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Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War
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 ...more
Paperback, 660 pages
Published August 16th 2005 by Vintage
(first published 2004)
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In the last decade of the 18th century, a Virginian planter left behind a will emancipating his slaves and providing for their futures by bequeathing to them 400 acres of prime agricultural land. The new free black settlement, known henceforth as Israel Hill and its inhabitants as Israelites, offers historians the fascinating perspective of an entire free black community deep in slave territory, an example that serves to shed a surprising light on slaveholder and free black relations.
Time and ag ...more
Time and ag ...more
Dec 11, 2008 Siria rated it it was amazing · review of another edition
This is a really wonderful microhistory of a small county in central Virginia where, in the early nineteenth century, a small group of freed slaves set up a community for themselves in a place they called Israel Hill. Ely does a great job of examining constructions of race and race relations in the antebellum south, challenging both our assumptions about the period and our complacency about race relations in our own time. Ely doesn't argue that slavery was anything less than a barbaric, horrific ...more
This is certainly one of the more unique historical accounts I've read pertaining to slavery and racial boundaries in America. Ely surmises that prior to the total abolition of slavery, there were settlements of freed African Americans living in the antebellum South who demonstrated that blacks were able to live among whites in a nearly egalitarian relationship. Ely utilizes the Virginian settlement of Israel Hill as well as countless examples of documentation from Prince Edward country in Virgi ...more
I learned a lot about responsible and critical historical scholarship from this book Dr. Ely does a great job of teasing out meaning from primary documents while knowing when not to take those documents at face value. His thesis - that whites' everyday interactions with free blacks were much less prejudicial than their public rhetoric and laws - is intriguing. The one downside is Ely's systematic and comprehensive presentation of the evidence - it's easy to get bogged down in the detail.
This is not an easy read, but it is well worth it. I liked the way the author systematically went through all the stereotypes that we associate with the Antebellum South and either explained them or disproved them using this one tiny settlement of free blacks in central Virginia. I know that the points the author makes does not work for all of the South. but it was very interesting to read about how much more complex antebellum society was than what is taught to us.
Great book. Ely examines a community of freedmen living in 19th century Virginia. Rather than the strict observance of racial mores in a slavery society that one would expect, Ely finds instead an atmosphere of accomodation and co-existance. Rather than use this as an argument to minimize the brutality of slavery, Ely argues that this actually heightens the horror as it undermines the Southern protestation that they didn't regard African slaves as human.