Book 3 Response Part 1 (Reading 4)

reading4

Pages 233-351

Summary

Book Three begins with the chapter  “Nations not so blest as thee,” which is a chapter which takes place in London. During this chapter, Aminata attends Anglican church with Sir Stanley Hastings. The fellow churchgoers are taken aback by such an educated black person and trivialize Aminata’s knowledge like she is a child. Aminata is rather bored by the service until she hears a familiar song with the chorus:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves

Britons never never never shall be slaves…

Aminata realizes that she first heard this song, not in America or Canada, but rather on the slave ship which took her from Africa. The medicine man, with whom she had lived with in a cabin on the slave ship, had sung the song when she did not understand it’s meaning. She is overtaken by the moment, faints and is carried into the sun by the Anglicans.

In the next chapter, “They come and go from Holy Ground”, Aminata arrives in Manhattan with Solomon Lindo and checks into The Fraunces Tavern, which is run by Sam Fraunces, who is a Jamaican former slave who has earned the reputation in New York of having a clean, safe and well cared for tavern. Aminata signs her name in the guest book, which is a key moment in defining her independence in New York. Aminata becomes fast friends with Sam, which proves worth while later on in the book. Aminata attends a concerto, played by a black slave named Adonis Thomas, in the Trinity Church with Lindo. It is here that she sees a poster advertising the need for volunteers to teach Negroes. Shortly after this, riots break out in Manhattan and the rebels (American Patriots) and the tories (British Patriots). This gives Aminata the opportunity she has been waiting for – a chance to escape to freedom. With the help of Sam, Aminata leaves New York and waits in the woods outside of the city for the rioting to calm down. While in the forest, Aminata encounters a group of African women having a funeral for a dead baby, which reminds her of Mamadu. Even though the women are not Fula or Bamana, she still feels connected to them as they have all survived the great water crosssing. They tell her that she will never be free unless she returns to Africa.

After two days and nights in the woods Aminata returns to the Tavern. Here she discovers that Lindo left the day of the rioting, she makes a temporary deal with Sam in which she works for him while she arranges a life in New York to work off any debt that she has to Sam for saving her from slavery. Aminata takes up a position at St. Pauls Chapel teaching negroes how to read and write. It is from this position that she meets Claybourne, Bertilda and others who encourage her to move to Canvas Town, the freed negro shanty town on Manhattan island. As the weather gets colder and colder Aminata’s friends in Canvas Town help her to establish a warm home. One night, when Aminata is walking down Broadway towards St. Pauls she is nearly looted and raped but a British Lieutenant named Malcolm Waters saves her and requires her mid-wife services in order to deliver his bastard child, which he has conceived with a prostitute mistress on Holy Ground, the area owned by the church where the prostitutes work. Aminata charges him one pound to deliver the baby and three more to set up his mistress and child with a home in Canvas Town, which Waters reluctantly agrees to. Aminata begins to deliver many of the British officers children on Holy Ground, and continues this practice until the British retreat from New York City in April of 1776.

In the next chapter, “Negroes and other Property” the British retake New York City from the rebels and remain in control for another seven years. The British release a statement which says that any Negro that retreats from the rebels and joins the British ranks can have any job they’d like. Aminata works as a midwife, as well as a doctor of sorts, helping with herbal abortions and herbal remedies to sexually transmitted infections. In 1783 the British sign a peace treaty with the American rebels and agree to leave behind ‘negroes and other property’ to the Americans when they leave, which means that Aminata and the rest of the Canvas Town negroes feel betrayed by the British. Despite this, however, Aminata is once again employed by Waters, who is now a Captain, this time to write the Book of Negroes. This document contains the names, ages and other pertinent information about negroes – free and otherwise – who are to be brought to Novas Scotia, while still keeping the British’s promise. The British argue that because many of the Canvas Town negroes have served the British for more than a year they are no longer property and therefore can be removed from America without breaking the treaty. Aminata agrees to work for the British once again on the condition that she too, is allowed to travel to Nova Scotia.

When Aminata returns to Canvas Town to spread word of this exodus to her friends she finds that Chekura has made it to New York and is now free. The next day, Aminata goes to the Fraunces Tavern and begins to write down the needed information for the Book of Negroes. The British agree to employ Chekura and he too is allowed passage to Nova Scotia with Aminata when the time comes. Aminata is concerned that slaves and indentured servants would also be travelling to Nova Scotia with Loyalist claimants but continues with her work regardless. She continues to diligently record names, ages and descriptions of the negroes who would go to Nova Scotia for many weeks. One day, while recording the data of a blind woman formerly owned by Lord Dunmore, who issued the proclamation that negroes who served the British would be liberated, Aminata tells the woman that she is pregnant, which is a source of pride for Aminata and Chekura. Aminata and Chekura receive tickets for Joseph, which boarded on November 7 bound for Annapolis Royal. Just when the boat is about to leave New York, Aminata is called to return to the dock because there is a claim against her. After some arguing Aminata convinces Chekura to stay on the ship, otherwise he would not be allowed to leave New York, and tells him that she will meet him in Nova Scotia. Aminata discovers that Robinson Appleby has put a claim on her and says that Lindo only had her on loan, and therefore she is still his property.  Sam miraculously finds Solomon Lindo and Lindo provides proof of purchase of Aminata, as well as proof that he did indeed sell Mamadu, and then sets Aminata officially free from slavery. Lindo requests to speak to Aminata after court but she refuses. On November 30, 1783 Aminata leaves on the last British ship for Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.

Aminata arrives in Nova Scotia in the next chapter, which is called “Gone missing with my most recent exhalation.” Aminata arrives in Port Roseway, which is renamed Shelburne and is home to just as much racism and segregation as there was in America, much to Aminata’s dismay. In Shelburne, Aminata meets Theo McArdle who runs the local newspaper and print shop, Theo is helpful, despite the fact that Aminata is black, and points her in the proper direction of the Land Registry Office, which would help her get to Birchtown, a black settlement. At the Land Registry Office, Aminata meets Daddy Moses, who informs Aminata of life in Nova Scotia and helps take her to Birchtown. Aminata wants to walk to Annapolis Royal to meet Chekura but Daddy Moses tells her that it is not walkable and offers her a place in his home until she can make other arrangements. Aminata gets a job working at the Shelburne Crier with Theo McArdle, as well as catching babies and teaching the negroes of Birchtown to read. Aminata builds herself a shack in Birchtown with a bed, chair and table and stove, which is one of the only ones in Birchtown. Aminata continues with life in Birchtown, which is full of many hardships and racism similar to life in America but Aminata and her soon to be born child are free so Aminata is thankful.

Aminata’s daughter is born in the spring and is named May, after the month of her birth. Aminata continues to work for Theo at the paper and also takes up employment with Mrs. Witherspoon, doing various physical labour. As May grows older and smarter she begins to ask more and more questions about her father, who Aminata had been unable to find when she visited Annapolis Royal, nor had she been able to find anyone who knew about the ship Joseph which he was on. May becomes sick and very weak, forcing Aminata to rely on the Witherspoons to keep May alive – this situation brings all of them closer together and they become rather good friends. As the years go by poverty and unemployment strike at Shelburne and Birchtown and the white loyalists grow increasingly angry with the black loyalists, who they feel are stealing their jobs. One day a riot occurs and the white loyalists begin to kill the negroes and torch their homes in Birchtown. Aminata and May stay at the Witherspoons’ until the rioting subsides. One day, Aminata leaves May with the Witherspoons while she goes back to see if her home still stands in Birchtown and when she returns she discovers that the Witherspoons have taken May and left on a ship to Boston. From Boston the Witherspoons could travel to nearly anywhere in the world, after a year of looking for more information on May, Aminata gives up.

Response

This section is incredibly long, spanning more than 100 pages and containing the entirety of Aminata’s time in New York, as well as the majority of her time in Nova Scotia. Personally, I believe that this section should have been split into two readings because, as can be seen in my summary above, this section is incredibly content heavy, which makes responding to the section as a whole incredibly difficult. This section was increasingly hard to believe, likely because of Aminata’s employment as a scribe of the Book of Negroes, which is historically inaccurate. While I want to support Aminata as the main character, her decisions are becoming less and less logical and more emotional as life gets harder, which makes me like her less. Despite this, however, she is still an impressionable character who is well written and respectable. I only wish that her emotional weaknesses would have been introduced earlier so she was a more relatable character from the start because now when I read the development of normal human characteristics she comes off as weak to me.

The American Revolution through the eyes of Aminata and the other negroes is interesting to itself because it is incredibly believable that the negroes would feel the way that they did but I did not ever put two and two together to realize the opinions of others during this process. As someone who lives within the American sphere of influence I grew up believing that the American revolution was a good thing (I likely watched too many episodes of Liberties Kids on PBS Seattle) and in all honestly I didn’t put much thought into the fact that there were slaves in America prior to the establishment of the United States. The position that Aminata is put in during the revolution is interesting to read because she has no choice but to trust the British, who are responsible for taking and selling her into slavery, in order to be freed from slavery. Within this story there are many cases of situations going full circle, ie returning back to Africa to Sierre Leone, and this is no different. Aminata must chose to align with evil regardless, and so it is a matter of picking the lesser of two evils in order to survive.

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