The matriarch of a remarkable African American family, Sally Thomas went from being a slave on a tobacco plantation, to a "virtually free" slave who ran her own business and purchased one of her sons out of bondage. In Search of the Promised Land offers a vivid portrait of the extended Thomas-Rapier family and of the life of slaves before the Civil War.
Based on family letters as well as an autobiography by one of Thomas' sons, this remarkable piece of detective work follows a singular group as they walk the boundary between slave and free, traveling across the country in search of a "promised land" where African Americans would be treated with respect. Their record of these journeys provides a vivid picture of antebellum America, stretching from New Orleans to St. Louis, from the Overland Trail to the California Gold Rush, and from Civil War battles to steamboat adventures. John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger weave a compelling narrative that illuminates the larger themes of slavery and freedom. To a remarkable degree, this small family experienced the full gamut of slavery, witnessing everything from the breakup of slave families, brutal punishment, and runaways, to miscegenation, insurrection panics, and slave patrols. They also illuminate the hidden lives of " virtually free" slaves, who maintained close relationships with whites, maneuvered within the system, and gained a large measure of autonomy.
The Thomas-Rapiers were keen observers of the human condition. Through the eyes of this exceptional family and the indomitable black woman who held them together, we witness aspects of human bondage otherwise hidden from view.