Beyond Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery by Adam Rothman (review)
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Beyond Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery. By Adam Rothman. ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015.Pp. 263. $29.95 cloth)

Adam Rothman's Beyond Freedom's Reach contains a fascinating account of Rose Herera, an enslaved woman who fought to recover her kidnapped children during and after the Civil War. Rose was born into slavery in Pointe Coupee, Louisiana, in 1835. In 1853, her owner sold his plantation and moved to New Orleans, taking her with him. Between 1857 and 1861, she was sold four times.

While in New Orleans, Rose worked as a domestic for James and Mary De Hart. She met and married a free black man named George Herera, and between 1857 and 1864 the couple had five children (although George would not live to see the birth of the fifth). Because of Rose's status as a slave, their children legally belonged to her owner.

In late 1862, Rose found herself in jail for assaulting a white woman (although Rose claimed that she, in fact, had been the one assaulted). Mrs. De Hart informed Rose that she would be going to Cuba and she asked Rose to go too, but Rose had no interest. To try to coax her, Mrs. De Hart told Rose that she would be taking Rose's three oldest children to Cuba with her, but Rose replied that she was too unwell to travel (Rose's youngest, an infant, wallowed in prison with her). On January 15, 1863, Mrs. De Hart took the three older children aboard a steamer bound for Havana. George Herera and Rose's mother were both powerless to stop her.

For the next three years Rose fought through the legal system to regain her children—even at one point having Mrs. De Hart imprisoned for kidnapping. Finally, on March 17, 1866, the children were returned to New Orleans. They had not seen their mother for more than three years. In the meantime, she had had another child and their father had died. "The returning children would have barely remembered their brother George, who was just an infant when they were stolen away," writes Rothman. "They would have met their little sister Louise for the first time. Without any sources to document the [End Page 677] occasion, we can only imagine their reunion" (p. 184).

This last sentence captures the difficulty of writing a book like this one. Rothman stumbled upon a forty-six-page congressional report on the kidnapping. He then scoured archives throughout the United States and Cuba for other records related to Rose's life, finding an impressive amount of material. Yet, the pickings are still slim. To supplement this "microhistory," Rothman fills his pages with thick descriptions of antebellum life in Pointe Coupee as well as antebellum, wartime, and postwar New Orleans. These demographic, cultural, and legal portraits place Rose within her broader context. As further supplements, Rothman frequently employs other slaves' experiences to exemplify what life was like for some African Americans in the Old South. In many ways, therefore, Beyond Freedom's Reach is equally original research and synthesis.

Indeed, Rothman ably places this unique and "obscure child custody case" in several broader streams in American history (p. 152). Here, in the early stages of Reconstruction, a freedwoman used the legal system and the presence of Union soldiers to gain justice—and to reunite her family after the Civil War. Rothman also reveals the prevalence of kidnapping during the Civil War era, and the great lengths that some slave owners went to resist emancipation. Finally, Rose's story exemplifies the often "chaotic, improvised, and violent" nature of wartime emancipation (p. 7).

In a few instances, Rothman might have furnished more explanation for some of the context he provides. For instance, he might have explained the diplomatic wrangling surrounding the extradition of Cuban slave trader Jose Augustin Arguelles during the war (a case he mentions). Doing so might have shed more light on Secretary of State William H. Seward's actions in relation to Rose's children. He also does not adequately explain Lincoln's constitutional justification for excluding certain areas from the...