Synopses & Reviews
Slave narratives, some of the most powerful records of our past, are extremely rare, with only fifty-five postandndash;Civil War narratives surviving. A mere handful are first-person accounts by slaves who ran away and freed themselves. Now two newly uncovered narratives, and the biographies of the men who wrote them, join that exclusive group with the publication of A Slave No More, a major new addition to the canon of American history. Handed down through family and friends, these narratives tell gripping stories of escape: Through a combination of intelligence, daring, and sheer luck, the men reached the protection of the occupying Union troops. David W. Blight magnifies the drama and significance by prefacing the narratives with each manandrsquo;s life history. Using a wealth of genealogical information, Blight has reconstructed their childhoods as sons of white slaveholders, their service as cooks and camp hands during the Civil War, and their climb to black working-class stability in the north, where they reunited their families. In the stories of Turnage and Washington, we find history at its most intimate, portals that offer a rich new answer to the question of how four million people moved from slavery to freedom. In A Slave No More, the untold stories of two ordinary men take their place at the heart of the American experience.
"Three fascinating works are packaged here: two unpublished manuscripts by former slaves Wallace Turnage (1846 1916) and John Washington (1838 1918), and an illuminating analysis of them by award-winning historian Blight. Turnage's journal ('a sketch of my life or adventures and persecutions which I went through from 1860 to 1865') is about his attempted escapes and their dire consequences: from his first, when he 'didn't know where to go,' to his successful 'fifth and last runaway.' His account is particularly noteworthy in its revelation of the slave and free-black networks he found and utilized. Washington's 'Memorys of the Past' moves from his 'most pleasant' early childhood through 'the many trials of slavery' and the disruptions of the Civil War, ending with his successful escape in 1862. As Blight observes, it's 'very much a coming of age story,' offering a unique window on life (learning to read, falling in love, finding religious faith) in a slave society. Blight provides an accessible historical and literary context for the manuscripts and explores, as fully as possible, the men's lives not covered in their manuscripts (both are self-emancipated). These powerful memoirs reveal poignant, heroic, painful and inspiring lives." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
PRAISE FORand#160;ROWING TO FREEDOM
andquot;Rowing to Freedom is a remarkable and rare volume. We are fortunate that David Blight, a foremost authority on the slave narrative, has applied his considerable skills as historian and detective to these extraordinary stories of 'ordinary' men. As if their own stories of slavery and the flight to freedom were not fascinating enough, Blight has filled in the details of their lives after slavery in a way that re-creates both the turbulence and nearly unfathomable joy of emancipation. The narratives of Turnage and Washington will surely take their place among the most moving and instructive examples of the genre.andquot; --Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
andquot;Together, Blight's meticulous research and the previously unknown autobiographical writings of these two men bring to life with unprecedented power the human dimensions of slavery and emancipation.andquot; --Eric Foner
andquot;Rowing to Freedom presents two of the most significant finds in the entire genre of slave narratives and of the primary material from the Civil War.andquot; --David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prizeandndash;winningand#160;author of W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868andndash;1919
andquot;David Blight combines the authority of a great historian with the humanistic zeal of a novelist . . . Rowing to Freedom is a compelling account of two men of remarkable courage who, by writing down their stories, sought to make themselves visible. Neither man could have wished for a more sympathetic or knowledgeable interpreterand#160;than David Blight.andquot; --Caryl Phillips, author of A Distant Shore
About the Author
(1846–1916) was born in Snow Hill, North Carolina, and spent his adult life in New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey.
JOHN WASHINGTON (1838–1918), born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, worked as a house and sign painter in Washington, D.C., after his escape. He retired to Cohasset, Massachusetts.
DAVID W. BLIGHT is the director of Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and a professor of American history. Among his books is Race and Reunion, which won the Frederick Douglass Prize, the Lincoln Prize, and the Bancroft Prize. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
Table of Contents
The Rappahannock Riverand#160;and#160;17
The Logic and the Trump of Jubileeand#160;and#160;128
John M. Washington, and#147;Memorys of the Pastand#8221;and#160;and#160;165
Wallace Turnage, and#147;Journal of Wallace Turnageand#8221;and#160;and#160;213
Appendix: John Washington,
and#147;The Death of Our Little Johnnieand#8221;and#160;and#160;259
Interview with historian David W. Blight, author of A Slave No More
Q: In their memoirs, John Washington and Wallace Turnage document their early years and their escapes from slavery but do not include details about their lives as freed men in the North. What resources did you consult to reconstruct their lives and those of their families?
A: I used census manuscripts; city directories; birth, marriage, and death certificates; obituaries; city and regional maps; lots of newspapers; pension records; some church records and early histories; writings and reports on infant mortality; and extended visits to Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg, Mobile, Boston, Cohasset, and finally a great variety of photo archives both online and especially at the New York Public Library.
Q: Turnage, who was born into slavery in North Carolina, was often subjected to the physical brutality of "the peculiar institution." As a result, his journal is much darker in tone than Washington's. Can this be interpreted as a reflection of one of the differences between rural and city life for slaves prior to emancipation?
A: Yes it can; and, yes, Turnage's narrative is a tale of physical brutality in ways Washington's is not. There were great differences between the lives, chances, and mobility of urban as opposed to plantation slaves. One of the great values of placing these two narratives together in the same book is that they show us two very different kinds of experiences for slaves and two quite different ways that slaves escaped to freedom during the Civil War.
Q: By presenting these two accounts together, does A Slave No More give an accurate representation of what it was like to be black men in the South during the period surrounding the Civil War?
A: Accuracy is a tricky subject because slaves lived very different lives from one region to another. But yes, these two narratives are remarkable windows into daily slave life, into family formation, into the world of slave labor. We can also see here two stunning expressions of the meaning of home and connectedness in these two stories. Moreover, we can learn a good deal here about how the war itself affected slavery and slaves' lives in two distinct regions of the South northern Virginia and cotton belt Alabama and Mississippi.
Q: You must have been surprised when you were contacted about the existence of these two handwritten journals. Do you think it is likely that other authentic emancipation narratives are out there, possibly being preserved in someone's attic or in "a black clamshell box"?
A: I was stunned, especially when the second one fell into my lap, and I realized what I had. Yes, there will be more narratives, diaries, and other documents by and about American slaves that will emerge from families, private collections, and even formal archives.
Q: The words of former slaves and free blacks are studied in high schools and colleges throughout the country. Which slave narratives would you include on a required reading list?
A: The two most important ones are Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In my introduction to A Slave No More I give a brief survey of the scope and character of the genre of slave narratives, both pre- and post-emancipation.
Q: A Slave No More cites a wide variety of sources, including memoirs, novels, and historical texts. What books do you recommend for people who want to read more about the historical, social, and political aspects of this time?
A: Well, the possible bibliography of slavery, emancipation, and the Civil War is vast. But if I had to choose a handful or so of must-reads they would be: Ira Berlin, et. al., eds., Free At Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War; Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War; Eric Foner, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction; David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory; William L. Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865; Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves; and James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics.
Copyright © 2007 Harcourt
Questions written by Roseleigh Navarre