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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: Israel on the Appomattox|
|Release Date: 12-01-2010|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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Israel on the Appomattox
Chapter OneThe View from Israel Hill, 1863
In the winter of his ninety-ninth year, Sam White looked out from his Virginia farmhouse by the railroad tracks, across the gentle slope of Israel Hill, his home of five decades, and onto a world that was reminding him yet again what a remarkable life he had led. White was one of the few Americans left who personally remembered the Revolution that his fellow Virginians had championed and the first years of the Republic they had built. Now, early in 1863, the grandsons of those same Virginians were killing and dying in the scores of thousands to break up that Union.
The once glorious, now tragic history of his state and his country formed only the latest chapter in a life of paradox. On the one hand, Sam White was in many ways a typical Southerner of his time, if there was such a thing. He owned a farm, but only a small one; he, his father, and his three brothers had cleared their own land and built unpretentious but comfortable houses on it. Like two thirds of the households in the South, White and his neighbors farmed their tracts with little or no help from slaves.
Sam White's sons and daughters, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren could grow, raise, hunt, or catch much of the food they needed; they cut timber from the back sections of their hundred acres to construct houses and outbuildings, repair their fences, cook their meals, and keep warm during the winter. They earned cash to satisfy their other wants by raising tobacco and vegetables.
Like many other small landowners in the South, some of the men in the White family had found ways besides farming to earn money. A few worked...