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The Boston Globe

Ideas

The secret writing of American slaves

Through rare diaries and letters, a portrait of ordinary life in captivity

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Adam Plummer kept a simple diary. In a small, leather-bound book, the Maryland resident noted major life events, such as his marriage to Emily Plummer in 1841 and the births of their nine children; recorded his payments and receipts; and listed the things he owned, like a mirror and a “blue flowered suger bole.”

But Adam Plummer was a slave, and so he also wrote about events that, to a modern reader, seem far less mundane. Again and again in his diary, he struggled to detail how his family had been torn apart. On one page, he managed to write only the following in a shaky hand: “November 25 Day 1851 Emily Plummer and five Childrens who whous sold publick.”

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