All Different Kinds of Free
“Bad things happen on Wednesdays” is what Margaret Morgan’s mother always said. Margaret, a free woman of color living in York, Pennsylvania, finds this to be true on a Wednesday in 1837. Mr. Prigg, a former neighbor from Mill Green, Maryland, comes toYork to claim Margaret as an escaped slave along with her three children. The local sheriff denies his claim, but when Margaret’s husband leaves for work, Prigg kidnaps Margaret and the children, taking them back to Maryland. To her dismay, Margaret finds her former employer, Mrs. Ashmore, denies all knowledge of her late husband giving Margaret her freedom and seeks to put Margaret and her children up for auction to pay off her debts.
McCann alternates Margaret’s harrowing story with the tale of the state of Pennsylvania’s suit against Prigg for kidnapping, a suit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Prigg v. Pennsylvania was an actual case, and in her author’s note, McCann explains she was drawn to it due to the paucity of information she could find on Margaret and her children. She re-imagines Margaret’s plight in painful, realistic detail. I read this book in one sitting, at first to finish it quickly because the era it described was so shameful for the United States as a country and so heartrending for all those who were denied their rights as human beings. As I read, though, I was drawn in by Margaret’s strength and will to survive and anxious to learn her outcome.
McCann acknowledges that Margaret’s fate after being returned to Maryland is unknown. The denouement she gives her is credible and also hopeful without being improbable. Kudos to the author for bringing Margaret’s story to life.