Amos Fortune, Free Man


Elizabeth Yates

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Amos Fortune, Free Man Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Elizabeth Yates's Amos Fortune, Free Man. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Elizabeth Yates

Elizabeth Yates was born in Buffalo, New York, in late 1905. She was the second youngest of her parents’ eight children. After completing her education, she moved to New York City, where she began a career in journalism. Subsequently, she spent 10 years living in England with her husband before the couple returned to the United States and settled in New Hampshire. Her first novel was published in 1983, and she went on to write more than 50 books for children and adults. Over the course of her career, she won numerous awards, including the Newberry Medal for Amos Fortune, Free Man. In addition to her career as a writer, she was an active environmentalist who worked to preserve the wild lands in the New Hampshire mountains prior to her death in 2001.
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Historical Context of Amos Fortune, Free Man

Amos Fortune’s life coincides with the Transatlantic Slave Trade that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries. Imperialist and colonialist European nations—especially the Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch—captured and kidnapped people from the west coast of Africa and transported them to colonial holdings in North, Central, and South America. Here, they were enslaved by primarily white landowners on plantations and farms. It is estimated that nearly 12.5 million people from Africa made the “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic Ocean. Modern research suggests that at least two million people lost their lives on this trip, in which they were crammed aboard ships in horrific conditions and treated inhumanely. People who survived were, like Amos, sold in public auctions and forced to provide free or underpaid labor for their enslavers—usually for the rest of their lives. Amos dies in 1801, the same year in which the United States Congress passed legislation forbidding any further importation of enslaved people from Africa, effectively ending the United States’ involvement in the international slave trade. But it wasn’t until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that the practice of slavery became illegal in the United States. When Amos arrives in Boston, Massachusetts is still a British colony. By the time Amos gains his freedom, the colonies have rebelled against what they believe to be unfair interference from the British government and declared their independence from Britain. His story thus plays out against the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War, which began in April 1775 and lasted until 1783.

Other Books Related to Amos Fortune, Free Man

Amos Fortune, Free Man is a children’s novel set during the American Revolutionary War era. Its consideration of freedom and exploration of indentured servitude overlap to a degree with Esther Forbes’ 1943 Johnny Tremain, which follows the life of a teenaged silversmith’s apprentice living in Boston in the years leading up to the war. Amos’s life also inspired an adult novel, Amos Fortune’s Choice, written by F. Alexander Magoun and published in 1964. Like Yates, Magoun imaginatively fills in the gaps that exist in the official record of Fortune’s life, although he spins a very different story of the decades between Fortune’s arrival in North American and his manumission. Although his experience post-dates Fortune’s by about a century, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass offers readers a firsthand glimpse of enslavement and its horrors. Like Fortune in Yates’s book, Douglass received an education in his enslavers’ home, which proved to be the path towards his freedom. But unlike Fortune in Yates’s book, Douglass was a fiery abolitionist who found no redeeming qualities in the practice of slavery. Finally, Amos Fortune understands aspects of his life through the Bible stories he’s taught in the Copeland home, especially from the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Joshua.
Key Facts about Amos Fortune, Free Man
  • Full Title: Amos Fortune, Free Man
  • When Written: Mid-20th century
  • Where Written: United States
  • When Published: 1950
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Middle-Grade Novel, Historical Fiction, Fictional Biography
  • Setting: Africa, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire in the 18th century
  • Climax: Amos opens his own tannery in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for Amos Fortune, Free Man

Snappy Dresser. In the novel, Amos Fortune trades a cobbler for a set of nice clothes to wear to his third wedding. Yates draws inspiration for this detail from Fortune’s will, which records details about his wardrobe. At the time of his death, it included one pair of black velvet breeches, four velvet jackets of various colors, silver shoe buckles, and a silver watch.

Exclusive Club. In the 18th century, while almost anyone could attend church, membership was much more exclusive. To become a member of the church in Woburn and later in Jaffrey, Amos would have had to pass a sort of membership test, proving his knowledge of scripture, dogma, and religious theory first.