After a bit of a lull, I have lots to share in the new year! If you’re a regular reader, you know I love little-known stories from past. So let’s start with an important new-to-me piece of history— and a giveaway! I appreciate the deeper, more complete understanding of our past these overlooked stories offer, and I’m especially grateful they’re available for children.
Thank you, Selene Castrovilla, for sharing the heart of SEEKING FREEDOM: THE UNTOLD STORY OF FORTRESS MONROE AND THE ENDING OF SLAVERY IN AMERICA.
To enter the GIVEAWAY to win a copy of the book, leave a comment after the post.
Hearts Longing to be Free by Selene Castrovilla
I’ve always felt people’s pain. It rips inside me. I avoid the news because it debilitates me, but sometimes it’s inescapable. Working in Manhattan when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, I collapsed at my desk, sobbing. My boss asked, “Did you know someone on that plane?”
No, I didn’t know anyone on that plane. But I felt their deaths like I had been killed, and I felt their relatives’ grief like it was my own.
Isn’t the tragedy of one human a tragedy for us all?
They label people like me “empaths” but the moniker I embrace is “writer”—and my caring trait defines my work. I inhabit a heart-laden mine, and I must unearth the facts to tell these hearts’ stories. Hearts are meant for sharing.
When I stood in a Fort Monroe, Virginia room where three freedom seekers had pleaded for sanctuary in 1861, I felt the call of their hearts. Fortress Monroe, as it was called then, was held by the Union despite Virginia’s secession. These desperate men knew if they were sent back to the Confederates they’d be dragged from their families–sent further south to dig trenches for weapons stations.
General Benjamin Butler, the new commander of Fortress Monroe and a lawyer, didn’t want to send the men back, as was the custom. Butler called them “contraband of war” because they were used as weapons against the Union. Contraband could be confiscated. This brilliant spin became a joke in the south and the north. But it was no joke to the three men—or to the hundreds of freedom seekers who soon flocked to Fortress Monroe, becoming contrabands.
No joke, this sparked the end of enslavement in America.
I had to tell this story—but I hit a roadblock. I knew the men’s names: Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend. But there was no record of them past that fateful encounter. I needed another way to share the contrabands’ hearts.
Facts are out there, and I don’t give up until I find them. History is often localized, with town historians documenting facts which rarely get pooled into a larger base. Sometimes these facts are featured in media like The New York Times, and the trick is to recognize them as the missing pieces. I love this process because inevitably, facts lead to more heart.
I discovered a contraband named George Scott, who had previously lived two years in the woods eluding his would-be enslaver. A “Die Hard” kind of guy, George volunteered to go on a dangerous mission deep in the forest, tracking rebels who plotted to attack Fortress Monroe.
Just like that, Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of Slavery in America came together with these thrilling facts about George Scott. To write the narrative, I only had to follow his courageous heart.
I’m grateful to share stories from history, using my all-encompassing empathy to meld yesterday’s hearts with those of today’s young readers.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below to enter the GIVEAWAY for SEEKING FREEDOM. (US addresses only, please.)
I hope you’ll check out this book and others from the blog—and consider leaving reviews online to support kid lit creators. 😃