Walker came along, Wilson had already built a successful business in selling hair care products. The difference, however, is that Walker catered her products towards African American women while Wilson did not.