Freedom S Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America

Freedom S Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America

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by Myra B. Young Armstead
     
 

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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 as a gardener to a wealthy family in the Hudson Valley. Two years after his escape and manumission, he began a diary which he kept until his death. In Freedom’s Gardener, Myra B. Young Armstead uses

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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 as a gardener to a wealthy family in the Hudson Valley. Two years after his escape and manumission, he began a diary which he kept until his death. In Freedom’s Gardener, Myra B. Young Armstead uses the apparently small and domestic details of Brown’s diaries to construct a bigger story about the transition from slavery to freedom.

In this first detailed historical study of Brown’s diaries, Armstead utilizes Brown’s life to illuminate the concept of freedom as it developed in the United States in the early national and antebellum years. That Brown, an African American and former slave, serves as such a case study underscores the potential of American citizenship during his lifetime.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An enlightening examination of a period of American history that seems to have slipped from public scrutiny...Armstead's review of the status of American horticulture during the first half of the nineteenth century makes this volume intriguing reading for gardeners."-Marilyn K. Alaimo,Chicago Botanic Garden

"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

"Freedom’s Gardener is beautifully researched, bursting with detail."-The New York Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781479825233
Publisher:
Nyu Press
Publication date:
06/22/2013
Pages:
219
Sales rank:
806,534
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

What People are saying about this

"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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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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Freedom's Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AfroAmericanHeritage More than 1 year ago
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.