Behind the scenes, or, Thirty years a slave and four years in the White House. By: Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907).: (autobiography former slave in the White House )

Behind the scenes, or, Thirty years a slave and four years in the White House. By: Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907).: (autobiography former slave in the White House )

by Elizabeth Keckley

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Overview

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (sometimes spelled Keckly; February 1818 - May 1907) was a former slave who became a successful seamstress, civil activist, and author in Washington, DC. She was best known as the personal modiste and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady. Keckley had moved to Washington in 1860 after buying her freedom and that of her son in St. Louis. She created an independent business in the capital based on clients who were the wives of the government elite. Among them were Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis; and Mary Anna Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee.
After the American Civil War, Keckley wrote and published an autobiography, Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868). It was both a slave narrative and a portrait of the First Family, especially Mary Todd Lincoln, and is considered controversial for breaking privacy about them. It was also her claim as a businesswoman to be part of the new mixed-race, educated middle-class that was visible among the leadership of the black community.Keckley's relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln, the President's wife, was notable for its personal quality and intimacy, as well as its endurance over time.
Early life
Elizabeth Keckley was born a slave in February 1818, in Dinwiddie County Court House, Dinwiddie, Virginia, just south of Petersburg. Her mother Agnes was a house slave owned by Armistead and Mary Burwell. "Aggy" was a "house slave" as she had learned to read and write, although this was illegal for slaves. Agnes did not tell Keckley her father's true identity until on her own deathbed, although it was "obvious" by Elizabeth's appearance that he was white. Elizabeth's biological father, revealed to her late in life, was Agnes' master Armistead Burwell, a planter and colonel in the War of 1812.
The nature of the relationship between Agnes and Burwell is unknown. He permitted Agnes to marry George Pleasant Hobbs, a literate slave who lived and worked at a neighbor's home during Elizabeth's early childhood. When his owner decided to move far away, Hobbs was taken away from his family. Although they were never reunited, they corresponded for many years. As an adult, Elizabeth Keckley noted "the most precious mementoes of my existence are the faded old letters that he wrote, full of love, and always hoping that the future would bring brighter days."Keckley lived in the Burwell house with her mother and began official duties at age 4. As the Burwells had four children under age 10, Mary assigned Elizabeth to be the nursemaid for their infant Elizabeth Margaret. Forced into major responsibility as a young child, Keckley was subject to punishment for failing to care properly for the baby. One day she accidentally tipped the cradle over too far, and the infant rolled onto the floor. Mary Burwell beat her severely.At age 14, in 1832, Keckley was sent to live "on generous loan" with the eldest Burwell son Robert in Chesterfield County, Virginia, near Petersburg, when he married Margaret Anna Robertson. Unfortunately, the new bride expressed contempt for Elizabeth and made home life uncomfortable for her for the next four years. The family moved to Hillsborough, North Carolina, where Robert was a minister and teacher at the Burwell School. Keckley mentioned that Margaret seemed "desirous to wreak vengeance" upon her. Keckley wrote letters to her mother during her time there.

Margaret enlisted neighbor William J. Bingham to help subdue the girl's "stubborn pride". When Keckley was 18, Bingham called her to his quarters and ordered her to undress so that he could beat her. Keckley refused, saying she was fully grown, and "you shall not whip me unless you prove the stronger. Nobody has a right to whip me but my own master, and nobody shall do so if I can prevent it."...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781975746377
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 08/24/2017
Pages: 100
Sales rank: 165,687
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.21(d)

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Behind the Scenes or, Thirty years a slave, and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
mellis More than 1 year ago
Interesting story of the life of a freed slave. Tells us things we would not know on how people lived and worked in 1800s. Did not know they could buy themselves out of slavery. Gave a look at how Mrs. Lincoln reacted to the death of her husband. All very interesting and a learning.