Israel on the Appomattox by Melvin Patrick Ely

Matt McKeon

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This is an interesting account of a community of freed blacks who lived in Prince Edward County, VA before the war. They had been freed by an idealistic slave owner in the 1790s, who also endowed them with land along the Appomattox River.
 

Matt McKeon

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They worked as farmers, as boatmen on the river, and as hands in local "factories"(workrooms that processed tobacco, not like a textile mill).

What Ely discovers in that their white neighbors got along well in most cases, and in disputes(Virginians, black and white constantly were suing each other for debts and small scale land transfers), the courts could be relied on to decide cases fairly. Sometimes, like after the Nat Turner uprising, the state would pass racial regulations or order the confiscation of weapons. But the local authorities were notable in their lack of effort in enforcing anything on anyone.
 

Matt McKeon

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The small community occasionally got wider attention. Proslavery advocates ranted they were were all dying out and had degraded outside the discipline of slavery. But Ely finds that those were libels on a group of hard working country people with similar challenges and ambitious and the white yeomen around them.

Interesting book, recommended
 

5fish

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Here another summary of the book... it was the wife...


Thomas Jefferson denied that whites and freed blacks could live together in harmony. His cousin, Richard Randolph, not only disagreed, but made it possible for ninety African Americans to prove Jefferson wrong. Israel on the Appomattox tells the story of these liberated blacks and the community they formed, called Israel Hill, in Prince Edward County, Virginia. There, ex-slaves established farms, navigated the Appomattox River, and became entrepreneurs. Free blacks and whites did business with one another, sued each other, worked side by side for equal wages, joined forces to found a Baptist congregation, moved west together, and occasionally settled down as man and wife. Slavery cast its grim shadow, even over the lives of the free, yet on Israel Hill we discover a moving story of hardship and hope that defies our expectations of the Old South.


Israel Hill developed as a community of free black people in Prince Edward County, Virginia along the Appomattox River around 1810.[1] It was established by Judith Randolph after the death of her husband Richard Randolph who inherited land and slaves from his father. He was a nephew of Thomas Jefferson.[2]

In 2009 a historical marker commemorating the community was erected.[3][4] It is now part of Farmville, Virginia. The location of the community is not included on Google Maps.

Melvin Patrick Ely, a history professor at the College of William and Mary, wrote Israel on the Appomattox about the community.


Here another more detail account of Israel Hill... not as warm and cuddle as the other book reviews...


When a Virginia aristocrat named Richard Randolph died in his mid-20s in 1796, his handwritten will took on the overtones of an abolitionist manifesto, begging his slaves' forgiveness for usurping their rights as human beings and liberating them; not only did he set them free, he also granted them 400 acres of his land to create their new lives as independent men and women. When, after almost 15 years of delay, Randolph's heirs finally carried out his wishes, his former slaves named their newly acquired land Israel Hill, calling themselves Israelites to signify their passage to the Promised Land. By the 1830s the residents of Israel Hill had become the subject of praise by some local white residents but the target of derision by others, one of whom described the community to a national readership as a monumental failure, a breeding ground for ne'er-do-wells, harlots, and thieves.
 

Matt McKeon

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Here another summary of the book... it was the wife...


Thomas Jefferson denied that whites and freed blacks could live together in harmony. His cousin, Richard Randolph, not only disagreed, but made it possible for ninety African Americans to prove Jefferson wrong. Israel on the Appomattox tells the story of these liberated blacks and the community they formed, called Israel Hill, in Prince Edward County, Virginia. There, ex-slaves established farms, navigated the Appomattox River, and became entrepreneurs. Free blacks and whites did business with one another, sued each other, worked side by side for equal wages, joined forces to found a Baptist congregation, moved west together, and occasionally settled down as man and wife. Slavery cast its grim shadow, even over the lives of the free, yet on Israel Hill we discover a moving story of hardship and hope that defies our expectations of the Old South.


Israel Hill developed as a community of free black people in Prince Edward County, Virginia along the Appomattox River around 1810.[1] It was established by Judith Randolph after the death of her husband Richard Randolph who inherited land and slaves from his father. He was a nephew of Thomas Jefferson.[2]

In 2009 a historical marker commemorating the community was erected.[3][4] It is now part of Farmville, Virginia. The location of the community is not included on Google Maps.

Melvin Patrick Ely, a history professor at the College of William and Mary, wrote Israel on the Appomattox about the community.


Here another more detail account of Israel Hill... not as warm and cuddle as the other book reviews...


When a Virginia aristocrat named Richard Randolph died in his mid-20s in 1796, his handwritten will took on the overtones of an abolitionist manifesto, begging his slaves' forgiveness for usurping their rights as human beings and liberating them; not only did he set them free, he also granted them 400 acres of his land to create their new lives as independent men and women. When, after almost 15 years of delay, Randolph's heirs finally carried out his wishes, his former slaves named their newly acquired land Israel Hill, calling themselves Israelites to signify their passage to the Promised Land. By the 1830s the residents of Israel Hill had become the subject of praise by some local white residents but the target of derision by others, one of whom described the community to a national readership as a monumental failure, a breeding ground for ne'er-do-wells, harlots, and thieves.
As far as the last paragraph, Dr. Ely discusses a Colonel James Madison(not the president) who wrote a negative description based on the premise that freeing black people, and free black people in general were a Very Bad Thing. Edmund Ruffin repeated this negative protrayal, since it fit neatly into his own defense of slavery. Ely points out many factual errors in Madison's account, as well as the fact that Madison turned out to be an embezzler. Ely's extensive work in primary records reveal a community remarkable in how similar it was to the white yeomen farmers around them, and that how little friction there was.
 
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