Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Family History: Souls for Sale Review

If you are new to this blog, you'll want to know the background information before reading this post.  This miraculous story begins here and here. 



Amazon quickly delivered Souls for Sale, I quickly started reading, and not-so-quickly finished.  Well, I've finished the account of John Frederick Whitehead, grandfather of Michael Whitehead (who was the husband of Ann Showalter, the woman in the photo.)  I will read Johann Carl Buttner's account as well, but wanted to comment on John Frederick's story today. What a fascinating account! 

The synopsis from the back cover of the book: 

"In 1773, John Frederick Whitehead and Johann Carl Buttner, two adolescent Germans, were placed on board the same ship headed to colonial America.  With few options in Germany, each had been recruited by the labor contractors known popularly as soulsellers--men who traded in human cargo.  On arrival in America they were sold to different masters and, years later, each wrote a memoir of his experiences.  These two autobiographies are valuable historical records of immigrant attitudes, perceptions, and goals.   Despite their shared voyage to America and similar condition as servants, their backgrounds and personalities differed.  Their divergent interpretations of their experiences provide rich firsthand insights into the transatlantic migration process, work and opportunity in colonial America, and the fates of former bound servants."

While I appreciated the commentary on historical events: 

"We arrived safe and in a pretty good State of Health at Portsmouth in in England on the third day of June, the following Day being the Birth Day of His Britanic Majesty George the Third which occasioned a great deal of rejoicing and Military Ostentation.  I counted the Streamers and Broad pendants of forty Vessels of the Line, being chiefly second and third rate, which greatly annoyed my Ears with such thunder as soon after attempted to shake the Foundation of Columbia." [footnote: "Columbia, meaning America and the coming of the American Revolution."]

I most enjoyed the earnestness with which he taught life lessons.  John Frederick" Whitehead's purpose in documenting his story was "that my Children might see what their Father underwent when he was, as it were, entering in the Strength of his Youth and that they may also learn what it is to live in the World."  He not only recorded his experiences, but he also recounted experiences of others when he thought that the telling of their tales would serve as a cautionary lesson.  For example, after sharing the story of a man who squandered his inheritance, he said, "I have inserted this short account on purpose that he who rejoiced in the strength of his Youth and ability may take warning by this unhappy Man, who once was no ways inferior to many, as of a good a honourable Family, and giving Vice its full reign, he at last parted with the World a poor and dejected, unlamented, and perhaps forever miserable object."

Though John Frederick Whitehead's journey proved difficult, and he worked as an indentured servant, he maintained a humble, positive attitude throughout his life.  He grew fond of the family who had hired him.  Although he said of the woman of the house, "I must confess that I at that Time took as great a dislike to her as she did to me," he later made the following tribute:

"and as for my Mistress I have to say although [her] natural faculties were high and full of fire Spirit which sometimes, by not keeping strictly on her guard, led her astray so as to not escape censure yet notwithstanding this she was endewed with the excellency of sound reason which enables her for the most part to govern her mental faculties so as to deserve the Name of a worthy Woman and I have no reason otherwise than for to sum up her Character in the following Terms:  an extraordinary kind Friend and Neighbour, willing and able to reach forth her helping Hands, whether by Day or Night, to all that were truly afflicted, whether by poverty or Disease or any accident incident to human Life, an affectionate Wife, as far as ever I have seen, [to] her Husband, my Master, and a tender Mother to her Children and not only an excellent Mistress to me but also a Mother to me and may I honour and revere her so as long as I draw the Breath of Life."

Toward the end of his account, he takes the reader for a walk around his rented property, describing the scenery.  "And although none of those things are my own, yet I rejoice and am truly delighted to see them and by being content to live in that Sphere which Heaven is pleased to place me, I not only enjoy a tranquility of Mind but all the sweets and delights of a rural life." 

I am fortunate to be able to claim John Frederick Whitehead as a relative, distant though we may be.  His humility, desire to do good, and positive outlook stand as an example to me. 

Thankful thought:  Thanks for small events that lead to bigger discoveries. 


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