Category Archives: Uncategorized

Jefferson Davis Book Award from the American Civil War Museum

The American Civil War Museum has named Beyond Freedom’s Reach its 2015 Jefferson Davis Book Award winner! The award honors “historical research and writing on the origins, life, and legacies of the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War.” Thanks to the distinguished panel of judges and the American Civil War Museum.

It might seem incongruous that a book about a black woman’s quest to rescue her children from bondage during the Civil War should receive a prize named for the President of the Confederacy, but I accept it as a sign that times have changed for the better in Civil War studies.

For more information, see the announcement from the Society of Civil War Historians.

Margaret T. Lane / Virginia F. Saunders Memorial Research Award

I’m thrilled to report that Beyond Freedom’s Reach has won the 2016 Margaret T. Lane / Virginia F. Saunders Memorial Research Award from the Government Documents Round Table of the American Library Association and sponsored by Readex. 

I am particular pleased to receive an award named after Virginia Saunders, who had a long career at the U.S. Government Publishing Office and helped to create the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, which is where I came across Rose Herera’s story.

The awards committee issued the following statement about Beyond Freedom’s Reach:

“Professor Rothman successfully utilized numerous government documents (both federal and state), maps, and primary sources throughout his research. Specifically members of the Awards Committee were impressed with his use of primary sources including documents from the Congressional Serial Set and the Congressional Globe; the Slave schedules from the U.S. Census; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion; as well as legal records from the state of Louisiana and primary newspaper accounts. It is noteworthy specifically because the award honors Margaret Lane, author of the seminal work on state documents, and Virginia Saunders, who was instrumental in the continued production of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. We appreciate the excellent research he accomplished – a model in the use of primary governmental sources.”

The 13th Amendment and Rose Herera’s children

Today is the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment by the states on December 6, 1865. This is the day that Georgia ratified the amendment, giving it the necessary approval of three-quarters of the states. Here is the famous text of the Section 1 of the amendment:

“Neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime; whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I cannot let this anniversary pass without noting that despite the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Rose Herera’s three children remained slaves in Cuba, where they had been taken by their owners in January 1863. The Thirteenth Amendment didn’t extend as far as Cuba, which was not within the United States and not subject to its jurisdiction. It did not free her kidnapped children.

The fate of Rose Herera’s children became an international affair when Herera’s lawyer, Thomas Jefferson Durant, appealed to Secretary of State William Seward to help his client. “Her children have now been kept from her for three years,” Durant wrote to Seward on New Year’s Day 1866, “and in her name I earnestly invoke the aid of your department to redress one of the most grievous injuries that the crimes of a departed system have left evidence of.” (Report, 48)

It would take the resources of the State Department, and the pressure of a frightening rumor that newly freed people were being kidnapping and sold into slavery in Cuba, for Rose Herera to get her children back…

 

 

 

Marguerite Thompson’s Petition

Today’s Document from the National Archives is a fascinating petition from a free woman of color in New Orleans named Marguerite Thompson, who asked the U.S. Provisional Court to confirm her status as a free person in June 1863.

Petition Filed by Marguerite Thompson Praying for Her Emancipation, 6/30/1863From the series:  Case Files, 1863 - 1865. Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 - 2009This petition was filed by Marguerite Thompson, a “woman of color,” to secure her emancipation in 1863.  In 1851 she purchased her freedom from her master and received a receipt for the transaction.  She enjoyed her freedom, but still didn’t have full control of her affairs and property because she did not have an official degree from an authority.  On the final page of the document, the court declares her “henceforth and forever free.“You can make this document more searchable and accessible by helping to transcribe it in the National Archives Catalog.

Petition Filed by Marguerite Thompson Praying for Her Emancipation, 6/30/1863From the series:  Case Files, 1863 - 1865. Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 - 2009This petition was filed by Marguerite Thompson, a “woman of color,” to secure her emancipation in 1863.  In 1851 she purchased her freedom from her master and received a receipt for the transaction.  She enjoyed her freedom, but still didn’t have full control of her affairs and property because she did not have an official degree from an authority.  On the final page of the document, the court declares her “henceforth and forever free.“You can make this document more searchable and accessible by helping to transcribe it in the National Archives Catalog.

Petition Filed by Marguerite Thompson Praying for Her Emancipation, 6/30/1863From the series:  Case Files, 1863 - 1865. Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 - 2009This petition was filed by Marguerite Thompson, a “woman of color,” to secure her emancipation in 1863.  In 1851 she purchased her freedom from her master and received a receipt for the transaction.  She enjoyed her freedom, but still didn’t have full control of her affairs and property because she did not have an official degree from an authority.  On the final page of the document, the court declares her “henceforth and forever free.“You can make this document more searchable and accessible by helping to transcribe it in the National Archives Catalog.

I tweeted a short analysis of the petition and Storified the tweets. Here they are:

Marguerite Thompson Storify

One aspect of Marguerite Thompson’s petition that drew my attention is the fact that she submitted her petition to the Judge Charles Peabody’s U.S. Provisional Court (USPC). This court was established by the United States after Union forces seized New Orleans in 1862. Legal scholar John Gordan writes that “the most legally dramatic of the Provisional Court’s activities was its granting of manumission petitions by slaveholders.” (See Gordan’s article, “New York Justice in Civil War Louisiana,” Judicial Notice 8, p. 20)

As Gordan reveals, one of those slaveholders who appealed to Judge Peabody to manumit his slaves was the lawyer Thomas Jefferson Durant, who later represented Rose Herera in her quest to recover her children.

You can read more about Rose Herera’s and other enslaved and freed women’s own efforts to use the courts to secure freedom for themselves and their families during the Civil War in my book, Beyond Freedom’s Reach.

#CharlestonSyllabus

In the days after the massacre of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a team of scholars including Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, Keisha Blain, Melissa Morrone, Ryan P. Randall, and Cecily Walker assembled a marvelous bibliography intended to “provide valuable information about the history of racial violence in this country and contextualize the history of race relations in South Carolina and the United States in general.” They compiled the bibliography from Tweets that used the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus, following the model pioneered by my inspiring Georgetown colleague Marcia Chatelain after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Emanuel AME Church opens its doors on Sunday, June 20, 2015. (Bryan Snyder/Reuters.)

I am profoundly saddened that it has taken a crime of such enormity to awaken many people in our country to the struggle against the symbols and practices of racism, but I am heartened by the idea that we should look to history to help us understand the present and fight for a better future,

I am gratified that Beyond Freedom’s Reach has been included in the #CharlestonSyllabus, and I wish to express my thanks to the scholars who have done the important work of compiling this resource.