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Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

Elizabeth Keckley

Publication Year: 2011

###Behind the Scenes# is the life story of Elizabeth Keckley, a shrewd entrepreneur who, while enslaved, raised enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son. Keckley moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker for the wives of influential politicians. She eventually became a close confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. Several years after President Lincoln's assassination, when Mrs. Lincoln's financial situation had worsened, Keckley helped organize an auction of the former first lady's dresses, eliciting strong criticism from members of the Washington elite. ###Behind the Scenes# is, therefore, both a slave narrative and Keckley's attempt to defend the motives behind the auction. However, the book's publication prompted an even greater public outcry, with the added racial subtext of white society's disdain for Keckley's audacity in publishing details of the Lincolns' private lives. Keckley's dressmaking business failed, the Lincoln family cut all ties with her, and she lived out her final days in a home for the indigent. Scholars have acknowledged the book's valuable account of slave life as well as its intimate view into the Lincoln White House. Biographers of the Lincolns have quoted extensively from Keckley's text.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: DocSouth Books

Title PAge, Copyrihgt

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About This Edition

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pp. 3

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pp. 4-8

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (ca. 1818-1907) was born enslaved in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, to Agnes Hobbs and George Pleasant, a man owned by a different master. Keckley experienced harsh treatment under slavery, including beatings as well as the sexual assault of a white man, Alexander Kirkland, by whom she had a son named George. ...


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pp. 12-13

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pp. 14-17

I have often been asked to write my life, as those who know me know that it has been an eventful one. At last I have acceded to the importunities of my friends, and have hastily sketched some of the striking incidents that go to make up my history. ...

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Chapter I: Where I was born

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pp. 18-23

My life has been an eventful one. I was born a slave—was the child of slave parents—therefore I came upon the earth free in God-like thought, but fettered in action. My birthplace was Dinwiddie Court-House, in Virginia. My recollections of childhood are distinct, perhaps for the reason that many stirring incidents are associated with that period. ...

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Chapter II: Girlhood and its Sorrows

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pp. 24-28

I must pass rapidly over the stirring events of my early life. When I was about fourteen years old I went to live with my master's eldest son, a Presbyterian minister. His salary was small, and he was burdened with a helpless wife, a girl that he had married in the humble walks of life. ...

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Chapter III: How I gained my Freedom

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pp. 29-36

The years passed and brought many changes to me, but on these I will not dwell, as I wish to hasten to the most interesting part of my story. My troubles in North Carolina were brought to an end by my unexpected return to Virginia, where I lived with Mr. Garland, who had married Miss Ann Burwell, one of my old master's daughters. ...

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Chapter IV: In the Family of Senator Jefferson Davis

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pp. 37-41

The twelve hundred dollars with which I purchased the freedom of myself and son I consented to accept only as a loan. I went to work in earnest, and in a short time paid every cent that was so kindly advanced by my lady patrons of St. Louis. All this time my husband was a source of trouble to me, and a burden. ...

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Chapter V: My Introduction to Mrs. Lincoln

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pp. 42-47

Ever since arriving in Washington I had a great desire to work for the ladies of the White House, and to accomplish this end I was ready to make almost any sacrifice consistent with propriety. Work came in slowly, and I was beginning to feel very much embarrassed, for I did not know how I was to meet the bills staring me in the face. ...

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Chapter VI: Willie Lincoln's Death-bed

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pp. 48-55

Mrs. Lincoln returned to Washington in November, and again duty called me to the White House. The war was now in progress, and every day brought stirring news from the front—the front, where the Gray opposed the Blue, where flashed the bright sabre in the sunshine, where were heard the angry notes of battle, ...

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Chapter VII: Washington in 1862-3

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pp. 56-61

In the summer of 1862, freedmen began to flock into Washington from Maryland and Virginia. They came with a great hope in their hearts, and with all their worldly goods on their backs. Fresh from the bonds of slavery, fresh from the benighted regions of the plantation, they came to the Capital looking for liberty, ...

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Chapter VIII: Candid Opinions

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pp. 62-66

Often Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln discussed the relations of Cabinet officers, and gentlemen prominent in politics, in my presence. I soon learned that the wife of the President had no love for Mr. Salmon P. Chase, at that time Secretary of the Treasury. ...

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Chapter IX: Behind the Scenes

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pp. 67-71

Some of the freedmen and freedwomen had exaggerated ideas of liberty. To them it was a beautiful vision, a land of sunshine, rest and glorious promise. They flocked to Washington, and since their extravagant hopes were not realized, it was but natural that many of them should bitterly feel their disappointment. ...

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Chapter X: The Second Inauguration

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pp. 72-80

Mrs. Lincoln came to my apartments one day towards the close of the summer of 1864, to consult me in relation to a dress. And here let me remark, I never approved of ladies, attached to the Presidential household, coming to my rooms. ...

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Chapter XI: The Assassination of President Lincoln

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pp. 81-91

I had never heard Mr. Lincoln make a public speech, and, knowing the man so well, was very anxious to hear him. On the morning of the Tuesday after our return from City Point, Mrs. Lincoln came to my apartments, and before she drove away I asked permission to come to the White House that night and hear Mr. Lincoln speak. ...

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Chapter XII: Mrs. Lincoln leaves the White House

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pp. 92-102

Letters of condolence were received from all parts of the country, and even from foreign potentates, but Mr. Andrew Johnson, the successor of Mr. Lincoln, never called on the widow, or even so much as wrote a line expressing sympathy for her grief and the loss of her husband. ...

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Chapter XIII: The Origin of the Rivalry between Mr. Douglas and Mr. Lincoln

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pp. 103-107

Mrs. Lincoln from her girlhood up had an ambition to become the wife of a President. When a little girl, as I was told by one of her sisters, she was disposed to be a little noisy at times, and was self-willed. One day she was romping about the room, making more noise than the nerves of her grandmother could stand. ...

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Chapter XIV: Old Friends

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pp. 108-118

In order to introduce a pleasant chapter of my life, I must take a slight retrospective glance. Mrs. Ann Garland, the mistress from whom I purchased my freedom in St. Louis, had five daughters, all lovely, attractive girls. I used to take pride in dressing the two eldest, Miss Mary and Miss Carrie, for parties. ...

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Chapter XV: The Secret History of Mrs. Lincoln's Wardrobe in New York

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pp. 119-146

In March, 1867, Mrs. Lincoln wrote to me from Chicago that, as her income was insufficient to meet her expenses, she would be obliged to give up her house in the city, and return to boarding. She said that she had struggled long enough to keep up appearances, and that the mask must be thrown aside. ...

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Appendix: Letters from Mrs. Lincoln to Mrs. Keckley

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pp. 147-164

"My Dear Lizzie:—I am writing this morning with a broken heart after a sleepless night of great mental suffering. R. came up last evening like a maniac, and almost threatening his life, looking like death, because the letters of the World were published in yesterday's paper. I could not refrain from weeping when I saw him so miserable. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781469602905
E-ISBN-10: 1469602903
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807869635
Print-ISBN-10: 0807869635

Page Count: 164
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: DocSouth Books