- Paperback: 174 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (June 9, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1490335625
- ISBN-13: 978-1490335629
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,339,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Indomitable George Washington Fields: From Slave to Attorney Paperback – June 9, 2013
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"a fascinating book that not only uncovers an unsung hero, it allows the historian and the incidental reader to witness the evolution of a mind. It is truly amazing to read of Mr. Fields' slave life and how a boy so completely unlearned rose above his shocking circumstances and became a man of letters, reputation and considerable power.
"a gem of a book that should flourish across many academic landscapes: perfect in social studies or citizenship classes [and] in early law classes. A great addition to any historian's library." - New York Journal of Books
About the Author
Kevin M. Clermont is now the Ziff Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, he also attended law school in France as a Fulbright Scholar. Next there was a judicial clerkship and practice on Wall Street, before entry into teaching at Cornell. His field is civil procedure, with a specialty in international litigation. Professor Clermont has published extensively, including coauthoring books both on introduction to law and on civil procedure——Law for Society: Nature, Functions, and Limits (2010) and Materials for a Basic Course in Civil Procedure (10th ed. 2010).
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Top customer reviews
The book has several historical references that explain layout of the land around Fortress Monroe(now known as Fort Monroe)..including downtown Hampton and the Phoebus area, which for someone that lived in that area brings to book even more to life.
It amazing the things this man and his family endured and the perseverance he showed throughout his life.
Buy it...read it...you'll love it!
Clermont's introduction and annotation includes biographical and contextual information that illuminate Fields's eventful and exciting life, but the most valuable part of this book is Fields's autobiography. Clermont located it in manuscript form in a Virginia museum and has edited it for academic and lay readers. Both groups will find that it has an abundance of fascinating material, including much evidence that supports revisionist interpretations of slavery and African-American life before, during, and after the Civil War. As slaves Fields and his family did not view their bondage as a paternalistic, benevolent regime filled with kind treatment by whites and decent food, clothing, and shelter. On the contrary, Fields's narrative recounts the brutal punishments administered by his family's Master, Phillip Overton Winston, on his mother, his sister Maria and his brother James, along with an exciting account of James's escape.
Fields's autobiography also provides insights into the distinctive culture that formed in the African-American slave community of the antebellum South, especially family, religion, and work. The traditional view of slavery stressed the negative effects of slavery on black family life via the sale or separation of children from parents; prohibition of marriage; the masters' sexual exploitation of females and the emasculation of males. Revisionists argue that in most cases slave owners allowed and even facilitated informal slave "marriages" (not protected by law) and a relatively stable family life, with father, mother, and children living together. White masters believed that this practice would result in more procreation and enhanced productivity in work. Fields's narrative provides evidence for both interpretations. The owners of his mother, Martha Ann Berkley, and his father, Washington Fields, who lived on a nearby plantation, permitted their courtship and (unofficial) "marriage" and allowed them to visit each other frequently. Martha gave birth to eleven children, all of whom became the property of Mistress Catherine. During his boyhood Fields depended upon and was devoted to his mother and his siblings. He suffered great losses when his sister Louisa and his brothers John and Robert were sold and carried far away. He does not say much about his father, other than that he had no knowledge of his family's initial escape; rejoined them on June 11, 1864; found employment, and soon thereafter was stricken with pneumonia and died.
White southerners often required slaves to attend plantation sanctioned Christian services, used religion to justify slavery, and quoted from the Bible to preach obedience to masters. Many slaves converted to Christianity, creating a new form of Protestantism that combined Christianity with elements of African and Caribbean religious rituals and belief. The result was a gospel of freedom. Fields describes his mother as a very religious person with a strong faith in God and an unwavering belief in Divine Providence as God's plan for freedom for herself and all in her family.
Agriculture in the upper South featured mostly small and medium-size farms, unlike the lower South, where larger plantations were more the norm. Fields describes his initiation into farm labor as a young boy, working on farms whose owners cultivated tobacco, wheat, corn, and other crops and bred and tended livestock of cows, sheep, and turkeys. He also describes how slaves entertained themselves (with the cooperation of the overseers) by singing and drinking while shucking corn and threshing wheat.
Fields's account of his initial encounter with Union soldiers as a runaway and his family's escape illustrate slavery's transitional era after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Early escapees were not yet free, but Union military officers would not return them to their former owners because they considered them to be contraband property of Union army. As the war wound down, the freedmen's legal status was unclear. Some, including Fields's family, were exploited by white landowners who put them to work and gave them food and shelter, but did not pay them regular wages or grant them full civil or economic rights. Fields describes how he and his family labored for a local farmer and his wife without pay. They then relocated to Hampton to seek a better life and to find and reunite with long lost relatives. After the war Fields was one of countless freedmen who were determined to improve their status, driven by a powerful work ethic and an intense desire to gain an education by attending public schools and black colleges. Yet their even as African Americans sought full civil rights and economic opportunity, most had to settle for segregation and the bogus "separate but equal" doctrine.
Clermont holds a B.A. from Princeton and a J.D. degree in Law from Harvard and has no graduate level training in history. There are passages in Fields's manuscript where he might have delved deeper into questions concerning the nature of slavery and the freedmen's experiences during Reconstruction. Overall the publication of The Indomitable George Washington Fields during the sesquicentennial era of the Civil War is a timely and welcome addition to the genre of African-American slave narratives and autobiographies. This volume tells a fresh, provocative, entertaining, and engaging tale of a man who richly deserves the rescue from the dustbin of history and the notoriety that Clermont's editing provides for all who enjoy reading about slavery, race relations, disunion, war, and reunion.
The slave narrative that Clermont subsequently found forms the heart of this book. The cruelty that Fields and his family suffered under slavery was matched only by the bravery and faith of Fields' mother, who helped all eleven of her children to freedom. Fields writes beautifully and in recounting his life story exudes hope and goodwill. Most of all, Fields worked tirelessly to get an education under truly challenging conditions. His dedication to studying at night and his love of learning shine through.
Here is my favorite quote from Field's personal narrative, in which Fields discusses Leighton's Latin School, which Fields attended at night when he served as valet to the family of New York's Governor Cornell (pp. 112-113): "I spent two years in this school where no noticeable discrimination was made because of my color, and I can frankly say that wherever an anxious, earnest interest is exhibited on the part of anyone who is apparently thirsting for an education, let him be black or white, he will always find someone that will make it possible, through word of encouragement, for him to succeed. Fortunately for me, I have had no one to materially contribute one cent towards aiding me in my struggle for an education and am convinced that no property is valuable and precious in the sight of its owner as that acquired by the sweat of his own brow." I might argue with the politics of Fields' assertion (some earnest students do not get the chances they deserve) but I cannot help admiring Fields' intelligence, accomplishments, and sunny disposition, unmarred by any whiff of bitterness, a sentiment his vivid and at times horrifying slave story would certainly justify.
I wish there were more information about Fields' career as a lawyer in in Virginia and about his long and apparently happy marriage. Given the thoroughness of Clermont research, I have to accept that there are some things we will never know. I did learn enough to find Fields' modesty, ingenuity, and industry truly inspirational. Clermont's book represents a major historical find. It also provides spiritual insight and would make a wonderful gift for new law students or anyone embarking on an educational challenge.