Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War

Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War

Melvin Patrick Ely

Language: English

Pages: 660

ISBN: 0679768726

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

WINNER OF THE BANCROFT PRIZEA New York Times Book Review and Atlantic Monthly Editors' ChoiceThomas Jefferson denied that whites and freed blacks could live together in harmony. His cousin, Richard Randolph, not only disagreed, but made it possible for ninety African Americans to prove Jefferson wrong. Israel on the Appomattox tells the story of these liberated blacks and the community they formed, called Israel Hill, in Prince Edward County, Virginia. There, ex-slaves established farms, navigated the Appomattox River, and became entrepreneurs. Free blacks and whites did business with one another, sued each other, worked side by side for equal wages, joined forces to found a Baptist congregation, moved west together, and occasionally settled down as man and wife. Slavery cast its grim shadow, even over the lives of the free, yet on Israel Hill we discover a moving story of hardship and hope that defies our expectations of the Old South.

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in founding Farmville Baptist Church; bizarrely, the law permitted Ellis to sue Madison but not to testify against him in court. The apparent fact of Madison’s aggression must have warred in the jurors’ minds with a lack of eyewitness testimony from the men Ellis brought to the stand, and with the flouting of slave discipline embodied in the phony pass. In 1833 and 1834, three successive juries failed to reach a verdict. In the end, Ellis and Madison reached a settlement under which the colonel

proverb reminds us, could also breed contempt, and the consequences could be dire when one human being owned another. Some masters reserved special treatment for those slaves they did not like: one dying slaveholder called for most of his bondpeople to be treated well, but singled out a slave named Sam who was to “be sold to the Highest bidder” along with “three Horses [named] Hello, Tenisee & Kentuckey.”56 What this ruthless yet intimate system lacked was any strong impulse on the part of rural

plantation, their pay was set according to “the custom in the Neighbourho[od]”—which apparently meant the rate earned by free agricultural hirelings before Emancipation. By summer, the Freedmen’s Bureau in the county regularly provided rations to nearly two thousand destitute or ailing black people. That number tapered off to double digits, along with a hundred or so hospital patients, by the following spring. A great benefit from the Union victory was the opportunity to reunify black families

Estate (Prince Edward delinquent land 1828, filed CoCt 1829 Jun–Jul, and some subsequent lists omit the “Estate”); Ms. Census, 1830, sheet 126. Dick White: Coroner’s inquest, Richard White, April 17, 1826, Inquests, LVA; Coroner’s Coms. [claims against county], 1826 Jun 19, filed CoCt 1826 Jul; FNL, 1825. Hercules White Jr.: OB 23/80 (1833 Feb). Phil White Sr.: WB 7/189, Philip White evaluation (1830). Patterson: OB 22/579 (1832 Jan); WB 7/273, Isham Patterson will (1831/1832). New, native

expelled” if convicted—Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Knopf, 1997), p. 69. Heyrman (pp. 159 and 301, n. 57) and Donald G. Mathews find that disciplinary action by congregations became less frequent over time—Mathews, Religion in the Old South (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 100. But Sharon Church recorded such actions fairly often through the 1840s, with a decrease in the 1850s. 94. “Religious melancholy”: “Colo. Rice” depo (and

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