Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War Era
Throughout the long history of American slavery, black people
understood their society in the idiom of kinship. African-American
families transmitted their culture from the Old World to
the New, socialized the young and succored the old, buffered
relations between master and slave, and served as an engine of
resistance to an oppressive regime. Emancipation at once
strengthened and transformed the families of former slaves. As
African Americans reconstituted their domestic life on a foundation of
freedom, previously hidden beliefs came into full view and familiar usages took on new meaning.
Families and Freedom tells the story of the remaking of
the black family during the tumultuous years of the Civil War and early Reconstruction. In the words of former slaves, free blacks, and their contemporaries, it recounts the elation
accompanying the reunion of brothers and sisters separated for
half a lifetime and the anguished realization that time lost
could never be reclaimed; the quiet satisfaction of legitimating a
marriage once denied at law and the sadness of
discovering that a long-lost spouse had remarried; the pride of
establishing an independent household and the pain of being
unable to protect it; the hope that freedom would ensure the
sanctity of family life and the fear that the new order would
betray freedom's greatest promise. The documents in Families
and Freedom provide insight into the most intimate
aspects of the transformation of slaves to free people.
Available in paperback and suitable for classroom use, Families
and Freedom includes photographs and other illustrations.
Copies of Families and Freedom may be purchased from your local bookstore or ordered from The New Press , 450 West 41st Street, 6th Floor New York, N.Y. 10036. Credit card orders may be placed online by telephone (800-233-4830) or by fax (212-629-8617). 259 pp. Cloth ISBN 1-56584-026-7; paperback ISBN 1-56584-440-8.
Sample Documents from the Volume
- Maryland Fugitive Slave to His Wife, January 12, 1862
For John Boston, the triumph of his own escape to freedom within Union lines was tainted by the resulting separation from his wife.
[image of manuscript (62K)]
- Testimony by the Superintendent of
Contrabands at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, before the American
Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, May 9, 1863
Captain Charles B. Wilder explained how fugitive slaves,
once having escaped to Union lines, worked to liberate fellow slaves and
spread the word of freedom deep in Confederate territory.
- Mother of a Northern Black Soldier to the President, July 31, 1863
Shortly after the battle of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, a free-black woman whose son was serving in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry advised President Abraham Lincoln of his responsibility to prevent the Confederates from enslaving captured black soldiers.
[image of manuscript (75K)]
- Marriage Certificate of a Black Soldier and His Wife, December 3, 1863 [image (125K)]
The marriage of two former slaves, Private Rufus Wright and Elisabeth Turner, was presided over by a black army chaplain, the Reverend Henry M. Turner.
- Missouri Slave Woman to Her Soldier Husband, December 30, 1863
Martha Glover of Missouri, who remained enslaved after her
husband enlisted in the Union army, described to him the burdens
she and their children had subsequently borne.
- Maryland Black Soldier to the Mother of a Dead Comrade, August 19, 1864
A black soldier from Maryland consoled the mother of a friend who had died in combat.
- Maryland Slave to the President, August 25, 1864
Maryland's exclusion from the Emancipation Proclamation left Annie Davis still a slave. Insistent on her right to freedom, she demanded that President Abraham Lincoln himself clarify her status.
[image of manuscript (44K)]
- Commander of a Black Brigade to the Commander of the District of
Eastern Virginia, September 1, 1864
When a group of ex-slave men working as Union military laborers returned home to liberate families and friends, they were accompanied by a detachment of black soldiers, whose brigade commander reported the outcome of the expedition.
- Missouri Black Soldier to His Enslaved Daughters, and to the Owner of One of His Daughters, September 3, 1864
Private Spotswood Rice promised his daughters – and warned the woman who owned one of them – that their liberation was at hand.
- Affidavit of a Kentucky Black Soldier, November 26, 1864
Threatened by their owner, the wife and children of Joseph Miller had accompanied him when he enlisted in the Union army. Miller described the ordeal that followed the expulsion of his family from the camp in which they took refuge.
- Louisiana Black Sergeant to the Commander of a Louisiana Black Brigade, December 27, 1864
Recounting his regiment's battlefield success, a black sergeant stationed in Florida felt confident that the general who had supervised recruitment in his home state would grant him a “Small favor.”
- Chaplain of an Arkansas Black Regiment to the Adjutant General of the Army, February 28, 1865
The chaplain of a black regiment in Arkansas confirmed the importance of marriage to the freedpeople and described their conviction that wartime emancipation was less an end than a beginning.
- Affidavit of a Kentucky Black Soldier's Widow, March 25, 1865
After her husband enlisted in the Union army in late 1864, Patsy Leach endured abuse at the hands of their enraged owner, a Confederate sympathizer in Kentucky. Fearing for her life, she fled with her youngest child, leaving four other children behind.
North Carolina Black Soldiers to the Freedmen's Bureau
Commissioner, May or June 1865
At the end of the war, black soldiers stationed near Petersburg, Virginia, wrote to the commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau to protest the suffering of their wives, children, and parents at a settlement on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.