Where I learned to read

FOSEL posterThis coming week, I will be returning to the two libraries where I learned to read and love books, the South End Public Library in Boston and the Wellfleet Public Library on Cape Cod, to speak about my own book, Beyond Freedom’s Reach. Join me to commemorate Juneteenth with the story of one mother’s efforts to rescue her children from bondage at the end of the Civil War. 

Click on the links below for more information:

Wellfleet Public Library, June 20, 7pm

South End Public Library, June 23, 6:30pm

Her day in court

On this date 150 years ago — April 8, 1865 — Mary De Hart was tried in a provost court in New Orleans for kidnapping three slave children and taking them to Havana. This unprecedented and unknown case is the subject of my new book, Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery (Harvard University Press, 2015).  Here is a brief item in the New Orleans Daily Picayune from the next day about the trial.

The De Hart Case

Purchased Lives

“Purchased Lives: New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808-1865,” a major exhibition on the domestic slave trade and slavery in New Orleans, is currently on display at the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres Street in the French Quarter. The exhibit displays a wide array of maps, advertisements, bills of sale, ship manifests, broadsides, illustrations, interactive digital displays, and other artifacts that document the crucial importance of the slave trade to life in New Orleans in the decades before the Civil War. The exhibit complements a parallel exhibit at the Library of Virginia in Richmond called “To Be Sold: Virginia and the American Slave Trade.”

Last weekend, I was privileged to participate in a symposium jointly sponsored by the two institutions on the history of the domestic slave trade in the United States, featuring keynote addresses by Maurie McInnis of UVA (author of Slaves Waiting For Sale) and Walter Johnson of Harvard (author of Soul By Soul and River of Dark Dreams.) The symposium addressed a wide array of issues ranging from the business of slave trading, to the experiences of people who were bought and sold, to depictions of the slave trade in art and popular culture.

Among the artifacts on display at the Historic New Orleans Collection exhibit, expertly curated by Erin Greenwald, is this Brooks Brothers-manufactured greatcoat said to have been worn by one of Dr. William Newton Mercer’s house slaves. (The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2013.0138)

This coat hit me with great force, because Dr. William Newton Mercer crossed paths with Rose Herera and turns up Beyond Freedom’s Reach. The owner of several big plantations in the lower Mississippi valley, Mercer was one of the richest men in America. He lived in New Orleans, where he was regarded as “the model of the Southern gentleman.” His mansion on Canal Street later became the headquarters of the elite Boston Club. 

From April 1860 to January 1861, Dr. William Newton Mercer owned Rose Herera. He purchased her and her two children on behalf of his neighbor, James De Hart, who paid the final installment to Mercer just as Louisiana seceded from the Union. In a letter to a northern business partner shortly afterwards, Mercer reflected on the danger of the moment: “God only knows where we shall be a year hence, or what will have become of our Country.”


The Reading Life meets Rose Herera

BFR coverThis afternoon I was honored to speak with WWNO’s Susan Larson on The Reading Life about Beyond Freedom’s Reach, the story of Rose Herera, and the value of microhistory. You can listen to the interview here.  

I am looking forward to two upcoming  events in New Orleans:

1) The To Be Sold symposium at the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Library of Virginia on Saturday, March 21. If you can’t attend at either venue, the symposium will be streamed online, so you can watch at home. 

2) The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. I will be appearing on a panel with Kim Vaz, Mike Ross, and Jessica Johnson on Saturday, March 28, at 1pm in the Hotel Monteleone. If you’re in town, don’t miss it! 

A companion to Beyond Freedom’s Reach

BFR cover

Welcome to the companion website for Adam Rothman’s Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery (Harvard University Press 2015).

Beyond Freedom’s Reach tells the story of Rose Herera’s world of slavery in Louisiana, the kidnapping of her children during the Civil War, and her efforts to recover them.

This website presents supplementary information, including digital versions of some of the original primary sources that are the basis for the book, as well as suggestions for further reading.

You can purchase Beyond Freedom’s Reach through the following booksellers: Amazon : Barnes & Noble : Harvard University Press : Upshur Street Books and your local  independent bookstore.