This is an unusual "book review". What follows are notes about a book by Carl Adams entitled Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln. I don't actually discuss the book itself. To get a better understanding of the book and to see more "normal " reviews, please visit Amazon. There is also an excellent exchange between author/Huffington Post contributor O'Brien Browne and Carl Adams here.
As I Was Saying... 1
As a father/researcher/writer, I was impressed by the following review on Amazon. The reviews which I enjoy the most are those which reveal, to some degree, the reviewer's character. The following is by the daughter of the author. I include it because it summarizes the book as well as gives us a look behind the scenes, an insight into the story of the creation of the book itself. I would be remiss if I didn't disclose that I am the author's daughter; however, that relationship does not diminish the authenticity of my 5 Star review. On the contrary, I think that it enhances my endorsement, because over the many years of my childhood I was a first-hand witness to my father's dedication, in his office or traveling to research sites and libraries in Springfield and various counties throughout Illinois, as he methodically, patiently worked to present this story in a historically accurate yet accessible way. The book memorializes the resilience of Nance, an African American woman shackled yet determined to be free, and also the foresight of Abraham Lincoln, not only a lawyer getting his bearings in the nascent stages of his career, but also a young, poor American struggling himself to understand and confront the ugliness of slavery. You may be able to tell from my review that I am attracted to the human interest aspect of this story. Those more interested in historical facts will not be disappointed, as the book provides context to Lincoln's early mindset which ultimately lead to the Emancipation Proclamation.
This book would be a great addition to the library of anyone interested in African American studies, American history or Abraham Lincoln's presidency. Lincoln scholars and academics ought to consider purchasing the book, as well, because although it is easily accessible with illustrations, it is also the product of careful, highly sophisticated research from primary sources on historical events not yet analyzed by other historians. And teachers of all grade levels may find this book to be a useful supplement for the reasons I mentioned above: highly accessible, yet substantive material.
As I Was Saying... 2
As a "farm boy from the Midwest", I am struck by the image of two roads which are a physical connection between Nance, Lincoln and Carl Adams. I "discovered" the roads when Carl replied to a question I'd sent him.
My question to Carl: Did you ever drive your car over some of the same roads that Lincoln and Nance may have travelled on? If so, what form of transportation did they use? Carl’s reply: Roads that Lincoln and Nance used ? YES, YES, YES ! I lived for 5 years in Nance's town, Pekin, IL, about a mile from her cabin...then lived for another 20 years just 4 miles from the same cabin. And I did drive the same roads Lincoln used and I did map re-con and the roads are almost exactly the same, except for pavement.
I found the location on the Springfield road to Delevan where Lincoln and John Stuart argued over the politics of slavery on the circuit in 1850 (the 1850 Compromise issue)...their final split until Stuart went to Congress in 1862.
You can see those roads on any Illinois map. IL state route 9 runs E & W the old Springfield Post Road which joins the state Rt. 29 running N & S from Pekin to Peoria.
Fact of the matter is: Lincoln sponsored the legislation for IL to pay for those roads in the 1830's. I have a picture of a short side road signed "Old Route 29" and walked it...it was a one lane 'wagon road', which is carved up and used for multiple driveways used by farmers.
Lincoln used his horse, then buggy when he rode occasionally with Judge David Davis; and passed right by Nance's cabin for ten years from 1849-59. Nance rode in the Bailey wagon and the Cromwell buggy.
When the trials were over Nance settled on David Bailey's property on the north edge of town on the only road Lincoln could have used to go North to Peoria and Woodford counties from 1849 to 1859. Lincoln would pass Nance's cabin and up to 8 children from four to 8 or more times per year.
Would anyone ever think those two would forget each other under the circumstances ? I can imagine cookies or biscuits offered to the circuit lawyers as they passed by with Lincoln, but that is speculation.
As I Was Saying... 3
The theatrical and cinematic possibilities of the Carl/Nance/Abe dramas and conflicts are obvious and obviously important, as well as inspirational. Slavery, Freedom and Abolitionism. Social Justice.The relevance of the past in shaping our present and future. A “Rosa Parks” type woman, but in a much more dangerous era. A “nobody” researching one of the most significant events in the life of the young man who would become one of our greatest Presidents. A young lawyer who must decide what is popular and what is right. As a screenwriter/filmmaker/producer I can hope that whoever picks the rights up to this delivers. This has the potential to be The Color Purple, Lincoln and 12 Years A Slave. But better.
Biography of Carl Adams, taken from Amazon:
Carl M. Adams grew up in Alton, Illinois where historically the first five shots of the Civil War killed Abolitionist newspaper publisher Reverend E.P. Lovejoy in 1837. Adams did not think of it at the time, but he lived on the invisible "color-line". He lived in the white "hood" just one block from the black neighborhood. During the 'summer of rioting' following the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968, childhood friends suddenly became enemies. Carl Adams found himself in the social crossfire, which left a life long impression for social justice. In 2003 Carl Adams was presented The R.B. Garrett Humanitarian Award from the African-American Garrett Museum, Inc. in Peoria, Illinois for Historical Research.
Carl on the relationship between Lincoln and Nance, via email
NANCE: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln is mainly about Nance's trial experiences because the facts had been already testified, sworn, argued and witnessed in court and these proofs were in the public domain - irrefutable! No one could claim fraud or plagiarism. In addition, I took on the added challenging of learning all I could about all of the names on dozens of quill written documents, in order to understand the story through the sub-topics generated.
Part two from your last questions...Relationship of Nance to Lincoln...
One thing true about Lincoln was that he was almost hyper-sensitive, very empathetic and sympathetic. It seems he was sensitive that he was thought of as ugly. In Lincoln's early years, he lost the three most loved women in his life, first his mother, then his sister, then Ann Rutlege. It may have been that Lincoln was afraid of the thought of marriage in 1841, that he might love and loose even again - unbearable.
The important historical facts that other writers have missed were in Lincoln's ten references in the Bailey v Cromwell case. Three of those references began with the phrase, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist..." the exact formula of words from a founding father that Lincoln would use 25 years later to free not just four slaves, but four million.
So I would say no to the idea that Lincoln may have forgotten about the Bailey v Cromwell case, nor the Black Nance who gave the opportunity to use that formula in a court of law.
The case ended as a win-win-win-win for all concerned: for bankrupt Bailey, one less bill to pay; for the state of Illinois the law to finally rid Illinois of the troublesome issue of slavery; for Dr. David Cromwell, to be rid of three screaming babies under five; for Nance no more threats of beatings or locked in a lawn shed; and for Lincoln, the seven words phrase that would define his presidency and his entire life.
More emails from Carl...
Hello Steve...To answer the first question...yes this had become a multiple-stories project. First a historical biography of Nance; but I will not claim to be a "Lincoln scholar" as commonly thought of, since I do not have a degree in history nor law.
When I first found the genesis of this story "..."Black Nance" became the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln in the Supreme Court case of Bailey v Cromwell in 1841" (from Tremont, Tazewell County, Illinois). Several events came together at once: I had lost my TV job; my wife could make more money than I; so I agreed to be a stay-at-home dad. But that would drive me crazy, so I started searching the local libraries on anything I could find about Lincoln, Nance and her supreme court case. There was very little. So I decided to write something and started a thesis statement: "Who was Nance? ...Thousands of books on Lincoln and not one on the slave who started Lincoln on the path that changed American history."
A tall order, but for the moment, I had the time and Lincoln was not going to go away any time soon.
Yes, I had aspired to be an investigative reporter, but there weren't any jobs there either. I tried freelancing one paper gave me $50 for a history story that took me a week, that was less than minimum wage. Another paper said that they did not pay writers...so much for freelancing.
In my personal story: I had worked for years in radio and TV news. I hated the racial conflict that erupted in a "free country" every few years and always wanted to find a way to relieve the US from the war in the streets.
I started this pursuit in 1993, when the Rodney King police brutality and the following riots were still fresh in mind. Those incidents gave me flashbacks to the summer of rioting after the M.L. King assassination, when I was age 17 and the oldest son home at the time when I could see the muzzle flash of guns from my living room window.
When I moved to Tazewell County after college I heard, from several sources, that I had moved into a klan-town; I have no sympathies with trouble-makers. After much of the research was in my files, I learned that Nance's grave was deliberately obscured. WHY ?
The research on Nance told of a community minded, good neighbour, well liked and respected, she had raised a responsible family and her son had fought in the Civil War suggesting that although Nance was illiterate, her family had vision beyond mere selfish motives...all truths that did not gel with klan-ish propaganda.
If that was true about the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln, could we as a nation, glorify Nance and others, and go back to the frontier attitudes and start the process all over again on the presumption of good neighbours until proven otherwise, rather than worry about ...say, property values?
More Info About the Book
Nance Legins-Costley was the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln -- in 1841, twenty years before the outbreak of the Civil War. Historian Carl Adams has written a dramatic true account of Nance's three trials for freedom, a story which also bolsters Lincoln's reputation as a long-standing enemy of slavery. Adams' book, Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln has just been honored with the Illinois State Historical Society Award of Merit for Scholarship and Creativity. Based on sworn and witnessed court records, it's the true story of the three Supreme Court trials of the first slave freed by a young lawyer, Abraham Lincoln in Illinois in 1841. This is the only known historical biography to be recognised by both a predominately white historical society and a predominately black historical society.
The pre-published genealogy was awarded "Humanitarian Award" for Nance's family in 2003 and "Award of Merit" by the Illinois State Historical Society in April 2015. In 2009 the Editor of the Illinois History Journal claimed that it is the only story of Lincoln that is really new. The story was suppressed during the early decades of the 20th century by white supremacist attitudes. Nance actively tried to free herself, but needed Lincoln to make it legal. Her struggles began as a teenager and it took 15 years to win her freedom.
The book includes a piece of history to own. A copy of Nance's original signature from her historic testimony in 1827. The story is endorsed by a past president of the Abraham Lincoln Association. Includes 30 color pictures, a time line, Bibliography, Index, Footnotes and a note to parents and teachers.
A website devoted to the Nance book is here.
I should mention that my book, Obama Search Words, also touches upon the civil rights movement, mainly those activities which took place during the years of Obama's youth...