John Quincy Adams, “Narrative of the Life of John Quincy Adams, When in Slavery, and Now as a Freeman” (Harrisburg, PA: Sieg, Printer and Stationer, 1872). Available free via Google Books.
In the first eight issues of this newsletter MCWI has taken the opportunity to highlight some of the most recent scholarship on Civil War era history. In 2019 MCWI has decided to highlight older, lesser-known publications which offer tremendous insight into the era in the Shenandoah Valley.
One of the great challenges in researching or writing about the experiences of the Shenandoah Valley’s African Americans during the Civil War era is the paucity of source material. There are myriad ways historians can gain insight into the African American experience, but letters, diaries, and narratives are scarce. While narratives of Valley slaves are indeed rare, some do exist. While many might be familiar with Bethany Veney’s “The Narrative of Bethany Veney: A Slave Woman” first published in 1889, another Shenandoah Valley slave published a narrative seventeen years prior—John Quincy Adams.
Born a slave in Frederick County, Virginia, Adams’ narrative offers enormous insight into the slave trade in Winchester and Frederick County, the treatment of slaves, and the emotional toll of having siblings sold away from the family. Additionally, Adams’ narrative offers vivid accounts of slave life in Frederick County, until he fled in 1862, and perspectives on what freedom meant to him and other African Americans.
Adams ended up settling in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he became an ordained minister and, as his obituary in 1917 stated, “a conspicuous figure for years on Harrisburg’s streets.” For anyone interested in the experiences of the Shenandoah Valley’s African Americans Adams “Narrative” is a treasured resource.