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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

A Freed Slave's Journey From South Carolina To Vermont

Samel Williams and grandson Walter G. McClain, who donated this photo to the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative.
The McClain Family
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Samel Williams and grandson Walter G. McClain, who donated this photo to the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative.

Samuel Williams was just a boy when he was liberated from slavery in South Carolina. He eventually made his way to Springfield, Vermont, where he raised a family and wrote a pseudonymous memoir, giving voice to his early life in slavery and the struggles of starting over. Susanna Ashton, Chair of the English Department at Clemson University in South Carolina, specializes in American slave narratives and has a new exhibit online looking into Williams' work and the unique perspective his memoir offers.

Ashton discusses Williams' memoir detailing his life not on a plantation, but in urban Charleston, South Carolina. The memoir also covers Williams' time in service of a Confederate officer, a task that Ashton calls "a horrifyingly dangerous prospect."

Williams followed job prospects to Vermont, where he wrote about topics ranging from the bountiful food—especially pie—he found in New England and the benefits of the integrated school system.

Broadcast live on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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