I am writing to invite you to a book talk and book signing at the Scandinavian Cultural Center, 206 Waltham Street, West Newton, on Monday, November 14, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. Gisli Palsson, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iceland, will be talking about his book, The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan, published this September by the University of Chicago Press.
In the winter of 2015, I received a phone call from Professor Palsson. He told me that he had written a book about one of my ancestors and he was working on an American edition. In revising the book for American publication, he wanted to learn about the American branch of my family.
He told me that my great, great, great grandfather, Hans Jonathan, had been born a slave on the island of St. Croix in 1784. Hans was the son of a house slave on a sugar plantation and a Danish father.
A brief outline of Hans’ journey: When he was 8, his master took him to Copenhagen where he spent his youth and formative years in his master’s household. When he was 18, his widowed mistress wanted to send him back to St. Croix to be sold. After a famous Danish court case in 1802, he was ruled a slave, but before his mistress could follow through on her plan, he escaped to Iceland where he ultimately declared himself a free man. In 1820, he met and married my great, great, great grandmother, Katrin, the daughter of an Icelandic sheep farmer and fisherman. In 1869, their grandson Georg, my great grandfather, and his brother Bjorn went to Denmark to further their educations. While Bjorn returned to Iceland, Georg remained in Denmark. His only son, my grandfather, George Bjorn, brought his family to the United States when my father was three, thus establishing the American branch of the family.
In 2015, through telephone calls and emails (including a draft of the book in English), I learned Hans Jonathan’s story and shared with Professor Palsson the story of my American family. In November, my husband and I, along with our children and two of our grandchildren, joined Professor Palsson, several of my Icelandic relatives, and an Icelandic documentary filmmaker on a trip to St Croix where we visited the places where Hans Jonathan and his mother had lived. Learning about Hans Jonathan and my family history and the trip to St. Croix was extraordinary.
While Professor Palsson’s book tells the story of Hans Jonathan’s remarkable life, it goes well beyond biography. A quotation on the book’s jacket states: Palsson offers a meditation on slavery and race – past and present – raising complex issues involving race, memory, and family. Palsson does not offer easy answers, rather, he pushes readers to ponder these issues on their own. A beautifully written and accessible book. Terri L. Snyder, California State University, Fullerton
The book talk is free, but the Scandinavian Cultural Center encourages registration. Go to scandicenter.org, click on “Events” and scroll to “Author Series: Gisli Palsson.” A place to reserve a ticket is at the bottom of the write-up. I think you will find the book and the book talk interesting. I would love to see you there!
Roberta Dollase(author)/9 November 2016/vea
Newton Free Library
Library website: http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog: https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide: http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net