All God's Children

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Overview

Considered by many to be the most dangerous inmate in the history of the New York penal system, Willie Bosket is a brilliant, violent man who began his criminal career at age five. His slaying of two subway riders at fifteen led to the passage of the first law in the nation allowing teenagers to be tried as adults. Yet sadly, Willie is not an aberration within the Bosket family--but rather the latest in a long line of brutal, exceptionally intelligent malefactors who were driven by circumstances, racism, and a ...

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Overview

Considered by many to be the most dangerous inmate in the history of the New York penal system, Willie Bosket is a brilliant, violent man who began his criminal career at age five. His slaying of two subway riders at fifteen led to the passage of the first law in the nation allowing teenagers to be tried as adults. Yet sadly, Willie is not an aberration within the Bosket family--but rather the latest in a long line of brutal, exceptionally intelligent malefactors who were driven by circumstances, racism, and a distinctly American craving for respect by any means necessary. In this groundbreaking work, award-winning journalist Fox Butterfield traces a troubled family's history back to the days of slavery in an attempt to get to the roots of the violence endemic in our society.

From the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of China: Alive in the Bitter Sea comes the poignant story of how the tradition of white Southern violence and racism has long affected and still haunts one black family. Butterfield follows the Bosket family of Edgefield County, South Carolina, from the days of slavery to the present. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Wide-ranging and somewhat unwieldy, this ambitious book tells a challenging, memorable story about race, violence and our American future. Investigating the case of Willie Bosket, whose crimes as a New York juvenile presaged a surge of youth violence and spurred much tougher prosecution of juveniles, New York Times correspondent Butterfield (China: Alive in the Bitter Sea) delved into the Bosket family background. He argues that the white Southern mentality of easily aggrieved honor has made its way through time and the descendants of slaves, transmuted into the similar hair-trigger ethos of inner-city streets. While Butterfield's thesis doesn't completely convince (what about the barrios or the wild west?), his reporting on the lives, crimes and prison experiences of Willie and his father, Butch, is painfully gripping. Finally released after reforming himself in prison, Butch couldn't handle freedom and killed himself as police pursued him. Willie, in prison for life, considers himself ``a monster created by the system.'' In an epilogue, the author warns that building prisons won't solve our crime problem, and he proposes several policies-including intervention programs to help adolescent delinquents-to prevent future carnage. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In his early 30s, Willie James Bosket Jr., viewed by many as New York's most violent criminal, is confined in tightly secured isolation in a Catskill prison. New York Times reporter Butterfield interviewed Willie and did extensive research on him, his forebears, and the historic use in this country of violence in defense of personal honor. A high I.Q. and often appealing demeanor have not mitigated Willie's unrepentant, violently aggressive behavior. "The boy no one could help," he has been mostly institutionalized since age nine. His family life was abysmal: he never met his criminal father, his mother was a negative influence, and he inherited a history of law-flouting male aggression. Butterfield delineates the complex elements of this young African American's life gone irretrievably awry. Highly recommended for college level and up. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/95.]Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380728626
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/28/1996
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 8.78 (w) x 6.04 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"BLOODY EDGEFIELD"
Edgefield . . . has had more dashing, brilliant, romantic figures, statesmen, orators, soldiers, adventurers, daredevils, than any county of South Carolina, of not any rural county in America .... They gave to their village and county a character that was South Carolinian, "tore intense, more fiery, than was found elsewhere.

--William Watts Bell, The State That Forgot
In early November 1781 , with the outcome of the American Revolution much in doubt, Captain James Butler of the South Carolina militia got word that a raiding party of Tory loyalists had seized a herd of cattle and a bevy of horses from his neighbors. His fellow settlers at Mount Willing, little more than a forest clearing in the backcountry wilderness, urged him to lead a force to pursue the marauders. Butler demurred. He had been released from eighteen months in a British jail in Charleston only weeks before. He had suffered enough, he said, and his farm needed tending.

Butler had immigrated to the South Carolina backcountry in the early 1760s over the great wagon trail that led from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, then the most heavily traveled road in America. With him came his wife, two sisters, and a growing family, which now numbered eight children in all. The Butlers were of ScotchIrish descent, part of a huge wave of 250,000 immigrants who arrived in Pennsylvania between 1715 and 1775 from the north of England, Scotland, and northern Ireland. They spoke English, not Gaelic, but had a lilting cadence in their voices, an accent preserved in the speech of the Southtoday. These Scotch-Irish were a poor but proud people who had left their homelands after centuries of incessant warfare. In temperament, they were tough, blunt, touchy, hard-drinking, and pugnacious.

The Butlers' new land in South Carolina was promising. It lay halfway between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean in what would become Edgefield County. There were great primeval forests of oak and hickory and endless stretches of longleaf pine. In the spring, the undergrowth was clothed in splashes of pink, white, and magenta by dogwood and azaleas. Swarms of wild turkeys, geese, ducks, and pigeons darkened the sky. Everywhere there was an abundance of small streams and rivers for water. Along their banks, stands of sugarcane grew in profusion, often reaching higher than a man's head. The red clay soil was rich, good for growing corn and grazing cattle and horses. Some of the settlers experimented with cotton, but until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin across the nearby Savannah River in Georgia in 1793, separating the seeds from the fiber was too difficult to make it a profitable crop. Still, a few of this first generation in the backcountry, including the Butlers, had already acquired enough wealth to buy black slaves.

But if the land was rich, life had proven vicious. Since 1760, spanning the whole time the Butlers had been in South Carolina, the area around them had been engaged in some of the cruelest fighting in American history. The conflict had started with a massacre in 1760 by Cherokee Indians that killed scores of settlers. In one attack, the seventy-six-year-old grandmother of John C. Calhoun, a future vice president of the United States and the greatest of all the Carolinians, was murdered in an ambush with twenty-two other people.

By 1761, when the Cherokee were defeated, much of the backcountry was devastated. Homeless veterans formed outlaw gangs that abducted young women from their villages and tortured wealthy planters and merchants to make them reveal where they had hidden their valuables. Infuriated by this lawlessness, the more respectable settlers formed themselves into "Regulators" to break up the gangs. It was the first organized vigilante justice in America.

The Regulators succeeded. But they were so brutal that the leading historian of the movement, Richard Maxwell Brown, has argued that "they introduced the strain of violence and extremism that was to be the curse of the upcountry and the nemesis of South Carolina" for more than a century. Often they were sadistic. One group of fifty Regulators who captured a "roguish and troublesome" fellow, said to be a horse thief, stripped him and tied him to a tree with a wagon chain. Then they each took turns giving him ten lashes, for a bloody total of five hundred stripes, to the accompaniment of a drum and fiddle.

An uneasy calm ensued in the early 177os, but the fighting erupted even more violently with the advent of the American Revolution in 1775. Along with the battles between the Continental and British armies, there was a guerrilla war of family against family and neighbor against neighbor; it was carried on by ambush, atrocity, and plunder. "No conflict within the borders of the United States has surpassed the South Carolina Back Country civil war in cruelty and bitterness," it has been said.

Some of the militia on both sides--the Tories and the Revolutionaries, or Whigs--were in the war explicitly for booty. Two of the leading South Carolina Whig officers, Andrew Pickens and Thomas Sumter, made plunder part of their troops' pay. "Each Colonel to receive three grown negroes and one small negro," one set of instructions advertised. "Each Major to receive three grown negroes; Captain two grown negroes; Lieutenants one large and one small negro; the Staff one large and one small negro; the Sergeants one and a quarter negro; each private one grown negro."

The most sanguinary episode in the backcountry feuding came in 1781 as a troop of three hundred Tory militia cavalry under Major William Cunningham, known as "Bloody Bill," moved out of British headquarters in Charleston, passed through the American lines, and advanced up the Saluda River on Mount Willing, where the Butlers lived. In background, Cunningham was much like Captain Butler. He, too, was of Scotch-Irish descent and had emigrated down the wagon trail from Pennsylvania and Virginia, settling with a group of his relatives only a few miles from Mount Willing. He had fought with Butler in some of the same battles against the Cherokee and at the outset of the Revolution had joined the colonists against the British. But he changed sides abruptly in 1778 after he received word that his brother, who was lame and an epileptic, had been whipped to death by a Whig militia captain.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2008

    The Best Book I have ever Read!!!!

    My family are adement readers as per my grandparents, my mother, and finally me. So I have read MANY books. This books was the best book I have ever read. In fact I read this book over 14 years ago of which I have read probably 3000 books since but this one is still the best. Based on a true story this book tracks the lineage of Willie Bosket through his father, grandfather, great grandfather, all the way to slavery and how the violence in the family trickled down. When you read this remember it starts out slow because the author gives you the background of the times but after chapter 3 it really gets going. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2007

    haunting

    i live in the inner city where young black youth are caught up in this terrible cycle of violence that is depicted in this book. this book should be required reading in high school.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2006

    Indeed a classic

    I could not put this book down. I was impressed with the detailed research and published history. Everyone must read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2003

    OUTSTANDING!! FUTURE CLASSIC!!!

    Once I began reading this selection I became so intrigued with the history, intense action, and emotion that I was unable to put it down until I finished. A thrilling and chilling story of how a young man takes a negative approach to his life and when it finally seems he will get it together, it all comes crashing down. A must read for all sociology and criminology majors.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2002

    I'm glad I read it

    I read this book 2 years ago and I couldn't put it down. I read it on my lunchbreak and any break I could take, it's just that good. I liked it because it showed how the extent of slavery on the black men in America is still working. And the Social Welfare department does not have the answer and never will, Slavery has to be addressed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2002

    I couldn't put it down

    I read this book 4 years ago and it still lingers in mind. It is well written and its definitely a must read for anyone in the field of Social Welfare or Law.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2002

    Untouchable

    I read this book in a matter of days. The story was very intriguing and informative. There is nothing like it. This book explained the troubles and life history of one of America's most dangerous men. Who wouldn't like it? The story line is superb and keeps u hooked untill the last page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2002

    OUTSTANDING 'A must read.'

    This book had me so entralled that I took it every place I went and finished the book in two weeks. This should be made into a movie. I cried when Willie's father killed himself as well as the relationship he wanted to have with Willie. What does Amrica do with children like Willie?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2001

    A Thoughtful Geneology of Violence

    Butterfield explores the traumatic and explosive parallels between an individual raised on violence and the society that is, simultaneously, nurished by him and vapid because of him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2001

    A Vivid Depiction

    Reading this book was like hearing the cries of all of the children that have been caught in the cracks. In a world so obsessed with progression by any means, we often forget about those who fall asunder.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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