The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty

J. William Harris, Author
J. William Harris, Author Yale University Press $27.5 (223p) ISBN 978-0-300-15214-2
Paperback - 223 pages - 978-0-300-17132-7
Open Ebook - 223 pages - 978-1-282-35295-7
Open Ebook - 236 pages - 978-0-300-15569-3
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Intrepid historian Harris (Pulitzer finalist for Deep Souths: Delta, Piedmont and Sea Island Society in the Age of Segregation) presents a carefully research account of nebulous historical figure Thomas Jeremiah, who, at the time of his death in 1775, ""had risen as high as it was possible for a free black man"" in South Carolina, where at least ""ninety-nine in a hundred blacks were enslaved."" Owner of a fishing company and worth $200,000 in 2009 dollars, Harris was probably the richest black man in North America; he was also a slave-owner. That didn't stop him from becoming a scapegoat, accused by patriot leader Henry Laurens-a wealthy plantation owner with hundreds of slaves-of secretly leading a British-sponsored slave insurrection. Though Governor William Campbell, aggrieved by the unlawfulness of Jeremiah's trial, interceded, it didn't stop those determined to hang Jeremiah. Alongside a rigorous narrative, Harris offers sober but forceful reflections: though he was ""free, Christian, and a slave owner,"" Jeremiah proved an unworthy ally in the eyes of patriots like Laurens, who believed ""the America being born...would be a white man's country."" Readers will learn much about the darker side of American institutions; students of American history and civil rights will appreciate Harris's impassive approach and thorough standards. 18 b&w photos.
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