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Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 3, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Snow-Storm in August is the sort of book I most love to read: history so fresh it feels alive, yet introducing me to a time and place that I had little known or utterly misunderstood. After reading Jefferson Morley's vibrant account, one can never hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner' the same way again."
—David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story

"[Morley’s] plunge beneath the surface of history exposes realities more true to daily experience than executive proclamations or speeches in Congress. The book’s central motif is race, and the theme reverberates through a range of fascinating vignettes ... As an exploration of America’s capital city at a time when the fault line over slavery had become impossible to ignore, Snow-Storm in August deepens our appreciation of how slavery made a mockery of the founding and made the Civil War as close to inevitable as any event in our history."
—The Washington Post

"Morley skillfully weaves his several narrative threads into a vibrant and illuminating picture of the antebellum capital at a time when national stability depended on placating the owners of slaves ... [He] reveals a tangle of back stories that eventually lead deep into a tension-filled landscape of class resentments, provocative abolitionism and proslavery passions. It is a world peopled with vivid characters both black and white, among them, most intriguingly, the city's district attorney, Francis Scott Key, the author of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'"
—The Wall Street Journal

"An elegant, readable narrative ... Snow-Storm in August touches on themes still relevant today: unresolved racial tensions, simmering resentment over economic disparity, influence peddling among the powerful, and the red-blue divide between conservatives and progressives over whether human property  and their descendants  deserve the full benefits of the new nation's famously stated ideals."
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A stunning new work of cultural history ... Working on a large canvas, Morley succeeds in his ambitious aim to humanize many whose names, faces and voices were lost to time."
—U.S. News & World Report

"In a crackling good tale of the deep impact of race and politics on a young nation struggling to create its identity, Salon Washington correspondent Jefferson Morley boldly and elegantly recreates a moment in time when free black businessmen mingled with their white counterparts while proponents of slavery and abolitionists struggled to co-exist in the nation’s bustling capital."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Jefferson Morley has vividly and factually recreated a largely lost but pivotal time in Jacksonian Washington, an emerging, still somewhat primitive capital city where racial tensions among its complex mix of white, free black, and enslaved residents inevitably lead to violence and push the debate over abolition into the houses of Congress and the President. The historical characters, famous and forgotten, come to life in affecting and surprising ways without fictional artifice, a tribute to Morley's meticulous research and empathetic narrative style."
—Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post

"Morley vividly recreates the episodes connected to the riot, and dramatically depicts the personalities involved, giving important insight into race relations before the Civil War."
The Columbus Dispatch

"A sprightly social history of the convergence of pro- and anti-slavery agitators in the city of Washington during the explosive summer of 1835. . . . Salon Washington correspondent Morley ably weaves the many strands together: An enterprising restaurateur of mixed race found that his success aroused the ire of resentful white patrons; an impressionable young slave hoping to educate and free himself ran afoul of his white mistress; a Yankee abolitionist newly arrived in town disseminated incendiary emancipationist literature; and the famous author of 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' serving as Jackson’s district attorney, pursued his job of punishing vice and enforcing slavery. . . . Morley alternates the characters and scenes of action for a suspenseful tale, culminating in the court of law where Key upheld the country’s oppression of African-Americans and thereby helped shape the rancorous debate over slavery. . . . Elegant and nimble history of a series of events likely unknown to many readers."
Kirkus Reviews

"Morley’s gripping, fast-paced narrative captures all the drama that encompasses a rich cast of characters that includes Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, Roger Taney, Sam Houston, and a host of others who inhabited the young nation’s capital ... Morley has given readers a noteworthy, insightful look into an often overlooked chapter in American history."

"Absorbing ... This book reminds us how deeply entrenched proslavery forces were in the nation’s capital and what a struggle it was for African Americans to receive justice and for abolitionists to be heard ... An enlightening account of racial tension in pre-Civil War America."

About the Author

JEFFERSON MORLEY is the Washington correspondent for Salon. He has worked as an editor and reporter at The Washington PostThe NationThe New Republic, and Harper’s Magazine. His work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, and Slate. His first book was Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. 

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (July 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385533373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385533379
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on July 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In between the War for Independence and the Civil War calls for the abolition of slavery began to grow in number and volume, but few people could imagine whites and former black slaves living peacefully side-by-side. Some favored re-settling freed slaves in Africa or the Caribbean, but understandably most blacks viewed America as their home and didn't relish the idea of being shipped off to a land they'd never known. But it didn't stop a few abolitionists from agitating in southern states, and scattered reports of slave uprisings caused fear and anxiousness among those who owned such "human property."

Jefferson Morley tells the story of combustible race relations in 1835 in the young American capitol. Arthur Bowen, a young slave owned by Anna Thornton (widow of William Thornton, designer of the U. S. Capitol) who enjoyed a fair amount of liberty, came home very drunk late one night. What is known about the confusing events is that he picked up an axe and entered his mistresses' bedroom where his own mother also slept, and mumbled some drunken threats. His actual intent isn't known but the women panicked and Arthur was eventually arrested and charged with attempted murder. In the already charged atmosphere, mobs of white men quickly formed and threatened to take Arthur to "Judge Lynch."

At the same time a former slave named Beverly Snow (a man, not a woman) ran a popular and successful restaurant in Washington. Unlike Arthur, Beverly did not mix much with those pressing for emancipation, but was very forward and cheeky in promoting himself and his restaurant (which bothered some people). Rumors quickly spread that Snow had made offensive comments about white women, and the two situations combined to feed mob riots which came to be known as the "Snow-Storm.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By William H. Perry on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Morley's work does not find complete favor with me. In part I must admit to a prejudice, i.e., I am a descendent of Francis Scott Key, and resent the claim that Key was as racist as Morley makes out. I told Morley this in 2005, when his article on the Bowen Trial was published in the Washington Post. I thought it only fair I tell you this before I voice my comments on "Snow Storm."

What I do not like about "Snow Storm" is that most of the motivations Mr. Morley imputes to various persons in the narrative are based on little actual evidence. There are entirely too many "possibles" and "could haves," all of which are construed to the author's late 20th Century take on what constituted racism in the early 19th Century. Moreover, many important things are left out, such as what the American Colonization Society was really all about when it formed and how it got established in Africa in the first place. Also left out is Key's defense in 1820 of the would-be slaves of the captured slaver "Antelope," which, if fairly presented, would have done much to call into question just how "racist" Key really was in the early 19th Century context. Morley never seems to make the connection between the man who bought Arthur Bowen, William Stockton, and his more famous brother Robert F. Stockton, who was instrumental in founding what became Liberia, as well as playing a major role in much U.S. history (Stockton, California was named for him and for good reason). If Mr. Morley had made the connection, he might have "deduced" (Morley's way of interpreting data) that Bowen never went into slavery after the Presidential pardon, but was taken to the Colony of Maryland in Africa and released as a free man.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Holly H on July 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a must read for anyone with even a smidgeon of curiosity about American history. Morley's research is awesome. Having been flooded with historical writers who feel it's their right to put totally-fictitious words into the mouths of folks from centuries back, it's refreshing to read an account that meticulously documents every quote and other stated-fact.

It's hard to know who is the most interesting character in this book. Francis Scott Key, whom we've all heard of since the 2nd grade? The slave boy with an ax in his hand? His well-positioned elderly owner who defends him to her death? Or the freed-black DC restauranteur who loves food and charms us all? In Snow-Storm in August we don't need to make a choice, for Morley weaves them all together into a story (a true story!) that grips our attention.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The idea that one human could own another human is an ancient one, and was settled into European and American culture. In America in the 1830s, there were plenty of people who thought that slavery should be abolished (some thought the best way would be to send all former slaves back to where they came from). In Washington City (before it was Washington D.C.), slavery might have disgusted some, but overall it was the accepted way of doing things, and in the city's bustle you would find many slaves going about their masters' business, but also freedmen making their own way. It made for tension within the city, and sometimes that tension boiled over. Eventually it would explode into civil war, but decades before that, Washington erupted into a race riot, the details of which are recounted in the compelling _Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835_ (Nan A. Talese) by Jefferson Morley. Morley has tied diverse threads into a fascinating story; the social, political, and even culinary themes are here, along with a relatively unflattering portrait of the author of our national anthem. Morley may have exaggerated the importance of the riot within American history, but is completely convincing that it should not be forgotten, and his vivid book will help keep the memory.

The "Snow" of the "Snow-storm" was a former slave named Beverly Snow, who earned his freedom and came to Washington to be a restaurateur. He worked hard, eventually setting up the Epicurean Eating House on Pennsylvania Avenue. Snow was not only a clever chef, he was a storyteller and a wit, and he mingled with his customers in a show of sincere hospitality. Influential people came to dine, and Snow's business was good.
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