About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War

Greetings from the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to this virtual book talk with William G. Thomas III, author of A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War.

Before we begin, though, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs you can view on our YouTube channel.

On Friday, December 4, at 3 p.m., Grant S. Quertermous will tell us about his new book, A Georgetown Life: The Reminiscences of Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon. Quertermous sheds light on life in the oldest neighborhood in the nation's capital through the story of Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon, who lived at Tudor Place for over 90 years.

And on Monday, December 7, at noon, author Larry Tye charts the legacy of Joe McCarthy in his new book, Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. Joining Larry Tye for the discussion will be Don Ritchie, former Senate Historian.

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To do in-depth research in archives is to embark on a sort of treasure hunt. Instead of gold or gems, we search for bits of information—pieces of evidence that, when strung together, fill out the story of a person, a family, a community.

To write A Question of Freedom, William Thomas has mined the riches of court records to draw out a fascinating and enlightening chronicle of a 70-year fight for liberty. Five generations of enslaved families in Prince George’s County, Maryland, brought suit after suit against a powerful circle of slaveholders, taking their cause all the way to the Supreme Court.

The records have preserved the memory of their fight for justice, and among the billions of pages within the National Archives—and other research institutions—are countless more stories to be told.

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William G. Thomas III is the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Nebraska. He was co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia.

He is a Lincoln Prize laureate in 2001 for the Valley of the Shadow project with Edward Ayers and Anne Rubin, and with them was awarded the James Harvey Robinson Prize from the American Historical Association in recognition of the project as an outstanding contribution to the teaching of history.

At the University of Nebraska, he has been the recipient of several fellowships and grants, and in 2013 he was appointed the American Historical Association member of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives.

Thomas's current research focuses on The History Harvest, a digital history project aimed at digitizing the nation's family and community history.

Now let’s hear from Professor Thomas. Thank you for joining us today.