Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Booknotes: Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle Toward Freedom

New Arrival:
Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle Toward Freedom
  by Elizabeth D. Leonard (Univ Press of KY, 2019).

In Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle Toward Freedom, Elizabeth Leonard "examines a community of black and white Kentuckians whose lives were intertwined throughout the Civil War era. Bringing new insights into the life and legacy of Breckinridge County native Joseph Holt, Leonard exposes the origins of Holt's evolution from slave owner to member of Lincoln's War Department, where he became a powerful advocate for the abolition of slavery and the enlistment of former bondsmen." You'll perhaps recall that Leonard authored a Holt biography that was released in 2011 and well received.

In her preface, Leonard highlights the two primary goals of her study: (1) to provide "a close-up look at a few dozen slaves from Breckinridge County, Kentucky who served in Company A of the 118th United States Colored Troops," following them from "slavery through the Civil War and on into a postwar world where they hoped to capitalize on the promises of Union victory;" and (2) "detail the complicated tensions that characterized the intersecting communities—state, local, interpersonal—from which these black Kentuckians came and to which, in many cases, they returned after the war" (pp. x-xi).

More from the description: "One such narrative is that of Sandy Holt, who, in the summer of 1864, joined tens of thousands of former slaves and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. He put his life on the line to secure the Union's survival and the end of slavery. Hundreds of miles away in a federal office, Sandy Holt's former owner, Joseph Holt, worked to achieve the same goals. No one could have predicted before the Civil War that these two very different but interconnected Kentuckians would be crucial participants in the Union war effort. Joseph Holt's radical transformation and the contributions of black Kentuckians in the United States Colored Troops have long been underestimated."

"Digging deep into Holt's past, Leonard explores the lives of Holt's extended family members and also traces the experiences and efforts of Sandy Holt and other slaves-turned-soldiers from Breckinridge County and its periphery. Many ran from bondage to fight for freedom in the Union army and returned, hoping to claim the promises of Emancipation. The interwoven stories of Joseph and Sandy Holt, and their shared Kentucky community during and after the war, show how a small corner of this border state experienced one of the most defining conflicts in American history."

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