My Story Being This
The 1770s Rhode Island setting and community of free people of color is wonderfully evoked in this “writing book” of a woman whose literacy enables her to set down thoughts and activities and to chronicle the tragic past slave histories of her neighbors.
As Miss Mary Williams Magahee tends her invalid father, a preacher’s daughter runs off with a scoundrel, a handyman begins a life journey of testimony and gentle courtship, and birth and deaths are witnessed and recorded. Through her eyes we see the approaching American Revolution as well as private revolutions of hearts and minds. She questions talk of forming racially separate regiments in the American cause (“Will not the swaddling clouts be stain’d blood red for all men?”), and the promises of the English to reward soldiers on their side with liberty. She suspects a plot, based on her knowledge of life on English sugar plantations. Soon into reading, the anachronistic spelling, grammar and punctuation add flavor and verisimilitude, the narrator’s primness becomes endearing, and the accumulation of details compelling. Although his own history is the first she records, the presence of the man she lives with, her father, is the only one that remains elusive. That quibble aside, a first novel of great promise.