Friday, August 23, 2019

Booknotes: Sweet Taste of Liberty

New Arrival:
Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel (Oxford UP, 2019).

Sweet Taste of Liberty recounts the life story and long legal struggle of Henrietta Wood, who was abducted and re-enslaved in 1853 but eventually successfully sued her kidnapper for damages almost a decade and a half after the conclusion of the Civil War.

From the description: "Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in 1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy sheriff named Zebulon Ward colluded with Wood's employer, abducted her, and sold her back into bondage. She remained enslaved throughout the Civil War, giving birth to a son in Mississippi and never forgetting who had put her in this position."

More: "By 1869, Wood had obtained her freedom for a second time and returned to Cincinnati, where she sued Ward for damages in 1870. Astonishingly, after eight years of litigation, Wood won her case: in 1878, a Federal jury awarded her $2,500. The decision stuck on appeal. More important than the amount, though the largest ever awarded by an American court in restitution for slavery, was the fact that any money was awarded at all."

Author Caleb McDaniel's narrative also seeks to draw connections between slavery and the use of convict labor in the post-Civil War South, as "(b)y the time the case was decided, Ward had become a wealthy businessman and a pioneer of convict leasing in the South."

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