Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
- Freedom in Fiction Prize, Mackinac Center for Public Policy 2009
A free woman of color in the 1830s, Margaret Morgan lived a life full of promise. One frigid night in Pennsylvania, that changed forever. They tore her family apart. They put her in chains. They never expected her to fight back.
In 1837, Margaret Morgan was kidnapped from her home in Pennsylvania and sold into slavery. The state of Pennsylvania charged her kidnapper with the crime, but the conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the first time a major branch of the federal government had made a pro-slavery stand, and the ruling in Prigg v. Pennsylvania sewed the bitter seeds of the states' rights battle that eventually would lead to the Civil War.
Yet, the heart of this story is not a historic Supreme Court ruling. It is the remarkable, unforgettable Margaret Morgan. Her life would never be the same. Her family had been torn apart. Uncaring forces abused her body and her heart. But she refused to give up, refused to stop fighting, refused to allow her soul to be enslaved.
"...a powerful and moving book, one that everyone should read." -- Mary Young, Mary's Book Corner
"First time novelist Jessica McCann skillfully brings the story of Margaret Morgan and her family to life...McCann does an excellent job... " -- Lisa Bobbit, Reads 4 Pleasure
"Even though this book tells Margaret's story, she actually represents what was happening...This book reads as a novel (which it is) and a sort of biography of a brave woman." -- Norma Wright, Senior Readers
"...well-written and thought-provoking read." -- Vivian Taylor, The Book Diva's Reads
"I couldn't help but relate to both the tragedies and triumphs...McCann definitely did her research!" -- Brittney Gossard, HardKover
"...a beautifully sad and touching story around the known facts about Margaret Morgan, whose story prompted Prigg vs. Pennsylvania" -- Mandy O'Brien, Living Peacefully with Children
"Beautifully written..amazing character development...I felt like I knew Margaret and Jerry" -- Great Thoughts, Web Cache
"A terrific historical novel -- well executed, emotionally engaging, illuminating an important Supreme Court case and the heart of a heroic woman." -- Jewel Parker Rhodes, American Book Award winner and author of Douglass' Woman
"Jessica McCann adds flesh and blood to dry history to recreate the savagery and sometimes even the humanity of slavery. This book tears at your heart!" -- Sandra Dallas, New York Times best-selling author of Prayers for Sale and Whiter Than Snow
The cabin is spinning in a flurry of activity. I lie on the floor, unable to move, and watch the men sweep my cherished belongings into canvas bags—the small mantle clock Jerry gave me for a wedding gift, the heavy Bible I got when Mama and Daddy died, the little cedar box with my sewing money, our linens, even our cooking utensils.
The children are tied together and herded out the door. Emma sobs.
"Leave the children.” I try to shout, but my voice comes out barely a whisper.
Prigg walks around the cabin, circling me like a wolf circles its prey. Suddenly, he grabs my arm and lifts me from the floor. I want to struggle, to fight him off, but my muscles are limp. I want to curse him, but I'm mute. What's wrong with me? It's like a nightmare I've had so many times; I run as hard and fast as I can, but I go nowhere, I can't break loose. Only this is worse. It's really happening, and I can't escape, and I can't wake up.
He pushes me out the door and up into the wagon next to my heap of children. I look at their scared faces, and wings of panic beat in my chest. The other men climb aboard, and Prigg takes the reins. He shouts to the horses, and the beasts snap to, pulling the wagon into motion. I pull my babies as close as I can, amid the ropes that bind them awkwardly together.
The only sounds in the dense night are the muffled, hiccuppy cries of my daughter as she lies quivering beside a mountain of our personal belongings. This can't be happening.
"Come here now,” I whisper to the children, and they wriggle closer to me. The warmth of their small bodies makes me shudder. I close my eyes hard and tight, and hold my breath, fighting back the sobs gurgling up from deep in my gut. After a second or two, I open my eyes again and let out a short, quick breath. Then I take in a few more deep breaths and let them go slowly. Just keep breathing, Margaret, I say to myself. Keep breathing. We're gonna get through this. Somehow.
The silhouette of our cabin quickly vanishes in the moonless night, as we jostle down the road, heading south. The McBrides' house is less than a mile away. Did the shotgun blast wake them? If I scream, would they hear my cries for help? Even if they did, could they find us in the darkness? And what would Prigg do if I cried out now? I gently run my fingers over Johnny's head, feel the smooth, tight lump rising up from where Prigg bashed him with the shotgun. Hold your tongue, Margaret.There's too much at stake.
I wonder how long it will be before we return home. Surely the judge will make this right. Surely the Lord will take notice of this crime. Won't he? As though she has read my mind, Emma nestles up under my arm and whispers the Lord's Prayer, and the wagon wheels rattle along the muddy road.
The cover of trees is behind us now. The clear, open sky is rich with stars that cast a divine light upon our entourage. I can see now who else has been party to this crime.
"What do you think we'll get for the whole lot of them at auction?” Nat questions Prigg eagerly, looking at him with admiring eyes, like a puppy fawning over his master.
Auction? I stiffen, my arms and legs becoming so rigid I can hardly feel my babies beneath them. Oh Jerry... I should have listened to you. Prigg never said anything about selling us when we were in court the other day. I thought he was just bringing us to Mrs. Ashmore. I try to calm myself, reasoning that there's no way she'd allow us to be sold at auction.
Nat leans back, fidgeting in anticipation of Prigg's answer, running his stubby calloused fingers through his unkempt hair. I've always found his gray eyes to be dull and empty, and the pale starlight does nothing to improve my opinion of his looks.
I'm sure his opinion of me is no better. My coffee skin is the darkest seen in Harford County. My black eyes and wide nose are my Daddy's. My small figure and my coarse hair are my Mama's. My parents came to America on boats straight from Africa when they were just babes, long before President Jefferson decided it wasn't right to kidnap people that way. Most coloreds in Harford have lighter skin, of brown or copper - lots of mulattoes. When I see their light freckled complexions and wonder about who their daddies might be, I thank God for my black skin and for sparing my mama such an assault.
"Darkies like them will fetch a good sum, I'd say,” Prigg finally answers up. "The boys are young and healthy, so they could pull in a couple hundred a piece. Maybe more. The girl probably ain't worth too much. What you think she is, five, six years old? That's old enough to do house work, though, so maybe you'll fetch about fifty for her.”
"What about Margaret?” Nat asks.
"Oh, she'll bring a tidy sum. She's strong, has good teeth, wide hips. With the right auctioneer, I'd wager you'll get three maybe four hundred dollars for her.”
I feel sick, listening to them talk about me this way. As if I'm no more than a horse or a hog
Nat whistles, nods his head.
"Holy shit, Ed, that's great,” he says, smiling. "That's just great.”
Prigg's other two cronies just listen. Jake Forwood and Steve Lewis, also neighbors from my old home, were just skinny boys when we moved to York five years ago. They're men now, make no mistake.