Yates became interested in the life of Amos Fortune when she noticed that his and Violet’s tombstones were the same height; traditionally, the man’s would be higher. Considering this to be an unusual expression of equality, she became curious about the man and conducted an extensive search for documents relating to him. The limited evidence available provided a bare outline of Fortune’s life. Yates chose to flesh out this outline with events, thoughts, and dialogue that indicate a deep respect for the man and his accomplishments but that create an impression of an almost too saintly man.
In the context of historical accounts of the treatment of slaves, Fortune was indeed fortunate to be sold in New England and to be bought by a Quaker family (although the book glosses over the fact that Quakers were supposed to be opposed to slavery). Fortune was never treated in a cruel manner either by Copeland or by Richardson. Each permitted him a certain amount of liberty and paid a small amount for his work which, as stated, was much less than they would have paid a white man. Eventually, Fortune did achieve the status of a free man, which most slaves were not able to attain.
In spite of these “fortunate” aspects of his life, however, Fortune was still a slave. The theme of attaining freedom and liberty from enslavement runs throughout the book. Nevertheless, Fortune himself refused manumission when the Copelands spoke to him of it because of the treatment and segregation afforded former slaves. When Caleb died before fulfilling the promise of granting his freedom, Fortune gracefully accepted his sale to Ichabod Richardson. Richardson taught Fortune the tannery trade and treated him well, but after twenty-three years of labor, Richardson obligated Fortune to work for four more years to pay for his freedom. Fortune agreed to this commitment without expressing resentment. It was not until the death of Ichabod that Mrs. Richardson remitted the debt and...
(The entire section is 805 words.)