THE MAN WHO BOUGHT HIMSELF: The Story of Peter Still by Peggy & Vivian W. Siegal Mann

THE MAN WHO BOUGHT HIMSELF: The Story of Peter Still

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Unlike the lost brother, William Still, with whom he was reunited in middle age, Peter Still had little faith in the Underground Railroad. Kidnapped into slavery in the deep south while only a child, Peter--who was known by a succession of his masters' last names before rediscovering his real family--was determined to buy his freedom, a goal he was able to accomplish only after saving for most of his life and winning, by chance, the cooperation of two Jewish storekeepers who were willing to act as proxy buyers. Later, Peter came north to Philadelphia, was lucky to find his brother free and working as an anti-slavery activist, and--after a white ""conductor"" was killed trying to help Peter's wife and children escape bondage--he went on a speaking tour to raise the immense sum of $5,000 which was demanded by their vengeful owner. Peter's route to freedom was clearly exceptional and his tenacious faith was recognized by the day's leading abolitionists, who normally considered paying ""ransom"" to slave owners immoral. The picture of slavery here is grim enough, but oddly, the novelistic narrative isn't as compelling as it ought to be, given the seemingly endless succession of whippings and near-fatal beatings that occur. Neither Peter's feeling of kinship for the Friedman brothers nor the mixture of extreme caution and almost mystical courage that made up his character are sufficiently internalized. A shorter, less extensively dramatized, account might have done more justice to Peter Still's unusual history, but this narrative manages to reaffirm satisfactorily both the evils of slavery and the old-fashioned belief that determined individuals of good will can somehow triumph.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1975
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Macmillan