- Hardcover: 488 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (October 8, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465002722
- ISBN-13: 978-0465002726
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1834, a devout newlywed couple sailed from their native Georgia for Liberia to spread the Gospel. Most missionaries to Africa died, but the couple survived and persevered, working tirelessly if not always successfully to do good and returning to America in 1852, where their antislavery views did not prevent them from supporting the South as the Civil War loomed. Despite his subjects' unimaginable piety, Clarke (Dwelling Place), professor emeritus of American religious history at Columbia Theological Seminary, clearly admires John Leighton Wilson and his wife Jane. Hoping to educate as well as convert, they studied indigenous tribes, tried to understand native cultures, and treated those they encountered as equals. This contrasted ironically with thousands of freed black Americans who were persuaded to return to Africa during this period. These freemen considered themselves superior to the natives whom they misunderstood, brutalized, and exploited—exactly as white European settlers treated American Indians. An original history that tells the engrossing story of two white missionaries and their often stormy relations with their mostly black fellow countrymen, against the background of America descending into Civil War. 30 b&w illus., 7 maps. (Oct.)
In 1832, a young missionary couple, both born and bred in the southern aristocracy, set off to Liberia, where a colony of freed slaves had recently settled. John Leighton Wilson and his wife, Jane, had inherited slaves of their own and faced the dilemma of what to do with them before sailing off to save souls in Africa. Writing from the perspectives of white missionaries and African Americans (enslaved and freed) as well as Africans, historian Clarke offers a complex portrait of the countervailing forces of the nineteenth century as America grappled with the profound contradictions of slavery. The missionary zeal to convert Africans to Christianity often lacked basic respect for them as humans, and the motivation of the colonizing societies often had more to do with ridding America of blacks than liberating blacks from slavery. The Wilsons spent two decades in West Africa, learning the language and customs and confronting their own biases as well as the contradictions they saw in the colony, witnessing racial and ethnic turmoil as vile as that under American slavery. Their story is one of good intentions and cruel consequences, and the enigma of human freedom in the midst of slavery and the contingencies of human life. --Vanessa Bush
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Top customer reviews
Clarke wrote a densely-written, historical account of the missionary endeavors of John Leighton and Jane Wilson into West Africa. That's the framework of the book, but it is also an historical documentation of the African-American colonies in Liberia and Gabon, the Gullah people on the coast of Georgia, the beginnings of African-American churches in South Carolina, and an historical look at the Atlantic highway in the years immediately preceding and during the Civil War. Absolutely fascinating.
Leighton and Jane both came from large plantation and slave owning families in the deep south. This is their story of how they came together, and how Jane established schools in Africa, while Leighton fought the International Slave Trade and colonization, and translated portions of the Bible into Grebo and Mpongwe. However, when the Civil War started Leighton and Jane moved to the south to stand with their family.
The author takes Leighton to task for departing from his moral vision after the Civil War. I probably would have cut him more slack. Given the fact that Leighton's family were plantation owners, he had to overcome a lot of cultural biases against going to Africa in the first place. Schools and reading were against the law for slaves, yet he gave his life to those tasks. I guess we all wish that the Civil War didn't produce so much bitterness in the aftermath.
This book shows incredible scholarship and documentation. Nearly every paragraph references letters, books, historical societies, Colonization Papers, court records, archives of churches, etc.
Pages: 378, plus 50 pages of documentation
Author: Erskine Clarke
Published: Basic Books, October 2013
The purpose of the Missionary Societies, however, was to minister to the African peoples. When friction arose between the settlers and the native Africans, Leighton found himself often in the middle of the frey but his sympathies were almost always on the side of the native Africans. The African Americans had absorbed western values which often clashed with those of the native Africans, especially on issues like land and property rights.
The Wilsons wished to free their own slaves. However, under Georgia law, if a slave was freed, they had to leave the state. Many slaves were married to others on other plantations and, if they left, they would have to leave their families behind. The decision was finally made to allow the slaves the choice. They could come to Liberia, move to another state, or choose to remain a slave but with the option to take their freedom later. Most chose to move to Liberia.
Underneath the Wilsons' actions, however, was a strong seam of racism. When problems arose in Maryland in Liberia, for example, they blamed it on the fact that the Colonization Movement had appointed a `coloured man' as governor. Later, when they were forced to return to the US for health reasons, they opposed the Southern demand for the reintroduction of the international slave trade but considered the election of Abraham Lincoln a sign of northern aggression against the south. When the southern states seceded and Fort Sumter was fired on signaling the beginning of the Civil War, they returned to Georgia to support the Confederacy. When the southern Presbyterian churches decided to also secede from the north and to put forward their declaration that slavery was not in opposition to the word of God, Leighton was one of the signers. Despite his opposition to the international slave trade, Leighton believed that southern whites 'understood' African Americans and their needs and that it should be left up to the southern states to decide how best to deal with the issue of slavery without interference from the north.
By the Rivers of Water is a beautifully crafted history of the times with all of its contradictions. Author Erskine Clarke is a Theological historian and he handles all of these contradictions with sensitivity. He recognizes that the people about whom he writes were products of their time while never apologizing for their actions or beliefs. For anyone with an interest in history, this is an elegantly written, well-researched and well-documented portrayal of an important period in American history.
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After over-extending my library time (and paying the fine) I ordered my own copy of this book.Read more