Francis Johnson Webb was an American novelist, poet, and essayist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His novel, The Garies and Their Friends (1857), was the second novel by an African American to be published, and the first to portray the daily lives of free blacks in the North.
Frank Webb was born in Philadelphia on March 21, 1828. He was the fifth and youngest child of Francis Webb (1788–1829) and Louisa Burr Webb (c. 1785–1878). His maternal grandfather, which was confirmed via DNA in 2018, is former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr.
Webb had one brother, John (1823-1904), and three sisters, Elizabeth (1818–1888), Ann (1820–1884), and Mary (1824–1826). His parents and older siblings were among thousands of free African Americans who had left the United States in 1824 and returned in 1826, as part of the failed Haitian emigration experiment.
Webb's mother, Louisa Charlotte Burr, was a daughter of Aaron Burr. She and her brother John Pierre Burr, a prominent activist in Philadelphia's black community, were born to an East Indian mother who served in Burr's household as a governess. Louisa Burr Webb worked most of her life for Mrs. Elizabeth Powel Francis Fisher, a prominent Philadelphia society matron closely connected to the oldest Philadelphia families, and mother of prominent Philadelphia businessman Joshua Francis Fisher. After Francis Webb's death, Louisa remarried and became Louisa Darius.
Webb's father, Francis Webb, served in Philadelphia as an elder in the First African Presbyterian Church, a parishioner at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, a founding member of the Pennsylvania Augustine Education Society formed in 1818, and secretary of the Haytien Emigration Society organized in 1824. He worked as the Philadelphia distribution agent for Freedom's Journal from 1827 to 1829. While living in Port au Platt, Haiti, from 1824 to 1826, he served on the Board of Instruction of a joint Episcopal-Presbyterian church school. He died of unknown causes in 1829, a year after Frank's birth.
Frank Webb continued to live in Jamaica for over ten years, from 1858 to 1869, and remarried before returning to the United States. Webb's second wife was Mary Rosabelle Rodgers (b. 1845), the daughter of a Jamaican merchant. They had four children before moving in 1869 to the United States, where they had two more children.
From late 1869 through 1870, Webb lived in Washington, DC, where he resumed writing. Webb published several essays, poems, and two novellas for the African American journal The New Era. The weekly had been founded in Washington, DC and was taken over that year by Frederick Douglass, who published it through 1874.
While in Washington writing for The New Era in 1869–1870, Webb lived with his niece, teacher Sara Iredell, who had recently married Christian Fleetwood, recipient of the Medal of Honor for his military service during the Civil War. Fleetwood was then a clerk for the Freedmen's Bureau, established during the Reconstruction era after the American Civil War.
Later in 1870, the Webbs moved to Galveston, Texas, which had developed a vibrant black community after the Civil War. In 1876, Webb served as an alternative delegate to the Republican state convention.
Webb worked in Galveston first as a newspaper editor, then as a postal clerk, and finally for thirteen years as principal of the Barnes Institute, a segregated school for "colored children".
He died in Galveston, Texas in 1894.
Books by Frank Webb
The book which now appears before the public may be of interest in relation to a question which the late agitation of the subject of slavery has raised in many thoughtful minds, viz. — Are the race at present held as slaves capable of freedom, self-g...