Pauline Powell Burns

Dates Alive: 1872-1912

Family: Fossett, Hemings, Hern

Occupation: Musician; Artist; Music teacher

Pauline Powell Burns, a great-granddaughter of Joseph and Edith Fossett, was born and raised in Oakland, California.  Her grandmother, Isabella Fossett, was sold away from Monticello and her family at the age of eight, but succeeded in escaping to Boston in the 1840s, using a free pass forged by her brother Peter Fossett.  Always at risk of re-enslavement because of the Fugitive Slave Act, Isabella joined the rest of her family in Cincinnati by 1860. 

After Isabella’s death in 1872, her daughter, Josephine Turner, moved to Oakland with her husband, William W. Powell, a porter on the new transcontinental railroad.  Their daughter Pauline demonstrated artistic and musical talent at a young age and pursued years of study of both painting and piano.  She gave numerous public recitals in the Bay Area and was hailed as “the bright musical star of her state.” An exhibit of her paintings in 1890 was said to be the first by an African-American artist in California.  She and her husband, Edward E. Burns, both cultural leaders in their community, left no descendants.


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