Black and white photograph taken in 1870 of Presbyterian Church

Robert Newell. “Lombard Street Central Presbyterian Church.” 1870. Photo Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia.

Ulysses B. Vidal was listed as a delegate from Pennsylvania at the 1855 National Colored Convention. Although he was a relatively new Pennsylvanian at this point (having lived in New York, New York, up until sometime in the 1840s), he quickly became a very prominent and involved member of the community.

From 1839 to 1841, he immersed himself in community activism. In 1839, he was on the Committee of Arrangements that threw a fundraiser to help the captives on a ship called the Armistead who were on trial for piracy and murder.1 In 1840, he was President of the Societe des Amis Reuni, a political club, and was chosen as a delegate to go to a colored convention hosted in his hometown.2 The Committee of the New York Delegation appointed Ulysses among twenty-seven other men to attend the Troy Convention as a delegate in 1841. There he debated with “high ability” at the New York Philomathean Society, arguing that foreign lands were not the legitimate field for American missions.3 He was also appointed to a business committee for the New York Convention.4

Vidal married a woman named Anna, the niece of Harriet Lee Smith, Stephen Smith’s wife. The Vidals had two children, Athian and Mary. Anna Vidal was active in the Black community as well: she was a member of the Ladies’ Sanitary Association of St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church (LSASTC), which was established in 1863.5 Along with Eliza Ann Bias, Harriet Smith, Ann Van Brackle (the wife of Samuel Van Brackle), and Mary Wears Dorsey, Anna Vidal helped raise funds to aid African American soldiers and other charitable institutions.6 The Vidals lived at 880 Lombard and 429 N Broad in the late 1860s and moved to 830 Lombard in 1870, where Ulysses Vidal remained until his death in 1877.7 Fire insurance records show that Henrietta Duterte would later move into the same house. Robert Purvis’ home was nearby, which he used as a refuge for fugitives. It is likely that the Vidals also aided fugitive slaves, although there is no record to confirm this.

In 1843, Ulysses B. Vidal, Dr. James McCune Smith, and Timonthy Seaman, as a committee, wrote to retiring New York governor Henry Seware. They thanked the politician for his anti-slavery efforts. The National Anti-Slavery Standard published the correspondence.

“Governor Steward and the Colored Citizens of New-York.” National Anti-Slavery Standard, 26 January 1843. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.

newspaper clipping

“For the Colored American.” The Colored American, 29 August 1840. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.

Ulysses B. Vidal was a well-connected man. He worked as a coal merchant, partnering in business with Stephen Smith and William Whipper, both of whom were incredibly wealthy at the time.8 While living in New York, he attended several meetings with George T. Downing, Charles B. Ray, and Dr. James McCune Smith. His reputation among his peers secured him high positions within societies and organizations.

Vidal was elected Director of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows of Philadelphia in 1862.9 He gave money for a flag presented to the 6th Regt. Colored Troops in Philadelphia in 1863.10 Vidal was left $5000 dollars in the will of Reverend Stephen Smith to use for maintenance and supporting the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons in 1873.11 He became one of two Vice Presidents to a committee that was formed in support of anti-slavery efforts in Cuba in 1873. The committee was based in Philadelphia and composed of Black men. They wrote a letter to President Grant in favor of freeing Cuban slaves and the equal treatment of all men all over the world.12

Ulysses B. Vidal died on June 4, 1877. He survived his wife, who had died the year before,13 and his daughter Harriet who died at age ten.14 Although his personal life was marked by tragedy, Vidal was always mindful of the greater suffering of the Black population. He was buried at Olive Cemetery.


Submitted by Anne-Marie Davis, University of Delaware.

Edited and Revised by Gabrielle Foreman and Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware.


  1. “Notice – public exhibition.” The Colored American, 14 September 1839. Accessible Archives.
  2. “At an extra meeting of societe’ des amis reuni.”The Colored American, 29 August 1840. Accessible Archives.
  3. J. “City Matters.” The Colored American, 24 July 1841. Accessible Archives.
  4. Proceedings of the New York county convention.The Colored American, 30 October 1841. Accessible Archives.
  5. Ella Forbes. African American Women During the Civil War. (New York, Garland). Link
  6. Ibid.
  7. “U B Vidal.” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  8. Jeannine Delombard. “Smith, Stephen.” Africana: The Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005), 805.
  9. “Odd-fellows.” Elevator, 26 March 1869. America’s Historical

    Newspapers. Thanks to Emanuel Supreme Page Jr., the Grand Historian for America and Jurisdiction, NG Wayman lodge GUOOF for pointing out that if the Elevator lists the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which did not admit Black members, that would be in error. Correspondence with the Colored Conventions Project, April 1, 2018.

  10. “Jacob c. White acknowledges the following sums for the flag.” The Christian Recorder, 12 September 1863. Accessible Archives.
  11. “Will of the late Rev. Stephen Smith.” The Christian Recorder, 27 November 1873. Accessible Archives.
  12. “Sympathy for Cuba in Colored America.”The Christian Recorder, 13 February 1873. Accessible Archives.  
  13. “Anna M Vidal.” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  14. “Harriet Vidal.” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.