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Seaward Born

Seaward Born

4.2 10
by Lea Wait

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"Sometimes a man has to risk everything to do what's right. Doing it is what makes him a man."

Thirteen-year-old Michael knows he is lucky. Few slaves in 1805 Charleston are where they want to be. But Michael works on the docks and ships in Charleston Harbor, close to the seas he longs to sail. Life seems good. But when Michael's protective mistress dies


"Sometimes a man has to risk everything to do what's right. Doing it is what makes him a man."

Thirteen-year-old Michael knows he is lucky. Few slaves in 1805 Charleston are where they want to be. But Michael works on the docks and ships in Charleston Harbor, close to the seas he longs to sail. Life seems good. But when Michael's protective mistress dies, everything changes, and Michael's friend Jim encourages him to run away. Michael is torn. Should he risk everything for a chance at freedom in some unknown place? Or should he stay -- is staying safe worth staying a slave?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Michael, the 13-year-old captive who first appeared in Stopping to Home, returns for Seaward Born by Lea Wait. When Michael's master dies, he makes the decision to stow away on a northern-bound vessel and escape from South Carolina.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-In 1805 Charleston, Michael, 13, escapes from slavery. After stowing away on a ship bound for Boston, he runs afoul of a sailor who would like to turn him in for reward money. He moves on to Maine, but even there the risk of discovery is high, so he finally heads for true freedom in Canada. Resourceful and self-assured, Michael relies on the help of fair-minded men and on the advice he recalls from his deceased parents. His skills as a cook and as a seaman also serve him well on more than one occasion. The smoothly told story presents several scenarios faced by African Americans in the early 1800s, both through the teen's experiences and those of people he talks to. The decision to leave Charleston is not an easy one, as he weighs safety and security against his wish to "make a life." His struggles in New England show the complications of living as an escaped slave in the North. Michael is a thoughtful and likable character, though he never emerges as a fully compelling individual. Supporting characters have enough depth to be interesting, but are also clearly cast as friend or foe, with no deviation, from the start. The novel has some predictable moments, such as Michael's narrow escape in a Boston alley, but the general fast pace and clear writing make it an accessible story full of thought-provoking situations and well-drawn historical settings.-Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Thirteen-year-old Noah Brown, last seen in Wait's debut Stopping to Home (2001), tells the story of his escape from slavery. As Michael Lautrec he is hired out to work on the waterfront of Charleston after his parents, one slave, one free, die in a hurricane. Michael loves his work and enjoys his friendship with other hired-out slaves; he keeps in close touch with other Lautrec slaves who form his family. When Mrs. Lautrec, his old mistress, dies, however, everything changes; Anny, Sirrah, and Sam are sold to Alabama, and Jim persuades young Michael to flee. While stowing away on a cargo ship bound for Massachusetts, Michael changes his name to Noah, and begins to take charge of his future. Unfortunately, Noah/Michael's escape, though fraught with complications, lacks real excitement. Most of the action is revealed through dialogue, and Noah's voice never quite comes alive. When Jim, a life-long friend, is captured and taken back to slavery, Noah's response is curiously cold, "They'd found Jim. What would they do? Would Jim say anything about him?" As Noah's emotional tone remains flat, this becomes less dramatic as a story, but more important as an excellent illumination of conditions and behavior not explored often enough in children's literature. Those who enjoyed the author's first work must read this one, too. (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
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2 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Dum spiro, spero ("While I breathe, I hope").

-- state motto of South Carolina

Why did the mistress want to see him?

Never in all the thirteen years Michael had lived in the slave quarters of the big house on Tradd Street had Mrs. Lautrec asked for him.

Had she sold him? Was she sending him to her son's plantation, Sotherfield, to sweat in the rice fields?

The questions echoed through Michael's head. He stopped swabbing the floor and looked out from the highest arcade of Saint Michael's Church, far above the red rooftops of Charleston. Mrs. Lautrec sent him to the church every morning to help Mr. Fitzhugh, the sexton. Swabbing the steeple balconies was his favorite task. Usually the sight of the vessels below him in the harbor was enough to let him forget the past months.

Early-spring breezes caught strands of his long, dark hair, worn, as a seaman's would be, tied with an eel-skin thong at the back of his neck. Michael moved to the railing.

He could see all of Charleston, not just from the Cooper River to the Ashley River, but way out to the islands, where Papa had taught him fishing and the ways of the waters, and to the sea beyond. Michael blinked away tears. Papa had drowned in last September's terrible hurricane. The swelling cargo of rice filling the ship Concord had burst the vessel's seams open and taken everyone aboard down with it. That same day Mama had been crushed when high gales knocked the chimney of Mrs. Lautrec's house through the roof. In one day that storm had taken both his parents.

He reached into his pocket andtook out the small, smooth wooden fishing boat Papa had carved for him when he was small. "Every boy, no matter he be a slave, should have a toy," Papa had said. And what Michael had wanted more than anything else, even then, was a boat. He had played with that boat constantly until he was old enough to know toys were only for little children, and had hidden it under his straw-filled pallet. After Mama's and Papa's deaths he thought of it again. It comforted him to feel the smooth wood under his fingers; it made Papa and Mama and the days when he had been a child seem closer. It reminded him that he had been loved.

Michael looked out again at the harbor. How could anyone live without being close to the sea? Masted vessels filled the harbor, their sails like the great wings of angels, carrying people safely from one shore to another. Tall ships under sail had the power to take you to other worlds. Most days the sight of them brought him hope. Today it reminded him of what else he could lose.

"Boy! Come down here this minute! There are other chores to be done!"

It was Mr. Fitzhugh. Michael shoved the boat back in his pocket and picked up the bucket of dirty water and the mop. Mama would have been proud of him, keeping his namesake clean for the Lord. He took one last look seaward and then scrambled down the steep stairs, slipping on the damp steps and spilling some of the dirty water from the pail as he came.

What did the mistress want with him? Sirrah, the cook who had replaced Mama, had said Mrs. Lautrec wanted to speak with him after dinner. The waiting would make for a long afternoon.

Copyright © 2003 by Eleanor Wait

Meet the Author

Lea Wait made her mystery debut with Shadows at the Fair, which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Shadows on the Ivy, the third novel in her acclaimed series featuring Maggie Summer, is forthcoming in hardcover from Scribner. Lea comes from a long line of antiques dealers, and has owned an antique print business for more than twenty-five years. The single adoptive mother of four Asian girls who are now grown, she lives in Edgecomb, Maine. In addition to the Antique Print mysteries, Lea Wait writes historical fiction for young readers. Her first children's book, Stopping to Home, was named a Notable Book for Children in 2001 by Smithsonian magazine.
Visit her website at

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Seaward Born 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was hesitant to share this book with my children, ages 8 and 12, because the topic of slavery is a sensitive one. But this book made it easier to discuss. It treads a fine line ... it never praises slavery... but it does show how, under some circumstances, it could be tolerable ... but that freedom was worth taking major risks. My children loved the specific details of Micahel/Noah's escape, and his mother's middle passage journey. A book to read and discuss.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this for my son, because it sounded like ad adventure story, but both my daughters also read it, and asked for more by the same author. It is wonderful when someone can write well enough to bring history alive for young people!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
An action-packed story of a boy making life-determining decisions; wonderful details about life in slavery and on the sea that don't get in the way of an exciting story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Charleston of 1805-7, young slave Michael's world is changed when his master dies and his family is sold off to harsh farm life. But he is given a chance to work on the docks, one of his ambitions, and he hopes it will lead to work on a boat. He hears about slaves who have fled to the north and freedom and wonders if it would be possible for him to do the same. But the dangers seem insurmountable. Will he try for a new life of his own? Lea Wait gives us vivid scenes of Charleston and the life of a slave. The dangers of trying to get away are gripping. Michael, who renames himself Noah, finds out what is most important in a person's life. This is a rewarding and informative tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael is a slave in Charleston, and he likes his work on the docks and in the harbor there. But his mistress dies and he is afraid of being sold. Trying to run away is very serious for a slave. Sometimes they are killed. But Michael decides to risk it, with the help of a black mariner from Massachusetts. He changes his name to Noah, and he hides in a barrel on board a ship heading for Boston. But the adventure has just started then! I really liked Michael/Noah and I was scared about some things that happened to him -- but I kept reading! A good book!