This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book's main themes. This book offers an account of the life of James Francis Brown (1793–1868) based on the diary he kept from 1829 to 1866. What makes Brown's story compelling is that although he was born a slave in Maryland, he was able to forge a new and successful life for himself in upstate New York as a master gardener for the Verplancks, a wealthy white family in rural upstate New York. Brown lived there in a house he owned with his wife, Julia, whose freedom he purchased from her Maryland slaveowner. The present biography is inspired by the conviction that the most meaningful aspects of his life have been hidden in plain view for too long, and that it was his intention that they be uncovered. Brown's life is a palimpsest perceived here against the backdrop of national developments. For sure, it substantiates and expands extant knowledge about slavery, fugitive slaves, and free blacks in the Hudson Valley and in the North. In so doing, it confirms a picture of both black agency and quintessential American self-invention.
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