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A Slave No More    by David W. Blight order for
Slave No More
by David W. Blight
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Pat Elliott

It is unusual to have a slave's handwritten account of his servitude. Unusual because it was against the law for a slave to read or write; unusual that the documents have lasted so long; unusual that both men, with very different lives, had the same goal - freedom.

John Washington was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1838. He worked as a house and sign painter in Washington D.C. after his escape. He retired to Cohasset, Massachusetts, and died in 1918. Wallace Turnage was born in Snow Hill, North Carolina in 1846 and lived in New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey after his escape. He died in 1916. David W. Blight, director of Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, and a professor of American history, adds comments and facts about slavery and about each man's autobiography.

Less than one in ten slaves were able to write. John Washington's mother and uncle taught him his letters. He tried to teach himself to write the alphabet. A friend showed him how to make his letters and the result was a timeless history of his life as a slave. His was not as hard a life as we might imagine. He was not treated as badly as many. His great sadness was being separated from his mother. Sometimes slaves were hired out to make money for their master. By working overtime, they were able to earn a bit of money for themselves. Washington used his skills and knowledge of white man's ways to plan and execute his escape across enemy lines. Union troops welcomed escaped slaves. They brought food, supplies and information about Confederate movements. Washington served the Union troops in many ways, earning their respect.

Turnage had a much different life than Washington. He worked as a field hand. At one time he was sold for $950.00, then immediately sold again for $1000.00. He endured beatings and torture at the mercy of a merciless slave owner. He was a rebel and ran away five times, chased by dogs and slave catchers. His fifth attempt took him across enemy lines into Yankee territory. His life after slavery was fraught with problems and sadness. He says he has not told all his experiences, only those that might interest others. He apologizes for his lack of education saying he obtained it after he escaped.

Each autobiography gives the reader insights into the Southern mind, both white and black. Blight follows up with a recap of each man's life after freedom. Sixteen pages of pictures make the slave experience more real. I recommend A Slave No More to anyone - historian or casual reader - who enjoys learning about the Civil War.

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