[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-South]: Illingworth on Rothman, 'Beyond Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Wed Apr 26 08:41:49 MDT 2017



Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: April 26, 2017 at 10:31:24 AM EDT
> To: H-REVIEW at H-NET.MSU.EDU
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-South]:  Illingworth on Rothman, 'Beyond Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> 
> Adam Rothman.  Beyond Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight
> of Slavery.  Cambridge  Harvard University Press, 2015.  288 pp.
> $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-36812-5.
> 
> Reviewed by James Illingworth (Department of History, University of
> Maryland, College Park)
> Published on H-South (April, 2017)
> Commissioned by Caitlin Verboon
> 
> An extraordinary drama played out in the courtrooms of New Orleans in
> early 1865. Rose Herera, a Louisiana freedwoman, brought suit against
> her former mistress, Mary De Hart, for kidnapping. Two years earlier,
> De Hart had taken Herera's three oldest children on a steamer from
> Union-occupied New Orleans to Havana, Cuba. There, they rejoined
> their master, one of many Confederate sympathizers who had fled the
> Crescent City for a port more hospitable to slavery. By the time Mary
> De Hart returned to New Orleans in January of 1865, however, a new
> state constitution had abolished slavery in Louisiana, and Rose
> Herera was a free woman with powerful new allies. First, Herera
> pursued her claims in the civilian courts, and, when that failed, in
> the provost courts of the occupying army. Finally, after three years
> apart, and thanks to the intervention of figures at the highest level
> of the federal government, Rose Herera was reunited with her
> children.
> 
> Rose Herera's struggle to rescue her children is the subject of Adam
> Rothman's _Beyond __Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of
> Slavery_. This compact, lively book manages to be both an intimate
> microhistory of one black family and a sweeping transnational account
> of war, emancipation, and Reconstruction in the Deep South's largest
> city and beyond. In it, Rothman uses Rose Herera's life and times to
> illuminate crucial changes in the southern legal system during
> Reconstruction, and, more importantly, to illustrate the challenges
> and triumphs of African American family life in the age of
> emancipation.
> 
> Born a slave in rural Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana, in 1835, Rose
> Herera grew up in the distinctive plantation regime of the lower
> Mississippi Valley. By the 1830s, planters in Pointe Coupée had made
> the transition from tobacco and indigo to cotton and sugar, and the
> booming parish had a significant black majority. In the early 1850s,
> Herera's owner sold his plantation and brought her and several other
> slaves to New Orleans, a bustling metropolis of well over a hundred
> thousand people. In the Crescent City, Herera was bought and sold
> several times, eventually ending up in the possession of one James De
> Hart, a dentist. In New Orleans she met and married George Herera, a
> free man of color, and the couple had four children before the
> outbreak of the Civil War.
> 
> When the Civil War came and Union forces occupied New Orleans, James
> De Hart fled to Cuba. The dentist's family tried to take Rose to join
> him there, but she resisted, and ended up confined to the city jail.
> Sick and imprisoned with her youngest child, an infant, Rose was
> powerless to prevent the De Harts from sailing to Havana with her
> three oldest children. She did not remain helpless for long, however.
> The abolition of slavery, the presence of Union troops, and the
> beginning of the political reconstruction of Louisiana created a
> terrain on which Herera was able to press her claims as a free woman
> and a mother. Although she was ultimately unsuccessful in both
> civilian and provost courts, Herera's persistence caught the
> attention of the military authorities who, in turn, alerted the
> federal government. Through the intervention of Secretary of State
> William Seward, the De Harts were eventually forced to send the
> children home.
> 
> In _Beyond Freedom's Reach_, Rothman faces the challenge of using
> Rose Herera's life to illuminate major historical processes without
> letting the drama of war and emancipation drown out the human
> elements of her story. This challenge is particularly acute given
> that Herera left very few written records for long stretches of her
> life. It would have been all too easy for her story to become
> submerged in the social history of Civil War-era Louisiana. In
> general, however, Rothman succeeds admirably in striking the right
> balance between narrating Herera's life and describing her times, and
> there are only one or two moments where these elements seem
> unbalanced. One wonders, for example, whether a multipage history of
> dentistry in the antebellum United States was really necessary for
> readers to understand Rose Herera's "lifeworld." Later in the book,
> on the other hand, Rothman provides relatively little social
> historical context for the time Herera's children spent in Cuba.
> Further insight into the society the children encountered on their
> Caribbean sojourn would have deepened the already impressive
> transnational character of this story.
> 
> _Beyond Freedom's Reach_ treads familiar ground in its account of
> war, occupation, and emancipation in southern Louisiana, and
> specialists in this region and period will find little to surprise
> them here. Rothman's major contribution to this literature is to
> demonstrate that narrating the lives of people like Rose Herera
> "humanizes the history of slavery and emancipation in the United
> States" (p. 5). Much like Michael Ross's _The Great New Orleans
> Kidnapping Case _(2014), Rothman's book shows how the drama of a
> single legal case can provide an exciting new way to tell the story
> of the Civil War era in the Crescent City. Indeed, _Beyond Freedom's
> Reach _tells us something important about the legal history of this
> period. Rose Herera's experiences show that the law was not simply an
> instrument of the oppression of the freedpeople in the years
> following emancipation. While Herera was forced to navigate confused
> and overlapping legal jurisdictions as well as the the hostility of
> local authorities, she was nevertheless able to use the courts to
> bring her family back together.
> 
> Most importantly, perhaps, _Beyond Freedom's Reach_ is a valuable
> addition to the literature on black kinship in the Civil War era.
> Rothman successfully captures the complex ways in which these
> tumultuous years impacted the families of freedpeople. Rose Herera's
> experiences show that the chaos of war and emancipation had the
> potential to tear black families apart: she lost her husband to
> disease during the war, and very nearly lost custody of her children.
> As a number of scholars have recently argued, such tragedies often
> marred the end of slavery. But it would be a mistake to see _Beyond
> Freedom's Reach _as contributing to a one-sided image of a "darker"
> Civil War. Ultimately, Herera's success in recruiting powerful
> allies, navigating an unfamiliar legal system, and reuniting her
> family suggest that this was a period alive with emancipatory
> possibilities.
> 
> Citation: James Illingworth. Review of Rothman, Adam, _Beyond
> Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery_. H-South,
> H-Net Reviews. April, 2017.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=49122
> 
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> 
> --



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