Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I apologize for the moratorium on posts over the last two and a half weeks, but I have been in the air and on the road, both traveling for work and taking some personal vacation time. The time away afforded me opportunities to finish reading a new book.

The historical record gives us many examples of men who made their escape from slavery, but enslaved women's perspectives are much rarer. To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker, by Duke University history professor Sydney Nathans, provides such a perspective. Using an extensive collection of both Walker's Southern owners' and Northern allies family papers and diaries, along with other impressive primary sources, her story comes to life.

In 1848, Mary Walker took advantage of her position as maidservant for the wealthy Cameron family of North Carolina to make her escape. When Mary went with a Cameron daughter to Philadelphia to receive treatment for consumption, she used the opportunity to run away. In fear of the newly enacted fugitive slave law, she was later persuaded to move to Boston for better protection.

Throughout much of Mary Walker's amazing Northern existence she pined to reunite with those family members she left in North Carolina, her mother, her daughter and her son. Her Northern allies attempted several schemes to bring the family out of slavery, all without success. However, her plight put Mary and her benefactors in contact with a number of the era's leading abolitionists such as African Americans William Still, Lewis Hayden, and the eminent Frederick Douglass, as well as Samuel Gridley Howe and his wife, and Henry Beecher Stowe, and Oliver Otis Howard.

During the Civil War Mary even went to the sea islands in South Carolina to work with and help freed people there, but it took the capture of Raleigh, North Carolina by Union troops in 1865 to finally free Mary Walker's family from slavery. Mary's mother had passed away, but daughter Agnes and son, Bryant were eventually reunited with their mother in Boston.

Mary Walker's journey from enslaved woman to free person shows the great risks, sacrifices, and patience individuals had to endure to find liberty. It also shows that they were active agents in their own pursuit of freedom, not only for themselves, but for their fellow slaves as well. To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker is a great story that is well researched and written and that should be required reading for all Americans. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.   

1 comment:

  1. Welcome Back Tim!

    Have already downloaded a sample of this book. Thanks for the review.