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In Search of the Promised Land

A Slave Family in the Old South

John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger

Publication Date - February 2006

ISBN: 9780195160888

304 pages
4-3/4 x 6-3/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $24.95

The record of an amazing African American family in antebellum America.


The matriarch of a remarkable African American family, Sally Thomas went from being a slave on a tobacco plantation to a "virtually free" slave who ran her own business and purchased one of her sons out of bondage. In Search of the Promised Land offers a vivid portrait of the extended Thomas-Rapier family and of slave life before the Civil War.
Based on personal letters and an autobiography by one of Thomas' sons, this remarkable piece of detective work follows the family as they walk the boundary between slave and free, traveling across the country in search of a "promised land" where African Americans would be treated with respect. Their record of these journeys provides a vibrant picture of antebellum America, ranging from New Orleans to St. Louis to the Overland Trail. The authors weave a compelling narrative that illuminates the larger themes of slavery and freedom while examining the family's experiences with the California Gold Rush, Civil War battles, and steamboat adventures. The documents show how the Thomas-Rapier kin bore witness to the full gamut of slavery--from brutal punishment, runaways, and the breakup of slave families to miscegenation, insurrection panics, and slave patrols. The book also exposes the hidden lives of "virtually free" slaves, who maintained close relationships with whites, maneuvered within the system, and gained a large measure of autonomy.


"In Search of the Promised Land is a unique and exciting addition to the literature on slavery and nineteenth-century history. It shows the complexity of slave life and challenges existing historical interpretations without completely overturning the studies of the last thirty years. . . . I love the story itself--what a story!"--James Fuller, University of Indianapolis

"The book's focus on the Thomas-Rapier family provides for one of the more vivid presentations of antebellum race relations I have seen. So much of scholarship on slave life tends to lose sight of individuals who had to confront life in a slave society. This book brings individuals back into the picture."--Dickson D. Bruce, University of Irvine California

Table of Contents

    The Descendants of Sally Thomas
    1. Sally Thomas: A Life in Bondage
    Virtual Freedom
    Sally's Children
    Sally's Son James
    Sally's Grandchildren: The Rapier Boys
    2. From Slavery to Freedom
    The Domestic Slave Trade
    James Thomas: The Boyhood Years
    3. Travels in the North and West
    Nashville's Black Community
    The Changing Attitudes of Whites
    A Fugitive Slave in the North
    The California Gold Rush
    The Epidemic's Shadow
    4. In Search of Canaan
    Bound for Nicaragua
    The Dilemma of John Rapier Sr.
    The Minnesota Territory
    Canada West and James Thomas Rapier
    5. The Midwest, Haiti, and Jamaica
    Into "Bleeding Kansas"
    Steamboating on the Mississippi
    John Rapier Jr. in the Caribbean
    6. The Mighty Scourge of War
    James Thomas in St. Louis
    John Rapier Jr.'s Continuing Odyssey
    The War's End
    Afterword: Through the Prism of a Black Family
    About the Sources
    Appendix 1: Petitions of Ephraim Foster and James Thomas to the Davidson County Court, 1851
    Appendix 2: John Rapier Sr. to Richard Rapier, April 8, 1945
    Appendix 3: John Rapier Jr. to James Thomas, July 28, 1861
    Selected Bibliography on Slavery

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