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First Fruits of Freedom

The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862-1900

Janette Thomas Greenwood

Publication Year: 2010

Greenwood chronicles one of the first collective migrations of blacks from the South to the North during and after the Civil War. She describes a network forged between Worcester County, Mass., and eastern North Carolina as a result of Worcester regiments taking control of northeastern N.C. during the war. White soldiers from Worcester, a hotbed of abolitionism, protected refugee slaves, set up schools for them, and led them north at war's end. Migrants established a small black community in Worcester with a distinctive southern flavor, but were generally disappointed in their hopes for full-fledged citizenship.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xiv

This book grew out of a seminar on black Worcester that I co-taught my first year at Clark University with my colleague Sally Deutsch, in conjunction with the Worcester Historical Museum. Saadia Wiggins Lawton...

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pp. 1-10

In June 1862, amidst news from the Civil War battlefront, the Worcester Daily Spy announced the “arrival of a ‘Contraband’”— a slave who had absconded to the safety of Union lines in search of freedom. The refugee had just come from New Bern, North Carolina, where he...

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1. The Guns of War

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pp. 11-26

As chattering telegraphs relayed the news of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter to towns, villages, and cities across the nation, many Americans, both North and South, seemed to welcome the news with a sense of relief. In retrospect, their reaction seems an odd way to greet...

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2. The Prettiest Blue Mens I Had Ever Seed

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pp. 27-47

In the fall and early winter of 1861, the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regrouped at Poolesville, Maryland, veterans of the disastrous battle at Ball’s Bluff. The unit had sustained well over a hundred casualties in what would prove to be a mere taste of the bloodshed they would suffer...

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3. These Are the Children of This Revolution, the Promising First Fruits of the War

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pp. 48-87

Worcester’s incensed soldiers and citizenry soon responded to the crisis in New Bern with more than words of moral indignation. The calamity precipitated by Governor Stanly resulted in the first of what ultimately would be hundreds of New Bern’s former slaves resettling...

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4. A New Promise of Freedom and Dignity

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pp. 88-129

The morning of 4 July 1865 was greeted in Worcester with an anticipation and excitement not experienced in years. For the previous two months, townspeople— from schoolchildren to captains of industry— had prepared for a celebration worthy of the momentous Union victory...

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5. A Community within a Community

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pp. 130-173

On the afternoon of 22 June 1891, members of the Mount Olive Baptist Church gathered to lay the cornerstone for their new church on John Street in Worcester. Joined by representatives from the city’s two other black...

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pp. 174-178

Historian William McFeely, in Sapelo’s People, his masterful portrait of a Georgia Sea Island community, writes, “African-Americans’ anger may derive as much from the broken promises of Reconstruction as from slavery itself. So much promise was held out...


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pp. 179-180


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pp. 181-214


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pp. 215-224


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pp. 225-241

E-ISBN-13: 9781469604275
E-ISBN-10: 1469604272
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833629
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833622

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Waldo E. Martin Jr., University of California, Berkeley, and Patricia Sullivan, University of South Carolina See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 698188185
MUSE Marc Record: Download for First Fruits of Freedom

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Massachusetts -- Worcester -- History -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Massachusetts -- Worcester -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Freedmen -- Massachusetts -- Worcester -- History -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Migrations -- History -- 19th century.
  • Migration, Internal -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects
  • Worcester (Mass.) -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
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