Sept 3, 2020
Return and Revolution: A Tale of Two Migrants
In both Memoirs of the Life of Job and The Diary of John Harrower, we hear first-hand (or at least mostly firsthand) accounts of the struggles faced by migrants possessing less than full consent over their passage into America. Between both these stories, we gain two important insights: firstly, we find that even with people who were enslaved, those migrating to the United States rarely stayed in a single place following their arrival. Many slaves moved states, regions, and even entire countries during their lifetime, as was the case with Job. Secondly, in the diary of John Harrower, we see the fact that migrants were often the most honest storytellers when it came to the events transpiring in their naturalized country. Throughout his diary entries, we see him give honest accounts of both the creation of the Continental Congress, as well as the beginnings of the American Revolution itself.
One of the first places we can see this paradigm of movement present is in the story of JOB, as told by Thomas Bluett. In it, we hear first-hand the experiences of Thomas Bluett in meeting and helping return the captured priest to his homeland. More than this, however, we hear many accounts of JOB’s full story, from capture to return, and the infinite bravery he displayed along the way. We hear of how JOB himself was once an active part of the slave-trade, selling captured enemies to nearby slavers. We also hear of JOB’s capture, and how rival tribesmen had beaten and shaved him, before selling him back to the very slave owners he once did business with. Lastly, we hear of JOB’s journey back home, being bounced from Maryland to England before finally returning to his native Bundu. With all of this, we see not only the international scale of the triangular slave trade but also many of the contradictions present within it. While Thomas Bluett and many others may be able to show deep empathy and even compassion to a man like Job, they nonetheless continued to work within a broken system that would have tens-of-thousands more Jobs enslaved by the year’s end.
Obviously, the other sad reality of this story lies in the fact that Job had little to no control over where he stayed prior to his arrival back home. Following a brief escape attempt by Job, he was quickly imprisoned under the grounds of the Fugitive Slave Act. Though he was quickly returned to his plantation and, according to the words of Thomas Bluett, “better accommodated” (doubtful), had this not been the case, Job would likely have been put back up for auction and sold to the highest bidder. In fact, even in England Job was apprehensive about the veracity of Oglethorpe’s claims. He was so apprehensive, in fact, that he sought out a written confirmation of his return and committed many English landmarks to memory in the hopes of proving his stay in England.
While reading the diary of Thomas Beckett, I must admit I was rather surprised to hear such important historical events being referenced. Considering how admittedly anodyne some of the first entries were, I wasn’t expecting much more than a standard indentured servant story. And, for much of the story, that’s exactly what I got. Accounts of the status of his masters, his own living/situation, and even his rise in importance in the household abound throughout most of this piece. Going into Beckett’s May 17th journal, however, we see a significant change. Starting now, with almost every other entry, we see mentions of both the Continental Congress and small military maneuvers taking place within his small town. By July 10th, we hear news that the Continental Congress has officially issued an order declaring the colonies free and independent of Great Britain. Though we almost certainly would have gotten an equally unbiased account of the penultimate years of the war, Beckett, unfortunately, died very suddenly in 1777.