Sunday, January 5, 2014

Amos Fortune Free Man - 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 1

During 2014, I am doing the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I went onto Good Reads and compiled a list of books that I wanted to read. Some were based on lists I used within the site, and others were from a collection of books that I wanted to read that I noted on Pinterest.

For the challenge, I thought it would be good to further challenge myself to do to the A to Z challenge - where I would read books in alphabetical order. For example, during the first week I would read a book with a title that begins with the letter "A" (but not a filler word like a, an, or and).

Since there are 52 weeks and 26 letters in the alphabet, I'm going to read two books that begin with the letter "A" during the first two weeks. Then, I'll move onto the letter "B" for weeks 3 and 4, and so on.

For the most part, it was easy to compile a list. The only letters that provided a slight challenge were J, K, Q, X, Y, and Z. However, with some searching, there are at least two books from which to choose from and/or read for the upcoming year.

This week I chose to read Amos Fortune Free Man aloud to my daughters as part of their homeschooling. Last year we began reading the books that have received the Newbery Medal. Amos Fortune received this award in 1951 (it was published in 1950).

The story tells of the life of a real man named Amos Fortune. He was born the son of a king in Africa and named At-mun. Taken by slave traders to New England, he was fortunate to have kind owners who didn't subject Amos to the cruel treatment that many slaves suffered. His second owner gave him the opportunity to purchase his own freedom.

He didn't seem like he was in a rush to gain his own freedom because he saw other slaves gain their freedom and then not use their lives for good. He rightly observes, "It does a man a man no good to be free until he learns how to live."

Later in his life, Amos bought the freedom of two wives who proceeded him in death and a third wife and her daughter. He did this in honor - and in the memory of - his younger sister who was disabled and left behind in Africa. For years he searched the New England docks in an effort to find her. Yet, interestingly, he was searching for a child - not a teenager, adult, or older woman - all stages of life that Amos went through, except as a man.

Despite the horrors of captivity, the cramped voyage in chains, and being considered the legal property of different masters, Amos never lost his dream of directing his own destiny or his sense of personal dignity.

In 1781, Amos Fortune moved to Jaffrey to establish himself as a tanner. His first home and tannery were at the foot of a hill west of what is now the Jaffrey Center Common on land set aside for a yet-to-be-named minister. A year later, Laban Ainsworth was called to be Jaffrey's first minister. Fortune remained on the property and the two men appear to have become friends.

By being frugal and saving, he was able to purchase 25 acres at another location on Tyler Brook in 1789.

Amos Fortune's home and barn.

The house and barn which he built are still standing in their original location. The road the house is on is now called Amos Fortune Road.

Amos Fortune's home and barn have, unfortunately, fallen into disrepair.
This picture was taken in 2012. 

Fortune's tannery was prosperous. He took on at least two apprentices and served clients in Massachusetts in addition to nearby New Hampshire towns. He became a full member of the First Church and helped found the Jaffrey Social Library.

Clearly, Amos Fortune set an example of responsibility and honesty; and left a legacy of interracial cooperation and peace.  Despite barriers that limited his life because of his skin color, Amos did what he could to improve the life for all people in his New Hampshire community. leaving bequests to the church and school when he died in 1801

Gravestones for Amos and his wife.

At 181 pages, this is an easy-to-read book - either to oneself or aloud. Sophia and Olivia (ages 13 and 10) both found the book interesting as did I. It would be one that I would recommend for those interested in historical biographies, historical fiction, black history, multicultural studies, or positive role models.

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