The escape from bondage of the slave Eliza, infant in tow, is one of the most remarked upon portions of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. I have never read Uncle Tom's Cabin. My first encounter with Eliza came this Friday, while I was on a plane to Nashville.
As it happens Eliza is a historical person, and enslaved woman who escaped, child in tow, from slavery in Kentucky. Her story is brilliantly depicted by Fergus Bordewich in his book Bound For Canaan: The Epic Story of The Underground Railroad, which I have excerpted below. I was in the middle seat as I read about Eliza and it was only with some work that I kept from breaking down on a neighbor's shoulder. All of this to say you should strap yourself in for this one.
On a bitter night in the winter of 1838, a heavy-set black woman picked her way furtively down Tuckahoe Ridge toward the frozen river. She followed the familiar track from the plantation where she was enslaved, careful to keep herself out of sight when she reached the snow-covered flood-plain, moving close to the ground. In her arms, she carried an infant whom she had wrapped in a shawl against the cold air.
She was leaving her other children and a husband behind, hoping that if she was not caught, and if she did not die, she might be able to return for them someday. She had fled abruptly for the same reason as so many other fugitives: a day or two earlier a slave trader had appeared at her master's estate to negotiate her price or that of her child. She knew that she might die crossing the river, but if she did nothing she would die a different kind of death, to be sold away south, and away from her family forever.
In some accounts, the woman begged help from an elderly Scotsman or Englishman who lived near the shore, and who sheltered her until she heard the baying of dogs on her trail. As she ran from his house she grabbed hold of a plank and raced to the river's edge. When the ice was solid, teams of horses could cross it. But there had been a thaw and the ice was rotten, full of air holes and cracks, and the water was running over it, and it was ready to break up.
No one had ventured onto it for the past two days, but she had no choice. Her first step broke though. For a moment she stood paralyzed in freezing water. Then she plunged forward, carrying her baby in one had and the plank in the other. The ice seemed firmer as she ran toward the Ohio shore, but then without warning she broke through again, this time up to her armpits. She pushed the baby of her onto the ice, then levered herself up with the aid of the plank.
Laying the plank across the broken ice, she crept along it until she fell through once more. Again she managed to throw the infant ahead of her before she sank. Crawling back onto the ice, she continued her progress in this fashion until the ice disintegrated beneath her again. This time she sank in only to her knees, and she knew that she was close to the Ohio shore. When she finally touched solid land she collapsed, physically spent.
She was safe for the moment, she thought. But she was not alone. A white man had come up out of the darkness and loomed over her. Had she known who he was she would have recognized him as her worst nightmare. He was a Ripley man named Chancey Shaw, a sometime slave catcher who often prowled the northern bank of the river on the lookout for fugitives. He had watched attentively as the woman made her way across the ice, and he was preparing to seize her when, he later admitted to a local abolitionist, he heard her baby whimper and something unexpectedly moved inside him. Surprising himself, he heard himself tell her, "Woman, you have won your freedom."
Instead of arresting her, he led her, soaked and freezing to the edge of the village. There he pointed to a long flight of steps that ascended a bare hill, at the top of which the rectangle of a farmhouse and a light were visible. He told her to make for the light saying, "No nigger has ever been got back from that house.
The house was famed abolitionist John Rankin, a native Southerner who'd moved to Ohio as the South increasingly became a place where open opposition to slavery became a capitol offense. In Ripley, Ohio, Rankin preached abolition, ran a prolific Underground Railroad station, and waged gunfights with slave-catchers.
This story really wrecked me. And Bordewich has many just like them in his book. The epoch of slavery is, to my mind, the definitive epic poem, the quintessential romance of American history. It may well be the most powerful story of the Enlightenment wars.
I urge you to check out Bordewich's book. it's excellent.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “The Winds of Winter,” the tenth and final episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz discussed new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Millions of men in the prime of their lives are missing from the labor force. Could a big U.S. housing construction project bring them back?
Something is rotten in the U.S. economy. Poor men without a college degree are disappearing from the labor force. The share of prime-age men (ages 25-54) who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the 1970s.
The U.S.’s labor participation rate for this group of men is lower than every country in the OECD except for Israel (an outlier, because of the high number of non-working Orthodox Jewish men) and Italy (an economic omnishambles). Today, one in six prime-age men in America are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether—about 10 million men.
So, this is the 10-million-man question: Where did all these guys go?
According to a report from White House economists released last week, non-working prime-age men skew young, are less likely to be parents, are disproportionately black and less educated, and are concentrated in the South.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
It’s not because they’re inherently harsher leaders than men, but because they often respond to sexism by trying to distance themselves from other women.
There are two dominant cultural ideas about the role women play in helping other women advance at work, and they are seemingly at odds: the Righteous Woman and the Queen Bee.
The Righteous Woman is an ideal, a belief that women have a distinct moral obligation to have one another’s backs. This kind of sentiment is best typified by Madeleine Albright’s now famous quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” The basic idea is that since all women experience sexism, they should be more attuned to the gendered barriers that other women face. In turn, this heightened awareness should lead women to foster alliances and actively support one another. If women don’t help each other, this is an even worse form of betrayal than those committed by men. And hence, the special place in hell reserved for those women.
Girls who start to develop at young ages—as more and more of them are—are at risk for a host of physical and psychological problems.
“I wanted to call the book The New Normal, but everyone around me said no, you can’t!” said Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist and co-author of a book that ended up being called The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls, on Sunday at Spotlight Health, a conference co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “It may be average, but it’s not okay.”
Greenspan is also a co-author of a longitudinal study that looked at around 1,200 girls ages six to eight, and followed them for seven years, from 2004 to 2011, to see when puberty began for them. While puberty in girls is often measured using the onset of their first menstrual period, the first sign is actually breast development—it’s just that first period is easier to measure, because people typically remember it. For breast development, a doctor really has to do an in-person exam. (Puberty onset in boys hasn’t been well-studied, but it doesn’t seem to be following these same patterns.)
The June 23 vote represents a huge popular rebellion against a future in which British people feel increasingly crowded within—and even crowded out of—their own country.
I said goodnight to a gloomy party of Leave-minded Londoners a few minutes after midnight. The paper ballots were still being counted by hand. Only the British overseas territory of Gibraltar had reported final results. Yet the assumption of a Remain victory filled the room—and depressed my hosts. One important journalist had received a detailed briefing earlier that evening of the results of the government’s exit polling: 57 percent for Remain.
The polling industry will be one victim of the Brexit vote. A few days before the vote, I met with a pollster who had departed from the cheap and dirty methods of his peers to perform a much more costly survey for a major financial firm. His results showed a comfortable margin for Remain. Ten days later, anyone who heeded his expensive advice suffered the biggest percentage losses since the 2008 financial crisis.
Shedding pounds is usually a losing battle—research suggests it’s better to just focus on building a healthy lifestyle.
“My own history of yo-yo dieting started when I was 15 and lasted about three decades,” said Sandra Aamodt, a neuroscientist and the author of Why Diets Make Us Fat, on Saturday at Spotlight Health, a conference co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “I lost the same 15 pounds pretty much every year during that same period, and gained it back regular as clockwork.”
This is a classic tale—the diet that doesn’t take, the weight loss that comes right back. The most recent, extreme, highly publicized case was that of the study done on contestants from the reality show The Biggest Loser, most of whom, six years after losing 100 to 200 pounds, had gained most of it back, and had significantly slowed metabolisms.
Patsy Sherman, along with her colleague Sam Smith, discovered Scotchgard more than 50 years ago during a spill while developing a new kind of rubber for jet fuel lines. Her accident revolutionized cleaning and reminded inventors everywhere not to be disappointed if something doesn’t come out the way you expect it to.
Nancy Tomes, author, Remaking the American Patient
In 1848, the chemist Louis Pasteur got a job at a university in French wine country, where he started wondering why wine goes sour. He followed a hunch—it’s because of a microbe—and leapt from there to the hypothesis that microbes make us “sour,” too. Voilà, the germ theory of disease. We get much longer lives, plus better wine (and beer and milk!) in the bargain.
Unexpected discoveries in the quest to cure an extraordinary skeletal condition show how medically relevant rare diseases can be.
When Jeannie Peeper was born in 1958, there was only one thing amiss: her big toes were short and crooked. Doctors fitted her with toe braces and sent her home. Two months later, a bulbous swelling appeared on the back of Peeper’s head. Her parents didn’t know why: she hadn’t hit her head on the side of her crib; she didn’t have an infected scratch. After a few days, the swelling vanished as quickly as it had arrived.
When Peeper’s mother noticed that the baby couldn’t open her mouth as wide as her sisters and brothers, she took her to the first of various doctors, seeking an explanation for her seemingly random assortment of symptoms. Peeper was 4 when the Mayo Clinic confirmed a diagnosis: she had a disorder known as fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP).