Freedom's Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America [NOOK Book]

Overview

In 1793 James F. Brown was born a slave and in 1868 he died a free man. At age 34 he ran away from his native Maryland to pass the remainder of his life in upstate New York's Hudson Valley, where he was employed as a gardener by the wealthy, Dutch-descended Verplanck family on their estate in Fishkill Landing. Two years after his escape, he began a diary that he kept until two years before his death. In Freedom’s Gardener, Myra B. Young Armstead uses seemingly small details from Brown’s diaries—entries about ...
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Freedom's Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America

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Overview

In 1793 James F. Brown was born a slave and in 1868 he died a free man. At age 34 he ran away from his native Maryland to pass the remainder of his life in upstate New York's Hudson Valley, where he was employed as a gardener by the wealthy, Dutch-descended Verplanck family on their estate in Fishkill Landing. Two years after his escape, he began a diary that he kept until two years before his death. In Freedom’s Gardener, Myra B. Young Armstead uses seemingly small details from Brown’s diaries—entries about weather, gardening, steamboat schedules, the Verplanck's social life, and other largely domestic matters—to construct a bigger story about the development of national citizenship in the United States in the years predating the Civil War.

Brown’s experience of upward mobility demonstrates the power of freedom as a legal state, the cultural meanings attached to free labor using horticulture as a particular example, and the effectiveness of the vibrant political and civic sphere characterizing the free, democratic practices begun in the Revolutionary period and carried into the young nation. In this first detailed historical study of Brown’s diaries, Armstead thus utilizes Brown’s life to more deeply illuminate the concept of freedom as it developed in the United States in the early national and antebellum years.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Myra Young Armstead brings to life James Brown, a self-possessed African American citizen of the pre-Civil War United States, and gives us a new understanding of the meaning of freedom in antebellum America. As a master gardener in rural upstate New York, James Brown charted a life of complex alliances across racial lines and advocacy on behalf of fellow African Americans. Armstead's wonderful work of recovery illuminates a path to freedom in the rural North that we have known little about."

-Leslie M. Harris,Emory University

"This is far more than a book about a gardener–though it is a fascinating story about nineteenth-century American horticulture. Freedom’s Gardener tells us about the opportunities and limits that framed the lives of African Americans in places like New York’s Hudson Valley. And a good read to boot.”

-James Grossman,University of Chicago

"Armstead explores the meaning of northern African American identity through her deft decoding of a ten-volume diary left by James F. Brown... Recommended for historians of antebellum America or the social aspects of horticulture and for those interested in historical diaries. Incipient researchers will learn the differences among term, life, and wage slaves and much else." -Library Journal,

"With this meticulously sourced and carefully reasoned portrait, Armstead reclaims an outstanding American who helped freedom grow."-Booklist,

This in-depth study of the life of an African American slave turned master gardener is an enlightening examination of a period of American history that seems to have slipped from public scrutiny in recent years."-Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer,Chicago Botanic Garden

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814707913
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 219
  • Sales rank: 1,324,369
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author


Myra B. Young Armstead is Professor of History at Bard College. Her books include “Lord, Please Don’t Take Me in August”: African Americans in Newport and Saratoga Springs, 1870-1930 and Mighty Change, Tall Within: Black Identity in the Hudson Valley.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 11, 2012

    A Shining Example of Historical Reconstruction

    James F. Brown was born a slave in Maryland and died a free man in Upstate New York. More than a free man - he became a Master Gardener, a husband, a voter, a citizen, a respected member of his community at large and the horticultural community of the Hudson River Valley in particular. And he accomplished all of this in the pre-Civil War period. Armstead has painstakingly teased most of his story from his 10-volume diary (covering the years 1829 - 1866.) Admittedly, in keeping with diaries of the period the journals do not reveal "secrets of the heart" so much as matter-of-fact accounts of daily goings on. But when used with other sources - and one can tell Armstead has meticulously combed through them all - the author is able to create a "historically contextualized reconstruction" of his life that makes for a fascinating story. As the author states in her introduction, this is more than one man's story. It is a reflection upon three national struggles during the period "regarding personhood, regarding work, and regarding democratic association." This theme (combined with the fact that so much of the information about Brown is by necessity well-founded conjecture tempered with qualifiers such as "very likely" and "probably") raises the book to a more academic level, and makes me hesitate to recommend it to the general reader with an interest in horticulture. But I can definitely recommend this book for readers interested both in African American or American Studies and horticulture. And it is a Must Read for anyone planning a trip to the Mt. Gulian Historic Site. Though their web site does have a page devoted to Brown, it really doesn't do him justice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

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