Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Someone Knows My Name

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Someone Knows My Name

aka: The Book of Negroes

by Lawrence Hill

Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2007, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2008, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Beyond the Book

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Did you know?

  • Original copies of the Book of Negroes can be found in England at the Public Records Office, in the United States in the National Archives and in Canada in the Nova Scotia Archives. It has also been transcribed in full and made available on the Black Loyalists web site. The Book is a 150 page record containing just under 3,000 names and brief descriptions of those blacks who were to be transferred to a smattering of British-held villages in Nova Scotia. The official proclamation of freedom to slaves who would aid the British war effort came from the Virginia colony governor, Lord Dunmore, who promised Black Loyalists freedom as a reward for service to the British during the American Revolution.

  • According to the Black Loyalists Digital Collection, up to 30,000 blacks responded to the call for help. The promise of freedom drew many more slaves to the British side than expected. The majority of blacks who assisted the British were never rewarded and many were re-enslaved by the victorious Americans. Only black loyalists who were in New York (the last British-held port) at the right time and successfully obtained a "Birch certificate" (a document signed by Brigadier General Birch) were recorded in the Book of Negroes and gained passage out of the harbor to Nova Scotia and elsewhere.

  • In Hill's fictional account, the real-life figure of Sam Fraunces assists and befriends Aminata after she is brought to New York City by her second owner. Fraunces's Manhattan tavern was restored just after the turn of the 20th century by the Sons of the American Revolution. Fraunces, who purchased the former Delancy mansion in 1762 and converted it to a tavern, was a free man, respected by both blacks and whites in revolution-era New York City. The tavern was home to gatherings of both rebel colonists and British military men. The tavern was also the site of a celebration marking the dismissal of George Washington's generals after the Revolutionary War concluded. Fraunces later became President Washington's personal steward.

  • Britain's Queen Charlotte (wife of the English King George III, 1738-1820), whom Aminata meets near the end of her life, has been proven to be a descendant of a "black branch of the Portuguese Royal House." The Queen's physical appearance fueled many rumors during her reign and earned her the nickname the "Black Queen."

  • Though cotton plantations are most often associated with slavery in America, indigo plantations were also reliant on slave labor. The prized blue dye was derived from the indigo plant only after a labor intensive harvesting process. The Special Collections Library of Duke University's 1995 exhibit "First Person, Third Person" contained a section on "Plantation America – the Work of Slaves," This illustration is a detail from a map from the exhibit that depicts slaves working on an indigo plantation, as Aminata does in Someone Knows My Name.

Interesting Links:

  • For more information about Olaudah Equiano, author of the famous anti-slavery autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano see British professor Dr. Brycchan Carey's site.
  • For the history of Sierra Leone, Africa, see the sidebar to Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna at BookBrowse.

Also see:

  • Author Lawrence Hill's article in the February/March 2007 issue of Canadian magazine the Beaver (fairly slow to open PDF file).
  • An excellent New York Times story about the Birchtown settlement in Nova Scotia.

Article by Stacey Brownlie

This article was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the November 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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