In this novel set in antebellum America, the Garies -- a white southerner, his mulatto slave-turned-wife, and their two children -- have moved to Philadelphia from Georgia.
"And how do you like your house?' asked Mrs. Stevens; it is on the same plan as ours, and we find ours very convenient. They both formerly belonged to Walters... Do you intend to buy?' It is very probable that we shall, if we continue to like Philadelphia, ' answered Mr. Garie. I'm delighted to hear that, ' rejoined she -- ... ever since Mr. Stevens purchased our house we have been tormented with the suspicion that Walters would put a family of niggers in his.' Mr. Garie here interrupted her by making some remark quite foreign to the subject, with the intention, no doubt, of drawing her off this topic. The attempt was, however, an utter failure, for she continued -- I think all those that are not slaves ought to be sent out of the country back to Africa, where they belong: they are, without exception, the most ignorant, idle, miserable set I ever saw.' I think, ' said Mr. Garie, I can show you at least one exception...'" -- from The Garies and Their Friends
Originally published in London in 1857, The Garies and Their Friends was the second novel published by an African American and the first to chronicle the experience of free blacks in the pre-Civil War northeast. The novel anticipates themes that were to become important in later African American fiction, including miscegenation and "passing," and tells the story of the Garies and their friends, the Ellises, a "highly respectable and industrious coloured family."
"It is remarkable that, even as the study of African American literature and culture has become central to any number of projects within American intellectual life, so little attention has been given a work as significant as Frank J. Webb's The Garies and Their Friends." -- from the 1997 introduction by Robert Reid-Pharr
That this American classic does not occupy a prominent place in the literary canon is not really a mystery, though it is a shame. Its subject is not the almost invisible flaw in a golden bowl carved from pristine crystal, but the visible fracture in our American ideal; its scarlet letter is the color of our skin. -- Jamaica Kincaid * O The Oprah Magazine *