Cover image for A slave no more : two men who escaped to freedom : including their own narratives of emancipation
Title:
A slave no more : two men who escaped to freedom : including their own narratives of emancipation
ISBN:
9780151012329
Edition:
1st ed.
Publication Information:
Orlando : Harcourt, c2007.
Physical Description:
307 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Contents:
The Rappahannock river -- Mobile bay -- Unusual evidence -- The logic and the Trump of jubilee.
Summary:
Slave narratives are extremely rare, with only 55 post-Civil War narratives surviving. A mere handful are first-person accounts by slaves who ran away and freed themselves. Now two newly uncovered narratives join that exclusive group. Handed down through family and friends, they tell gripping stories of escape: Through a combination of intelligence, daring, and sheer luck, the men reached the protection of occupying Union troops. Historian Blight prefaces the narratives with each man's life history. Using 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 Wallace Turnage and John Washington, we find portals that offer a rich new answer to the question of how four million people moved from slavery to freedom.--From publisher description.
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Summary

Summary

Slave narratives, some of the most powerful records of our past, are extremely rare, with only fifty-five post-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 man'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.


Author Notes

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. His books include Race and Reunion , which won the Frederick Douglass Prize, the Lincoln Prize, and the Bancroft Prize. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

Drawing on recently uncovered post-Civil War slave narratives, historian Blight fleshes out the biographies of two men who managed to escape slavery in North Carolina and Virginia, added their considerable efforts to the fight to end slavery, and went on to make lives for themselves in postemancipation Washington and New York City. Both Wallace Turnage and John Washington were the sons of slave masters. Blight pairs the slave narratives and his own historical portrait of these ordinary men at an extraordinary time in the nation's history. The two separate efforts of these men, from escape through the Civil War through emancipation, illustrate the travails faced by blacks in the South and the North. Their separate journeys also illustrate the efforts of thousands like them to make lives for themselves during the Reconstruction era, testing the boundaries of newfound freedom and opportunities for free blacks and ex-slave alike.--Ford, Vernon Copyright 2007 Booklist


Choice Review

In this important work, Blight (Yale)--whose authoritative Race and Reunion (CH, Oct'01, 39-1125) unveiled competing historical memories of the Civil War--transcribes, annotates, and analyzes the hitherto unknown slave emancipation narratives of John Washington (1838-1918) and Wallace Turnage (1846-1916). A hired slave in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Washington escaped in April 1862 across the Rappahannock River to Union Army lines, where he labored as a camp servant for Union officers. As a freedman, Washington worked in Washington, D.C, as a house and sign painter, ultimately retiring to middle-class respectability in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Turnage, a field slave from Snow Hill, North Carolina, failed four times to escape bondage. In August 1864, he absconded from a slave jail in Mobile, Alabama, and made his way to the protection of the Union Navy. He then cooked for a Federal officer. Following emancipation, Turnage struggled as a common laborer in New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. In addition to publishing Washington's and Turnage's texts, Blight contextualizes their escape narratives within the powerful magnet of freedom. "Throughout the war," he concludes, "emancipation was always a faltering, dangerous, and tragic process as well as a series of moments when the earth shifted." Summing Up: Highly recommended. For all libraries. J. D. Smith University of North Carolina at Charlotte


Kirkus Review

Two newly discovered narratives of slaves who escaped to freedom during the Civil War. Blight (American History/Yale; Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, 2001, etc.) tells the stories of John Washington and Wallace Turnage, whose manuscripts came to him after being preserved by members of their families. The two had little in common beyond their experiences as slaves and their eventual flights to Union lines where they were granted their liberty. Washington, light-skinned enough to pass for white when a boy, was born in northern Virginia in 1838. He took advantage of the arrival of federal troops in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, where he worked largely as a house servant, to escape. Turnage, born in Snow Hill, N.C., was sold to a cotton plantation in Alabama, where he worked under much harsher conditions than Washington. He made four unsuccessful attempts to escape before reaching Union lines near Mobile, then under siege by the U.S. Navy. Blight summarizes their stories, adding commentary on the time period and the institution of slavery as both men experienced it, making comparisons to other well-known slave narratives, such as that of Frederick Douglass. He then devotes a chapter to each of their post-slavery lives. The men spent their postwar lives in the North--Washington in the nation's capital, where he worked as a sign painter, Turnage in New Jersey and New York City, where he worked as a waiter and janitor--and both lived into the World War I era. Toward the end of the book, Blight reproduces the two men's narratives of their experiences as slaves--by far the most interesting section. Washington is the more polished writer, with a more conventional structure to his narrative. Turnage, however, went through a far more harrowing experience, both in his treatment by overseers and in his several breaks for freedom. Both are well worth reading. A powerful, welcome addition to the Civil War library. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

The director of Yale's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition enriches our understanding with this examination of two newly discovered slave narratives. With a discussion guide. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter OneThe Rappahannock RiverDay after day the slaves came into camps and everywhere the Stars and Stripes waved they seemed to know freedom had dawned to the slave.John Washington, 1873, remembering August 1862John M. Washington was born a slave on May 20, 1838, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Washington begins his narrative with the wry comment that he never had the pleasure of knowing his mothers owner, Thomas R. Ware, Sr., who died before John was born. And he supposes It might have been a doubtful pleasure. So far as can be determined, Washington also never knew his father, though we can assume he was white. As an autobiographer reconstructing his own youthful identity, Washington says revealingly: I see myself a small light haired boy (very often passing easily for a white boy).1 With these words Washington recollects the complicated story of so many American slaves mixed racial heritage. The offspring of sexual unions between black women and their white male owners or pursuers suffered a legacy of confusion, shame, and abuse, but they also occasionally benefited from economic and social advantages, especially in towns and cities. Washington was one of more than 400,000 out of four million American slaves by 1860 who were officially categorized as mulatto or other terminology to distinguish a person of some white parentage. From 1830 to the Civil War, the state of Virginia especially had gone to great effort, although unsuccessfully in practical terms, to legally establish a color line marking who was white and who was not.2 White friends, and perhaps relatives, aided Johns education and opportunities early in his life. But in Fredericksburg and elsewhere, due to his mothers status and color, he was considered a chattel slave until the war came. Exactly who Washington's father was, and how John got his middle initial and last name, have been impossible to trace. A John M. Washington, a distant cousin of President George Washington, lived in Fredericksburg, went to West Point in the 1810s, became an artillery officer, and died in a shipwreck in 1853. But no evidence exists for his patrimony of John. Ware had four sons by 1838, ages twenty-six, twenty-four, twenty, and eighteen. Any of them could have been Washington's father, although only the two younger ones, John and William, seem to have been residents of Fredericksburg at the time.3 Washington's story is much clearer on his mothers side. Women determined, protected, and supported Johns life chances. His maternal grandmother was a slave named Molly who was born in the late 1790s and owned by Thomas Ware. Molly, called my Negro woman, is acknowledged for her faithful service in Wares 1820 will, in which he bequeathed her and her children (valued at $600) to his wife, Catherine (who would eventually be Johns owner). By 1825 Wares estate inventory lists Molly and four children; Johns mother, Sarah, was the oldest at age eight. Molly would have another four children by the 1830s. In Excerpted from A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

John M. WashingtonWallace TurnageJohn Washington
Prologuep. 1
Chapter 1 The Rappahannock Riverp. 17
Chapter 2 Mobile Bayp. 55
Chapter 3 Unusual Evidencep. 90
Chapter 4 The Logic and the Trump of Jubileep. 128
Author's Notep. 163
"Memorys of the Past"p. 165
"Journal of Wallace Turnagep. 213
Appendix "The Death of Our Little Johnnie"p. 259
Acknowledgmentsp. 261
Notesp. 265
Indexp. 301