The newly discovered slave narratives of John Washington and Wallace Turnage—and their harrowing and empowering journey to emancipation.
Slave narratives, among the most powerful records of our past, are extremely rare, with only fifty-five surviving post-Civil War. This book is a major new addition to this imperative part of American history—the firsthand accounts of two slaves, John Washington and Wallace Turnage, who through a combination of intelligence, daring, and sheer luck, reached the protection of the occupying Union troops and found emancipation.
In A Slave No More, David W. Blight enriches the authentic narrative texts of these two young men using a wealth of genealogical information, handed down through family and friends. Blight has reconstructed their childhoods as sons of white slaveholders, their service as cooks and camp hands during the Civil War, and their struggle to stable lives among the black working class in the north, where they reunited their families.
In the previously unpublished manuscripts of Turnage and Washington, we find history at its most intimate, portals that offer a startling new answer to the question of how four million people moved from slavery to liberty. Here are the untold stories of two extraordinary men whose stories, once thought lost, now take their place at the heart of the American experience—as Blight rightfully calls them, “heroes of a war within the war.”
“These powerful memoirs reveal poignant, heroic, painful and inspiring lives.”—Publishers Weekly
Three fascinating works are packaged here: two unpublished manuscripts by former slaves Wallace Turnage (1846 1916) and John Washington (1838 1918), and an illuminating analysis of them by award-winning historian Blight. Turnage's journal ("a sketch of my life or adventures and persecutions which I went through from 1860 to 1865") is about his attempted escapes and their dire consequences: from his first, when he "didn't know where to go," to his successful "fifth and last runaway." His account is particularly noteworthy in its revelation of the slave and free-black networks he found and utilized. Washington's "Memorys of the Past" moves from his "most pleasant" early childhood through "the many trials of slavery" and the disruptions of the Civil War, ending with his successful escape in 1862. As Blight observes, it's "very much a coming of age story," offering a unique window on life (learning to read, falling in love, finding religious faith) in a slave society. Blight provides an accessible historical and literary context for the manuscripts and explores, as fully as possible, the men's lives not covered in their manuscripts (both are self-emancipated). These powerful memoirs reveal poignant, heroic, painful and inspiring lives.