She and her three children are threatened with being sold into slavery—even though each of them is free. So opens Jessica McCann's compelling and gripping debut novel, All Different Kinds of Free (Bell Bridge Books, 2011).
At first Margaret is more stunned than afraid. Why would Mrs. Ashmore, the woman she'd worked for as a free black woman, set a bounty hunter on her trail? In the beginning, the law is on Margaret's side. Eleven years earlier in 1826 the state of Pennsylvania passed a law requiring bounty hunters to provide proof of ownership. Prigg doesn't have any.
When the matter goes before the local justice of the peace, he dismisses the case, even though Margaret, free from birth as the offspring of freed slaves, doesn't have any papers of manumission. Only her husband, a slave who bought himself out of bondage, has written proof. Their two older children were born in Maryland, a slave-holding state, but to a free mother. Only their youngest, Emma, was born in Pennsylvania; that makes her the "freest" of all.
Pennsylvania sees them as citizens. Maryland sees them as property. And with that, Prigg vs. Pennsylvania becomes a prelude to the Civil War as people from all walks of life begin questioning the role the federal government should have in states' rights.
Despite the court ruling, Margaret and the children are taken to Maryland and kept in jail, supposedly for their own protection, while lawmakers and enforcers in both states join the debate. While in jail, Margaret decides to sue Mrs. Ashmore for her freedom. When she appears in court, those who testify lie and Margaret isn't awarded a lawyer or given a chance to speak. The ruling? Margaret and her children will be sent to the auction block.
You'll weep with Margaret as she watches first one then her other son sold away. Because Emma is only 5 years old, she's allowed to be sold with Margaret, who is bought by a master who wants her for only one purpose—to mate with a brutal "stud" and become a breeding woman.
As Margaret and Emma slave for their master, their case goes before the Supreme Court, which upholds Maryland's ruling. Margaret starts to lose hope until she begins receiving letters via an underground route from a surprising source. The ending will leave you weeping and cheering.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
All Different Kinds of Free was awarded the 2009 Freedom in Fiction Prize. As a novel in progress, the work also was a semi-finalist in the 2004 Dana Awards and the 2005 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing competition.
Learn more about Jessica at www.jessicamccann.com, http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/AllDifferentKindsOfFree and https://twitter.com/#!/JMcCannWriter.
All Different Kinds of Free is available in both paperback and Kindle versions.
WIN A COPY OF ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE
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Then comment on this post with your point total and e-mail address! The contest will be open until midnight Sept. 3, and the winner will be announced the week of Sept. 4.
Be sure to watch for Thursday's interview with author Jessica McCann.
What is one of the most moving books you've ever read?