Behind the Freedman's Story

Who was "E.K."? Did William Parker really write The Freedman's Story? The story behind the story of escaped slave and militant black activist William Parker

Introduced by a mysterious editor (signing his name only as "E.K." and claiming to have received the manuscript "with the request that I would revise it for publication") the Freedman's Story has always been dogged by questions of authorship.

In the 1890s, two historians (M.G. McDougall and W.H. Siebert) speculated that Parker's story had in fact been written by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a frequent Atlantic contributor and antislavery activist. But correspondence in 1899 between Higginson and a journalist named W.U. Hensel who was working on an account of the Christiana Riot, makes clear that Higginson in fact knew few details about the event.

Later evidence suggests that the narrative represents a group effort by four black men at the office of The Provincial Freeman (a black newspaper based in Chatham, Canada), working closely with Parker to document his story. Diary entries by The Provincial Freeman's co-editor and publisher, Israel D. Shadd, make reference to work on the piece, along with the names of his co-authors. "These and other details," writes historian Jonathan Katz in his book Resistance at Christiana, "indicate that William Parker's story may be safely accepted as the authentic narrative of an early militant black leader."

As for "E.K.," the editor who served as an intermediary with the Atlantic, those initials are believed to have stood for "Edmund Kirke," the pen name of frequent Atlantic contributor and pro-Union activist James Gilmore.

Presented by

Sage Stossel is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and draws the cartoon feature "Sage, Ink." She is author/illustrator of the graphic novel Starling, and of the children's books  On the Loose in Boston and On the Loose in Washington, DC. More

On Election Day in 1996, launched a weekly editorial cartoon feature drawn by Sage Stossel and named (aptly enough) "Sage, Ink." Since then, Stossel's whimsical work has been featured by the New York Times Week in Review, CNN Headline News, Cartoon Arts International/The New York Times Syndicate, The Boston Globe, Nieman Reports, Editorial Humor, The Provincetown Banner (for which she received a 2009 New England Press Association Award), and elsewhere. Her work has also been included in Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year, (2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010 editions) and Attack of the Political Cartoonists. Her children's book, On the Loose in Boston, was published in June 2009.

Sage Stossel grew up in a suburb of Boston and attended Harvard University, where she majored in English and American Literature and Languages and did a weekly cartoon strip about college life, called "Jody," for the Harvard Crimson. From 2004 to 2007, she served as Books Editor of the Radcliffe Quarterly

After college she took what was intended to be a temporary summer position securing electronic rights to articles from The Atlantic's archive for use online. Intrigued by The Atlantic's rich history and the creative possibilities in helping to launch a digital edition of the magazine on the Web, she soon joined The Atlantic full time. As the site's former executive editor, she was involved in everything from contributing reviews, author interviews, and illustrations, to hosting message boards and producing a digital edition of The Atlantic for the Web.

Stossel lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In