Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Water is Wide




I found myself searching through the new titles at amazon for something interesting to read in the way of history and fell across this title, By the Rivers of Water, which tells the story of a Southern missionary couple who chose to go to West Africa in the 1830s to spread the message.  This would have been at the dawn of the Second Great Awakening.

The twist is that the couple apparently viewed the Africans as equals and made every effort to learn their language and culture, while still struggling with their own family legacy at home.  They owned slaves by inheritance and couldn't quite bring themselves to free them, feeling that the freed slaves would be cast adrift and unable to fend for themselves.

Erskine Clark probes this moral dilemma and others in a book that seems to have garnered surprisingly little attention, especially since Clark had previously won the prestigious Bancroft Prize for Dwelling Place, a meticulous study of antebellum Georgian plantation life.    Clark moves back and forth across the Atlantic, following the Wilsons as tensions reach a boiling point in the United States.

Hard to say whether their missionary work was a success or not based on the review, but John Wilson apparently was an active speaker and continued to help raise money for foreign missions all the way up to 1884 when he and his wife became too infirmed to travel.  Looks like it would be a very interesting read.

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