I started reading The Seeds of America Trilogy during the Thanksgiving holiday, and although I’m not done with this series, I had to share because it’s beautifully written and passionately explores the irony of a country trying to free itself while at the same time denying freedom to so many.
Chains is the first book in Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Seeds of America Trilogy. Chains begins when the protagonist, Isabel Finch, an African American slave, and her sister are wrongfully sold by her late-master’s brother to a wealthy Loyalist couple, Eluhi Lockton and his cruel wife, Anne. The novel is predominantly set in New York City and due to Isabel’s rebel sympathies and her loyalist home, the reader is purview to a wide range of information and scenery from both sides of the revolutionary war. Isabel befriends a young slave, Curzon, who works for a patriot and enters the rebel army in place of his master with the hopes of earning his freedom.
Curzon is the narrator of the second story, Forge, which is set in Valley Forge and explores the difficulties faced there by the Revolutionary Army as well as the difficulties specific to Curzon, a young black man. There’s a passage in Forge where Curzon is trying to explain to his friend and fellow soldier, Eben, the mistreatment of black people and slaves in America which I found particularly relevant to the way that systemic racism is pervasive in modern day America.
“Let me ask you something. We’re fighting for freedom, right?” I picked my words carefully. “So why is that man allowed to own Baumfree and Bett?”
“Well,” he said slowly, “we’re fighting for our freedom. Not theirs.” He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, put his hands on his belt and crossed his arms again. “Nobody in my family owns slaves, you know.”
“That is not the point. Do you think only white people can be free?”
“Of course not. There are plenty of free blacks, like you and those other fellows in Saratoga and Albany. We had a family two villages over from mine, they were all free black people.”
“But the colonel’s slaves are not allowed to be free.”
He frowned. “They can’t be free, Curzon. They’re slaves. Their master decides for them.”
“What if they ran away?”
“Then they’d be breaking the law.”
“Bad laws deserve to be broken.”
“Don’t talk like that!” He kicked a rock deep into the field. “You want to get in trouble? Laws have to be followed or else you go to the jail.”
“What if a king made bad laws; laws so unnatural that a country broke them by declaring its freedom?”
He threw his arms in the air. “Now you are spouting nonsense. Two slaves running away from their rightful master is not the same as America wanting to be free of England. Not the same at all.”
[. . . . ]
“If you were that tall fellow back there,” I asked, “wouldn’t you want to be free to live your own life?”
“I don’t like talking about this,” he said. “But since you ask, no. If I were that fellow, I’d be happy for the food and clothes and good care my master gave me. I would know that God wanted me to be in bondage and I would not question His will.”
The wind blew down the narrow strip of dirt between us, sending dust into the air and giving me the answer I needed.
“You’re not my friend,” I said.
(Anderson, Forge, 65-67)
The third and final book, Ashes, was released earlier this year. I hope you find the series at your local independent bookstore, or Powell’s, or your local library. It’s a remarkable work of historical fiction by Laurie Halse Anderson.