1951 Newbery Medal: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

Amos Fortune, Free Man, by Elizabeth Yates, was published in 1950 by Dutton.

Here is the riveting true story of Amos Fortune, born a price of the At-mun-shi tribe in Africa and abducted by slave traders at the age of fifteen. In Massachusetts, at the age of sixty, he finally bought his own freedom—and then continued on as a free man to become an expert tanner, a loving husband and father, and an active citizen until his death in 1801. But most importantly, he fulfilled his life’s dream by buying the freedom of many other enslaved people.

Rating: 2/5

Amos Fortune, Free Man tells the apparently true story of Amos Fortune, a prominent African-American citizen of New Hampshire. He was born in Africa, brought to America as a slave, purchased his freedom at the age of sixty, and then became a successful tanner. Yates includes excerpts from, presumably, actual historical documents, such as a “freedom paper” signed by Fortune’s owner, as well as the headstone inscriptions of Fortune and his wife. She also includes a list of places and people to thank for her research at the beginning of the novel, so it’s clear that this is a biographical work.

The one thing that really didn’t sit well with me is the tone of the book. I will forgo the apparent oddity of a Quaker, who is against slavery, buying a slave, since I can see not only the intentions behind it, but also the fact that apparently it actually happened. The tone, however, is one that is not so easily dismissible. The Quaker states that he won’t free Amos until Amos is “ready to be free.” Now, I get that mindset is important—perhaps the Quaker didn’t want to free Amos if he thought Amos would immediately go out and do something rash and get himself in trouble. But, still, this Quaker doesn’t even like slavery, so why does he agree to keep a slave? Quakers were historically vehemently against slavery, so it makes no sense.

The Quaker isn’t the only example. Amos himself has moments where he views the people around him in odd ways. And by odd, I mean in ways that don’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps that’s just my modern view imposing itself on a colonial culture, though. I don’t doubt some slaves viewed people as Amos did, but as I’ve said, the tone is just so odd and so hard to reconcile with what I know that it makes this a very difficult book to read.

Since we probably have very little on the real Amos Fortune, it’s hard to say how historically accurate Amos Fortune, Free Man is. I do know it’s likely a difficult book to read today, especially with some of the attitudes and ideas presented in the book. I don’t think it’s too controversial, but it has a tone that is so alien from what people hear today that it can’t help but seem jarring.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Slavery.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2Obiewx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s