cover image In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South

In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South

Loren Schweninger, John Hope Franklin, . . Oxford Univ., $23 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-19-516087-1

Tracing the Thomas-Rapier family through three antebellum generations—from about 1808 to 1865—distinguished historians Franklin and Schweninger present an absorbing, impeccably researched account of "blacks who [have] only received passing notice—the free and quasi-free persons of mixed racial ancestry." Through this uncommon but not unique family, Franklin and Schweninger compress vast strata of slavery studies into an awesomely compact monograph, treating the reader to enough material (and drama) for a door-stopper; if the book were not so gemlike in size (it's 4¾"×6¾"), style and substance, one could call it a page-turner. From Tennessee, Thomas-Rapiers travel widely (sometimes as slaves), and there is a panoramic quality to their immersion in American historical events: one attends a Jenny Lind concert; one seeks gold in California; one escapes to Buffalo and later settles in Canada; one is involved with the filibusters in Nicaragua. They become entrepreneurs and adventurers, gamblers and teachers, churchmen and a congressman. They talk politics; they worry about their children. The brutalization endemic in slave culture is ever present. The authors bring it all to life with startling clarity, using documents, letters and diaries with such judiciousness that the scholarly apparatus enlivens rather than deadens. A genealogy that keeps the family connections clear, maps that trace their peregrinations and the fully informative captions that accompany the illustrations supplement this remarkable text. (Aug.)