FREE SOULS by Mary B. Dahl


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This is the pre-Civil War story of The Long Black Schooner that Emma Gelders Sterne wrote about quite differently in 1953, of the schooner Amistad whose kidnapped slave-cargo mutinied against the Cuban crew and set sail for their African home--only to be captured on the U.S. coast and brought to trial in Connecticut. Mrs. Dahl's version focuses on a twelve-year-old native Cuban slave aboard, Antonio, whom she links ideologically and actively with the Africans' cause, who eventually shares their prison and their courtroom; Mrs. Sterne, however, presented Antonio as a shrewd two-timer, pretending to side with the slaves while they held the upper hand but quick to take advantage of a chance to return to Cuba without trial. The evidence is inconclusive, but Free Souls benefits from the sympathetic treatment of Antonio: it contributes another dimension by expressing transcendent communion in oppression, and magnifies the gross illegality and inhumanity of the Spaniards' actions--equalled only by the hypocrisy of the American President and his Cabinet. Though the book suffers from the usual contrivances of fictionalization its perspective is a salient one: that the freedom of those souls was not the gift of lawyer John Adams or the panel of judges or the abolitionists who helped them; it was their own.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 1969
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin