Joseph Hayne Rainey – The First Black Member of the U.S. House

0afcaa0f852ee5afeec4d6664f93e22fJuly 7, 2012 3:17 PM MST

Born a slave on June 21, 1832 in Georgetown, South Carolina, Joseph Hayne Rainey was the son of Edward L. and Grace Rainey. Joseph’s racial nationality was a mixture of African and French. Edward worked as a barber, having obtained permission from his master to do so, with a portion of his earnings required by law to be given to his master.

Edward regularly saved another portion and in time used these savings to purchase his freedom and that of his family. He then moved his family to Charleston, South Carolina. Here Edward continued his career as a barber at the fashionable Mills House Hotel. When he was old enough, Joseph became a barber apprentice with his father.

In 1859, Rainey moved to Philadelphia. Here he met a young woman named Susan who had emigrated from the West Indies. Like Rainey, she too was of African and French ancestry. They married and later returned to South Carolina where two sons and one daughter were eventually born.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, the Confederate government drafted Rainey. At first he dug ditches to fortify Charleston’s outskirts, then worked on ships used for blockade running as a laborer and cook. In 1862, the Rainey family was able to escape and relocate to Bermuda, a self-governed British colony which had abolished slavery in 1834. Though he fled a battling nation, he would later return to play an active role in helping to rebuild a stronger United States.

The thriving economy and growing population of Bermuda provided a welcoming domicile for the family. Settling in the town of St. George, Rainey resumed the occupation of a barber. Susan became a successful dressmaker with her own shop. They moved once more in 1865 to the town of Hamilton, due to an outbreak of yellow fever in St. George. Here Rainey continued his occupation as a barber working at the Hamilton Hotel, along with tending bar. Over time, the Raineys became respected members of the community and built a prosperous life.

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