- Beyond Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery by Adam Rothman
Adam Rothman weaves together an incisive narrative of slavery, freedom, and family in wartime Louisiana. This book delineates "Rose Herera's world of slavery, the kidnapping of her children during the Civil War, and her remarkable effort to get them back" (4). As a petite histoire of one family's ordeal during the twilight of slavery, Beyond Freedom's Reach provides a lens to view the ways in which Rose Herera triumphed over the tragedy of slavery. This is a deeply researched and engaging study that is based on the petition that Rose Herera submitted to the US Congress on 4 March 1865. From this petition, Rothman reconstructs Rose's world and offers an intimate portrait of her lived experiences.
Beyond Freedom's Reach gives voice to the untold men, women, and children who were kidnapped during the chaos of wartime emancipation and brought to Cuba.
The five chapters, which comprise this study, illustrate the centrality of Rose Herera's agency in a domestic conflict that transcended national borders. With great originality and verve, Rothman interrogates a range of topics such as the domestic slave trade, identity politics, mobility, slave marriages, and international politics.
Rose Herera was born in Pointe Coupée Parish in Louisiana. Sugar planter Octave LeBlanc brought Rose to New Orleans in 1853 to work as a domestic slave when he sold his plantation and moved to New Orleans (30). In 1861, James DeHart, a New Orleans dentist, purchased Rose, who had been sold three times since her arrival in New Orleans. At the time DeHart purchased Rose, she had two children: Ernest (four) and Marie (two). Following Rose's sale to DeHart, she gave birth to Josephine (60). Rose's husband and the father of her children, George Herera was a free man of colour who worked as a painter in New Orleans with his father (61). According to Rose, their marriage took place at the Cathedral in New Orleans in 1859 or 1860. Between 1857 and 1864, Rose and George had five children together (61). [End Page 613]
The Union capture of New Orleans in 1862 led James DeHart to cast his fortunes in Cuba. DeHart arrived in Havana, Cuba in November of 1862 and set up his dental practice. His wife Mary DeHart remained in New Orleans with Rose and her children but had plans to join him. Rose Herera and her children were valuable to Mary DeHart: "Herera's labor relieved Mary DeHart of the burdens of housework and if the DeHart's needed money, Rose's children could be hired out or sold" (101). Rose Herera did not want to go to Havana. She made this clear when she petitioned the government for the arrest of Mary DeHart and the return of her children (102). According to Rothman, "as slavery fell apart in New Orleans, Herera dared to assert her own identity as something other than her owner's property and servant" (102). She was a wife, a daughter, and a friend: "These human ties of family and community endured within slavery and emerged as slavery receded" (102).
Scholars of slavery and emancipation will find this study essential to delineating the efforts of slave owners to hold on to their property as slavery collapsed during the Civil War. Rose's story underscores the "destructive impact of the Civil War on enslaved people who were uprooted from their homes and severed from their families" (188–89). This study emphasizes the critical role played by African American women in transforming the meaning of freedom in the wartime and postwar South.