In 1793 James F. Brown was born a slave, and in 1868 he died a free man. At age 34 he ran away from his native Maryland to pass the remainder of his life as a gardener to a wealthy family in the Hudson Valley. Two years after his escape and manumission, he began a diary which he kept until his death. In Freedom’s Gardener, Myra B. Young Armstead uses the apparently small and domestic details of Brown’s diaries to construct a bigger story about the transition from slavery to freedom. In this first detailed historical study of Brown’s diaries, Armstead utilizes Brown’s life to illuminate the concept of freedom as it developed in the United States in the early national and antebellum years. That Brown, an African American and former slave, serves as such a case study underscores the potential of American citizenship during his lifetime.
"Armstead explores the meaning of northern African American identity through her deft decoding of a ten-volume diary left by James F. Brown... Recommended for historians of antebellum America or the social aspects of horticulture and for those interested in historical diaries. Incipient researchers will learn the differences among term, life, and wage slaves and much else." Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Libray Journal, January 2012 "With this meticulously sourced and carefully reasoned portrait, Armstead reclaims an outstanding American who helped freedom grow." Booklist "This in-depth study of the life of an African American slave turned master gardener is an enlightening examination of a period of American history that seems to have slipped from public scrutiny in recent years." ChicagoBotanic.org "Diaries are a great resource for historians and biographers, a truism reinforced by Freedom's Gardener... His efforts 'signal that James Brown believed that his life as a former slave and free African American living in the Hudson Valley meant something.' Contemporary readers will certainly agree." Sam Roberts, New York Times, March 2012