In Search of the Promised Land: A Black Family and the Old South [NOOK Book]

Overview

The matriarch of a remarkable African American family, Sally Thomas went from being a slave on a tobacco plantation to a "nearly free" slave who ran her own business and purchased liberty for herself and one of her sons. In Search of the Promised Land offers a vivid portrait of the extended Thomas-Rapier family and of the life of slaves before the Civil War.

Based on family letters as well as an autobiography by one of Thomas's sons, this remarkable piece of detective work ...

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In Search of the Promised Land: A Black Family and the Old South

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Overview

The matriarch of a remarkable African American family, Sally Thomas went from being a slave on a tobacco plantation to a "nearly free" slave who ran her own business and purchased liberty for herself and one of her sons. In Search of the Promised Land offers a vivid portrait of the extended Thomas-Rapier family and of the life of slaves before the Civil War.

Based on family letters as well as an autobiography by one of Thomas's sons, this remarkable piece of detective work follows a singular group as they walk the boundary between slave and free, traveling across the country in search of a "promised land" where African Americans would be treated with respect. Their record of these journeys provides a vivid picture of antebellum America, stretching from New Orleans to St. Louis, from the Overland Trail to the California Gold Rush, and from Civil War battles to steamboat adventures. John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger weave a compelling narrative that illuminates the larger themes of slavery and freedom. To a remarkable degree, this small family experienced the full gamut of slavery, witnessing everything from the breakup of slave families, brutal punishment, and run-aways to miscegenation, insurrection panics, and slave patrols. They also illuminate the hidden lives of "nearly free" slaves, who maintained close relationships with whites, maneuvered within the system, and gained a large measure of autonomy.

The Thomas-Rapiers were keen observers of the human condition. Through the eyes of this exceptional family and the indomitable black woman who held them together, we witness aspects of human bondage otherwise hidden from view.

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Editorial Reviews

Caleb Crain
The authors argue that this ''highly unusual family'' illuminates relatively unexplored aspects of Southern history, and they tell its story elegantly.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Tracing the Thomas-Rapier family through three antebellum generations-from about 1808 to 1865-distinguished historians Franklin and Schweninger present an absorbing, impeccably researched account of "blacks who [have] only received passing notice-the free and quasi-free persons of mixed racial ancestry." Through this uncommon but not unique family, Franklin and Schweninger compress vast strata of slavery studies into an awesomely compact monograph, treating the reader to enough material (and drama) for a door-stopper; if the book were not so gemlike in size (it's 4 1/2" x 6 1/2"), style and substance, one could call it a page-turner. From Tennessee, Thomas-Rapiers travel widely (sometimes as slaves), and there is a panoramic quality to their immersion in American historical events: one attends a Jenny Lind concert; one seeks gold in California; one escapes to Buffalo and later settles in Canada; one is involved with the filibusters in Nicaragua. They become entrepreneurs and adventurers, gamblers and teachers, churchmen and a congressman. They talk politics; they worry about their children. The brutalization endemic in slave culture is ever present. The authors bring it all to life with startling clarity, using documents, letters and diaries with such judiciousness that the scholarly apparatus enlivens rather than deadens. A genealogy that keeps the family connections clear, maps that trace their peregrinations and the fully informative captions that accompany the illustrations supplement this remarkable text. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Coauthors of Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, 1790-1860, Franklin (history, emeritus, Duke Univ.) and Schweninger (history, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro) here present a compelling narrative of African American lives by tracing the history of the Thomas-Rapier family during the antebellum and Civil War eras. Starting with matriarch Sally Thomas, born a slave in 1787, the book enables readers to distinguish the various complex modes within which slavery operated. The resulting family history also traces the evolution of race relations in diverse locations from New Orleans to New York City, Canada, Minnesota, and the Caribbean. Using primary sources, including letters, diaries, legal records, reminiscences, and newspaper clippings, as well as the autobiography of Sally Thomas's son James, the authors have presented an account unique in its archival richness, further illuminated by images and maps. This is a distinguished contribution to American history and social sciences. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Edward G. McCormack, USM Gulf Coast Lib., Univ. of South Mississippi Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"A compelling narrative of African American lives.... Using primary sources, including letters, diaries, legal records, reminiscences, and newspaper clippings, as well as the autobiography of Sally Thomas's son James, the authors have presented an account unique in its archival richness, further illuminated by images and maps. This is a distinguished contribution to American history and social sciences."--Library Journal (starred review)

"For an African-American family in the early-19th-century South, the Thomas-Rapiers had a surprising amount of control over their lives. With her master's benign neglect, Sally Thomas earned enough money as a laundress to buy property, and she saw her three sons into freedom.... The authors argue that this 'highly unusual family' illuminates relatively unexplored aspects of Southern history, and they tell its story elegantly."--Caleb Crain, New York Times Book Review

"A marvelous and rare piece of historical research that is both rigorous in its construction and accessible in its presentation, making it an invaluable resource for academics and non-experts alike."--Atlanta Journal Constitution

"This slim but fascinating book about the Thomas-Rapier family seeks to add another layer to our understanding of American slavery.... The authors might be academics, but their book reads like a novel."-- Sharon Broussard, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"An absorbing, impeccably researched account.... From Tennessee, Thomas-Rapiers travel widely (sometimes as slaves), and there is a panoramic quality to their immersion in American historical events: one attends a Jenny Lind concert; one seeks gold in California; one escapes to Buffalo and later settles in Canada; one is involved with the filibusters in Nicaragua. They become entrepreneurs and adventurers, gamblers and teachers, churchmen and a congressman. They talk politics; they worry about their children. The brutalization endemic in slave culture is ever present. The authors bring it all to life with startling clarity, using documents, letters and diaries with such judiciousness that the scholarly apparatus enlivens rather than deadens. A genealogy that keeps the family connections clear, maps that trace their peregrinations and the fully informative captions that accompany the illustrations supplement this remarkable text."--Publishers Weekly

"A unique and exciting addition to the literature on slavery and 19th-century history. It shows the complexity of slave life and challenges existing historical interpretations without completely overturning the studies of the last thirty years. I love the story itself--what a story!" --James Fuller, University of Indianapolis

"One of the more vivid presentations of antebellum race relations I have seen. So much of scholarship on slave life tends to lose sight of individuals who had to confront life in a slave society. This book brings individuals back into the picture." --Dickson D. Bruce, University of Irvine California

"This work is unique in its combination of archival richness, narrative accessibility, and interpretive range. I'm impressed by the authors' abilities to maintain a focus on the big picture of slavery and emancipation while bringing to life related histories of gender, the city, and filibustering, among others. The 'wholes and parts' dilemma seems to be reconciled in this telling of one family's remarkable history." --David Quigley, Boston College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199728794
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2005
  • Series: New Narratives in American History
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 627,118
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

John Hope Franklin is Professor of History Emeritus at Duke University and the author of numerous books, including From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans and Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (co-authored with Loren Schweninger). One of the most revered historians at work today, he is past president of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Southern Historical Association. Loren Schweninger is Elizabeth Rosenthal Excellence Professor and Director of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the author of Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1915.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations vii
Foreword xi
Acknowledgments xiii
The Descendants of Sally Thomas xvi
Prologue 1
1 Sally Thomas: A Life in Bondage 11
Virtual Freedom 14
Sally's Children 16
Sally's Son James 23
Sally's Grandchildren: The Rapier Boys 34
2 From Slavery to Freedom 46
The Domestic Slave Trade 48
James Thomas: The Boyhood Years 54
Barbershop 63
3 Travels in the North and West 75
Nashville's Black Community 86
The Changing Attitudes of Whites 92
A Fugitive Slave in the North 95
The California Gold Rush 99
The Epidemic's Shadow 108
4 In Search of Canaan 117
Bound for Nicaragua 119
The Dilemma of John Rapier Sr. 126
The Minnesota Territory 135
Canada West and James Thomas Rapier 142
5 The Midwest, Haiti, and Jamaica 163
Into "Bleeding Kansas" 167
Steamboating on the Mississippi 169
John Rapier Jr. in the Caribbean 180
6 This Mighty Scourge of War 193
James Thomas in St. Louis 194
John Rapier Jr.'s Continuing Odyssey 203
The War's End 219
Epilogue 229
Afterword: Through the Prism of a Black Family 249
About the Sources 262
Appendix 1 Petitions of Ephraim Foster and James Thomas to the Davidson County Court, 1851 268
Appendix 2 John Rapier Sr. to Richard Rapier, April 8, 1845 273
Appendix 3 John Rapier Jr. to James Thomas, July 28, 1861 276
Selected Bibliography on Slavery 281
Index 283
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2006

    Much Needed in Tales of Slavery.

    Far too many of these types of stories go undiscovered. In school all we are exposed to are runaway slaves and Harriet Tubman. Great stories of triumph from slavery such as this one should be shown to black kids to build early self-esteem. This book is underrated.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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