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Juliet E.K. Walker, Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1983).

Walker wrote this biography of an ancestor who is a remarkable figure in American history. Born a slave, Free Frank used his free time on evenings and Sundays to extract saltpeter from guano in Kentucky, as well as surveying land, and made enough money to first buy his wife out of slavery, then, with her income as a freewoman, to buy himself out of slavery. His industry, sterling character, and persistence eventually allowed him to become wealthy as a real estate developer on the Illinois frontier. He bought all of his children out of slavery, and upon his death, all of his grandchildren as well. And he did it all without ever learning to write.

While certainly atypical, he is a reminder that even though the legal system was set up to the detriment of blacks throughout the slave states, it was possible for a slave with a careless or sympathetic master to become free -- and once free, to become wealthy. This is an inspiring story. Just don't read this one book and assume that you know everything you need to know about American slavery. This is the encouraging reminder that even a bigoted legal system wasn't enough to keep a hard worker from moving ahead in the relatively free market of the American frontier.

Clayton's rating: well-written overall -- a little choppy in places.  Interesting enough and inspirational enough that I think it would be appreciated by a broad audience.