Praise for Jefferson Morley's Snow-Storm in August:
“History so fresh it feels alive. . . . After reading Jefferson Morley’s vibrant account, one can never hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ the same way again.”
—David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story
“Fascinating. . . . An exploration of America’s capital city at a time when the fault line over slavery had become impossible to ignore. . . . [Morley’s] plunge beneath the surface of history exposes realities more true to daily experience than executive proclamations or speeches in Congress. . . . Snow-Storm in August deepens our appreciation of how slavery made a mockery of the founding and made the Civil War as close to inevitable as any event in our history.”
—The Washington Post
“A vibrant and illuminating picture of the antebellum capital at a time when national stability depended on placating the owners of slaves. . . . [Morley] reveals a tangle of back stories that eventually lead deep into a tension-filled landscape of class resentments, provocative abolitionism and proslavery passions. It is a world peopled with vivid characters both black and white, among them, most intriguingly, the city’s district attorney, Francis Scott Key, the author of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.'"
—The Wall Street Journal
“Morley’s gripping, fast-paced narrative captures all the drama that encompasses a rich cast of characters that includes Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, Roger Taney, Sam Houston, and a host of others who inhabited the young nation’s capital. . . . Morley has given readers a noteworthy, insightful look into an often overlooked chapter in American history.”
“An elegant, readable narrative . . . touches on themes still relevant today . . . racial tensions, simmering resentment over economic disparity, influence peddling among the powerful and the red-blue divide between conservatives and progressives.”
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Jefferson Morley has vividly and factually recreated a largely lost but pivotal time in Jacksonian Washington, an emerging, still somewhat primitive capital city where racial tensions among its complex mix of white, free black, and enslaved residents inevitably lead to violence and push the debate over abolition into the houses of Congress and the President. The historical characters, famous and forgotten, come to life in affecting and surprising ways without fictional artifice, a tribute to Morley’s meticulous research and empathetic narrative style.”
—Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post
“Absorbing. . . . This book reminds us how deeply entrenched proslavery forces were in the nation’s capital and what a struggle it was for African Americans to receive justice and for abolitionists to be heard. . . . An enlightening account of racial tension in pre-Civil War America.”
“Morley vividly recreates the episodes connected to the riot, and dramatically depicts the personalities involved, giving important insight into race relations before the Civil War.”
—The Columbus Dispatch
“Salon Washington correspondent Jefferson Morley boldly and elegantly recreates a moment in time when free black businessmen mingled with their white counterparts while proponents of slavery and abolitionists struggled to co-exist in the nation’s bustling capital. . . . A crackling good tale of the deep impact of race and politics on a young nation struggling to create its identity.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A sprightly social history. . . . Morley ably weaves the many strands together. . . . A suspenseful tale, culminating in the court of law where Key upheld the country’s oppression of African-Americans and thereby helped shape the rancorous debate over slavery. . . . Elegant and nimble history of a series of events likely unknown to many readers.”
The book's central motif is race, and the theme reverberates through a range of fascinating vignettes…As an exploration of America's capital city at a time when the fault line over slavery had become impossible to ignore, Snow-Storm in August deepens our appreciation of how slavery made a mockery of the founding and made the Civil War as close to inevitable as any event in our history.
David O. Stewart
Beverly Snow was a free man of color who owned and operated the Epicurean Eating House in Washington, D.C., in 1835. It was a class act Would you like guava jelly with your plover, ortolans to complement your green turtle? and Snow an artful, entertaining host. But Snow is also a foil for Jefferson Morley's other Washington in Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835, a betwixt-and-between place with the South below and the North above. "High finance and human slavery were reconciled in the coordinates of the new capital city," and for every Beverly Snow, there were multiple black men and women "sold at a slave pen at Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, [or] taken in chains from the alley behind G Street."
The 1830s, at this remove, may themselves appear to be betwixt and between, quiet years with big conflicts receding in memory (independence and the War of 1812) or yet to come (the secession and bloodbath of the 1860s). In fact, they were a seriously tense time, especially for border areas like Washington, and this is what Morley so convincingly and intensely captures. Rebellions by the enslaved populations were breaking out General Nat's Southampton, Virginia, uprising had just been bloodily quashed, and the Mississippi slave revolt was in progress and these flares of violence set a polychromatic background against which the Washington riot plays out.
Morley screws down on a few critical actors in the events. One is the abolitionist Reuben Crandall, who arrived in Georgetown in 1835 and started to spread the anti-slavery word. There is Arthur Bowen, the slave who gave voice to the outrage of his circumstances perhaps sparked by attending the discussions of the Philomathean Talking Society though unfortunately inebriated and carrying an axe at the time, the time being in his mistress's bedroom late at night. This set the rumor mill in motion, which got the "mechanics" (young white workers) hot and bothered: where was this leading but to insurrection, fueled by abolitionist propaganda such as William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator flooding in from the North? Before anyone started getting beyond their station, well, probably best to trash any high-profile establishment, like Snow's eatery thus Snow-Storm or any number of black-owned businesses or institutions.
Then there is Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the anthem whose words nobody ever remembers and, more significantly, served as Washington's district attorney. Morley draws Key in subtle shadings, a humanitarian but also a stickler for the law: slavery was legal and incitement to insurrection was not. Caving to rumor, acting on innuendo, he jailed both Crandall and Bowen. Neither man would be found accountable on the charges.
Morley also draws the young capital in shadings, though less subtle. He can be atmospheric the hard-packed street stones producing a powdery shroud when ground by carriages' steel wheels and dryly humorous, as when he notes that Louisiana Avenue was renamed Indiana Avenue. Imagine the chicanery behind that. Mostly, however, he is chillingly precise: "The white mob tormenting Washington City in August 1835 was not out of control?. The mechanics did not attack all free blacks or all schools. They pursued the small group of black men who were doing the most to undermine the slave system." A riot, yes, but a grim manhunt, too.
Peter Lewis is the director of the American Geographical Society in New York City. A selection of his work can be found at writesformoney.com.
Reviewer: Peter Lewis
On August 4, 1835, young slave Arthur Bowen, inebriated and angry after a night of conversation with other slaves seeking to end slavery, entered the bedroom of his sleeping owner, Anna Thornton, carrying an ax. Awakened and fearing Bowen intended to kill her, she raised an alarm. While passions were already running high in Washington, D.C., fueled by fears of a possible slave insurrection and unsettled feelings about slavery itself, a white mob attacked the highly successful restaurant of Beverly Snow, a free man of mixed race with a loyal following among whites for his sly sense of humor and impeccably cooked feasts. A young attorney, Francis Scott Key, already known for his poem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” prosecuted the Bowen case, and Bowen was sentenced to death. But in a compelling twist of fate, Anna Thornton petitioned for Bowen’s pardon, which President Andrew Jackson granted. In a crackling good tale of the deep impact of race and politics on a young nation struggling to create its identity, Salon Washington correspondent Morley (Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA) boldly and elegantly recreates a moment in time when free black businessmen mingled with their white counterparts while proponents of slavery and abolitionists struggled to co-exist in the nation’s bustling capital. Illus., map. Agent: req. (July)
Journalist Morley (Washington correspondent, Salon; Our Man in Mexico) presents the first book-length account of the 1835 Washington, DC, race riot that spotlighted the increasingly tense and complex relations among whites, free blacks, and slaves in the nation's capital. White rioters, enraged by freedom-seeking slave Arthur Bowen's attempted murder of his owner, took out their animosity on free blacks such as successful restaurateur and ex-slave Beverly Snow. Also caught up in the racial tensions in the aftermath of the Bowen incident was Reuben Crandell, a white Northerner charged with inciting slaves to revolt, and lawyer and author of the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," Francis Scott Key, who, as Washington, DC, district attorney, prosecuted both Bowen and Crandell. VERDICT Morley convincingly fits the Bowen incident and its violent aftermath into the larger story of the growing antislavery movement. Unfortunately, his research leaves large gaps in the tale and includes far too much speculation to make it fully recommendable to an academic audience. History buffs, however, will likely be satisfied with this dramatic and well-written account of race relations in antebellum Washinton, DC, and the early days of the American abolitionist movement.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Libs., Columbia
A sprightly social history of the convergence of pro- and anti-slavery agitators in the city of Washington during the explosive summer of 1835. The forces that would soon tear the country apart in civil war were already at work in Washington as President Andrew Jackson was away on vacation. Salon Washington correspondent Morley (Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, 2008, etc.) ably weaves the many strands together: An enterprising restaurateur of mixed race found that his success aroused the ire of resentful white patrons; an impressionable young slave hoping to educate and free himself ran afoul of his white mistress; a Yankee abolitionist newly arrived in town disseminated incendiary emancipationist literature; and the famous author of "The Star-Spangled Banner," serving as Jackson's district attorney, pursued his job of punishing vice and enforcing slavery. By July 1835, news of a slave rebellion in Mississippi had already created unease among white Washingtonians. When the young slave Arthur Bowen broke into the bedroom of his mistress, Anna Thornton, in the middle of the night on August 5, inebriated and carrying an axe, the city exploded in rumor and fear. Bowen had apparently been influenced by the antislavery literature of New Yorker Reuben Crandall, whom Key subsequently arrested and charged with "attempting to excite an insurrection." A mob formed, threatening to lynch Bowen, and destroying much property, including mixed-race entrepreneur Beverly Snow's popular Epicurean Eating House. Despite Thornton's attempts to protect her beloved slave, Bowen was convicted and sentenced to hang. Morley alternates the characters and scenes of action for a suspenseful tale, culminating in the court of law where Key upheld the country's oppression of African-Americans and thereby helped shape the rancorous debate over slavery. His brother-in-law Roger Taney (whom Key supported to power) would become chief justice of the Supreme Court and author of the Dred Scott decision. Elegant and nimble history of a series of events likely unknown to many readers.