Adorning the cover of this book is a photograph of Bridget "Biddy" Mason (1818-1891), leading the reader to anticipate a biography of this remarkable African-American woman, who, as the slave of Robert and Rebecca Smith, made the 2,000-mile Mormon trek from Mississippi to the Salt Lake Valley and across the Mojave Desert to California; who, after a successful writ of habeas corpus (in 1856, a year before the Dred Scott decision), was declared "free forever"; who, as a free woman, moved from midwifery to real estate, accumulating a fortune estimated at $300,000; who was a founder of Los Angeles's first black church, donating the land on which it was built; and who was further distinguished during her lifetime for her charitable enterprises. Demaratus, an independent scholar in Seattle, feels "chosen to pursue" Mason's story, going in search of this woman who "blazed a path meteoric in its significance." Unfortunately, this book reads like a miscellany of information (such as how the papers of the judge who freed Mason found their way to the Bancroft library) marred by speculative flights into "might have, "may have" and "likely." Alternating with the informational chapters is an account of Demaratus's personal quest, which does not take on the weight she intends it to. There being no full-length biography, readers will be grateful for some of the raw material collected here, but the life of Biddy Mason remains to be written. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
While pursuing another writing project, Seattle author Demaratus discovered the life story of Biddy Mason, a former slave who became a wealthy property owner and philanthropist. Unsatisfied with the details of Mason's life as documented at a Los Angeles exhibit, Demaratus began this retelling of Mason's story. Mason's biography turns out also to be inextricably linked to the story of her owner, Robert M. Smith, and his family, Southerners who converted to Mormonism and in 1848 migrated from Mississippi to California with their fellow church members and slaves. In California, a writ of habeas corpus was filed against Smith when he decided to move his family and slaves from California, a nonslaveholding state, to Texas, a slaveholding state. Benjamin Hayes, the judge who presided over the high-profile trial that followed, also figures prominently in the narrative, as do several episodes of author Demaratus's personal life. The result is an unharmonious combination of personal narrative and historiography littered with sentimentalism and unsubstantiated analysis. Mason, Smith, and Hayes deserve a more objective and credible telling of the events that caused their lives to intersect. Suitable for California and Mormon history collections. Sherri Barnes, Univ. of California at Santa Barbara Lib. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A gracefully-written account of the extraordinary life of Biddy Mason, a former slave who, at the time of her death in 1891, had become a renowned philanthropist and one of the wealthiest African American women in California. The author, a professional writer, poetically weaves into the narrative her own quest to research her subject, with whom she deeply identifies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)