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Snow-Storm in August

Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835

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A gripping narrative history of the explosive events that drew together Francis Scott Key, Andrew Jackson, and an 18-year-old slave on trial for attempted murder.

In 1835, the city of Washington pulsed with change. As newly freed African Americans from the South poured in, free blacks outnumbered slaves for the first time. Radical notions of abolishing slavery circulated on the city's streets, and white residents were forced to confront new ideas of what the nation's future might look like.

On the night of August 4th, Arthur Bowen, an eighteen-year-old slave, stumbled into the bedroom where his owner, Anna Thornton, slept. He had an ax in the crook of his arm. An alarm was raised, and he ran away. Word of the incident spread rapidly, and within days, Washington's first race riot exploded, as whites fearing a slave rebellion attacked the property of the free blacks. Residents dubbed the event the “Snow-Storm," in reference to the central role of Beverly Snow, a flamboyant former slave turned successful restaurateur, who became the target of the mob's rage.

In the wake of the riot came two sensational criminal trials that gripped the city. Prosecuting both cases was none other than Francis Scott Key, a politically ambitious attorney famous for writing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” who few now remember served as the city's district attorney for eight years. Key defended slavery until the twilight's last gleaming, and pandered to racial fears by seeking capital punishment for Arthur Bowen. But in a surprise twist his prosecution was thwarted by Arthur's ostensible victim, Anna Thornton, a respected socialite who sought the help of President Andrew Jackson.

Ranging beyond the familiar confines of the White House and the Capitol, Snow-Storm in August delivers readers into an unknown chapter of American history with a textured and absorbing account of the racial secrets and contradictions that coursed beneath the freewheeling capital of a rising world power.

"Snow-Storm in August is the sort of book I most love to read: history so fresh it feels alive, yet introducing me to a time and place that I had little known or utterly misunderstood. After reading Jefferson Morley's vibrant account, one can never hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner' the same way again."
—David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 16, 2012 – On August 4, 1835, young slave Arthur Bowen, inebriated and angry after a night of conversation with other slaves seeking to end slavery, entered the bedroom of his sleeping owner, Anna Thornton, carrying an ax. Awakened and fearing Bowen intended to kill her, she raised an alarm. While passions were already running high in Washington, D.C., fueled by fears of a possible slave insurrection and unsettled feelings about slavery itself, a white mob attacked the highly successful restaurant of Beverly Snow, a free man of mixed race with a loyal following among whites for his sly sense of humor and impeccably cooked feasts. A young attorney, Francis Scott Key, already known for his poem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” prosecuted the Bowen case, and Bowen was sentenced to death. But in a compelling twist of fate, Anna Thornton petitioned for Bowen’s pardon, which President Andrew Jackson granted. In a crackling good tale of the deep impact of race and politics on a young nation struggling to create its identity, Salon Washington correspondent Morley (Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA) boldly and elegantly recreates a moment in time when free black businessmen mingled with their white counterparts while proponents of slavery and abolitionists struggled to co-exist in the nation’s bustling capital. Illus., map.

Customer Reviews

Informative and interesting

While the topic and subject matter is truly interesting, the way it was written makes the flow choppy. I loved the story just not the way it was written.

Snow-Storm in August
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Jul 03, 2012
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 368 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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