Book 3 Response 2, Book 4 Response 1 (Reading 5)


Pages 352-400


This section begins with the chapter,  “Elephants for want of towns.” In this chapter, Aminata remains in Nova Scotia long after much of Shelburne shut down with the rest of the Black Loyalists in Birchtown. Aminata had no information as to where May was, but still held her close in her heart and would not let go of the idea that someday she will find May, and perhaps even Chekura. One day a black man named Thomas Peters visits Birchtown to seek contributions to visit England to preach a case in support of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, who face continual racism and still have not received the land that they were promised. Many of the citizens of Birchtown believed that Thomas was too optimistic but they still contributed in what ways that they could. Soon after Thomas left the people of Birchtown forgot about him but about a year later he returned to Birchtown claiming that he had found white men who were looking for free negroes to start a settlement in Sierra Leone in Africa. Few people believed him due to the lack of details but soon after Aminata finds an advertisement in the Royal Gazette which said that the Sierra Leone Company in London, England was looking to establish a free settlement on the coast of Africa and would give every free black who could prove their character land. Soon after this advertisement a British navy man and abolitionist by the name of John Clarkson who proves the claims that were made in the paper. John Clarkson says that he needs a note taker and several people suggest ‘Meena’, Aminata steps forward and offers her services to the expedition as a note taker. Clarkson is shocked at first that she is a woman but agrees to utilize her abilities. The reader learns more about how the previous attempts to colonize Sierra Leone have failed and the rules of the colony. Aminata agrees to help but will not go with them to Sierra Leone because she is waiting for Chekura and May to return. John Clarkson agrees to look into Joseph for Aminata and Aminata agrees to work for him until they leave for Sierra Leone.  Soon after this, Aminata goes with John Clarkson to Halifax on official abolitionist business. While there she encounters three Negroes who have walked for three days from Saint John, New Brunswick in the hopes of traveling to Sierra Leone, Clarkson admits them to the trip. As it gets closer and closer to the expedition, more and more Negroes arrive in Nova Scotia in hopes making it to Africa. Aminata encounters maps of Africa with the same exotic animals and clothe-less people as all other maps in the interior, she relates this to poetry by Jonathon Swift which states:

So geographers, in Afric-maps,

With savage-pictures fill their gaps

And o’er unhabitable downs

Place elephants for want of towns.

Aminata relates to this immensely and is discouraged that she cannot find Bayo on the map or any real markers which tell her how far she would be from home if she went to Sierra Leone.  John Clarkson takes Aminata aside and confirms to her the horrors that she could only imagine – that the Joseph went down and everyone on the ship had died. Accepting that she will never see her husband, or likely her daughter ever again, Aminata leaves with the rest of the Negroes for Sierra Leone on January 15, 1792.

The next chapter marks the beginning of the final book, book 4, and is called “Toubab with black face.” The chapter starts with Aminata arriving in the water off Sierra Leone, only a short distance away from Bance Island, where she left Africa for America nearly fourty years earlier. Just days after arriving in Sierra Leone the loyalists discover that the local Temne people, ruled by King Jimmy, row slaves out to Bance Island. This makes the loyalists incredibly uncomfortable having just escaped slavery and North America, Clarkson insists that the colony is the safest place for them on the coast of Africa but, understandably, the loyalists are hurt but Aminata, privately, believes that Clarkson is right. Shortly after, Aminata meets King Jimmy for the first time, who is incredibly patronizing and continues to suggest that Aminata will marry him eventually. With the help of King Jimmy, the same people who rowed the slaves towards the slave ships row Aminata and the rest of the Nova Scotians to the African coast. Once in Freetown, as the settlement was called, the Nova Scotians are angry that they have to follow more “white man rules” but know that they have to rely on the Sierra Leone Company for everything until they are self-sufficient so they, mostly, agree to follow Clarkson’s rules. Life in Freetown is hostile to say the least, many people die of fever and sickness, and outside of the boundaries of Freetown the Nova Scotians cannot be protected from the dangers outside of the borders. Aminata feels that this is limiting her freedom and ability to return to her home but reluctantly follows instructions, and takes time to learn Temne in order to be more connected with the Africans in Sierra Leone. The Nova Scotians set up Freetown and begin fortifying the settlements but have yet to receive the land that they were promised. Aminata is discouraged because they do not visit the Temne people, nor do they interact with them aside from trading. The only people other than the Nova Scotians and the Sierra Leone Company who stay in Freetown are the slave traders from Bance Island. Aminata continues to work as a secretary of sorts for Clarkson and tells about how chaotic and loud it is in Freetown with the mixing of the Temne, slave traders, sailors and Nova Scotians. The Nova Scotians grow to love Freetown but Aminata only sees Freetown as a bridge back to Bayo and learns Temne in hopes of finding someone who can take her back home. As Aminata trades with a young Temne woman named Fatima she asks her if she could take her inland towards the Joliba river and Fatima refuses, saying that she is not allowed to show any of the toubabu from the ship their land. Aminata is taken aback and discouraged when Fatima calls her a toubab with a black face and begins to understand how hard it would have been for geographers to reach the interior to actually place towns.

One day in October, a large slave coffle is marched through Freetown on it’s way to Bance Island and Aminata sees a young girl, likely the same age as she was when she had been marched from the interior to the coast forty years ago. Aminata attempts to sooth this girl and ties a red scarf around the girl’s wrist to calm her down, even though she cannot free her. The Nova Scotians are angered by this blatant disrespect for their rules in Freetown by the Temne, who allow this to occur.  A fight breaks out over the coffle between slavers and the Nova Scotians which kills Thomas Peters.


This section is certainly the most interesting, in my opinion, thus far in the novel. Elephants for want of towns is a clear and concise telling of the preparation to travel to Africa and shows Aminata being a far more believable character in this section than in previous sections. I appreciated her loyalty to Chekura and May, but also liked how she is willing to know when she has to do what is right for herself and chooses to return to Africa. I also liked the use of Jonathon Swift’s On Poetry: A Rhapsody which is beautiful in its entirety and can be read here. I absolutely loved Aminata’s development regarding this passage in “Toubab with black face” when she finally realizes how difficult it would be for the geographers to create accurate maps of the entire. Aminata’s development going full circle is much appreciated in this section. I enjoyed how she realizes that in America she was an African, in Canada she was a Loyalist (British American) and how in Africa she is a Nova Scotian, as well as how her travels have made it so that people from her own land do not even view her as an African anymore. The growth of Aminata’s sympathy and understanding for the white men, as well as the people that she has met throughout her journey, in this section is outstanding and very well written. I feel that this chapter is a turning point in Aminata’s story as she is forced to put herself in the shoes of others and in the final moments of the section, she becomes the person that she hated when she was a young girl – a bystander who does nothing to fight for her freedom.


Book 3 Response Part 1 (Reading 4)


Pages 233-351


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.


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.