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 The Press
"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