Tangled Journeys: One Family’s Story and the Making of American History

Lecture Description

In 1830 Richard Walpole Cogdell, a Charleston husband, father, and bank clerk, purchased a fifteen-year-old enslaved girl, Sarah Martha Sanders. Until her death in 1850, she bore nine of his children, five of whom reached adulthood. In 1857, this all-too-ordinary story took an extraordinary turn, when Cogdell and his enslaved children moved to Philadelphia, where he bought them a house, and where they became, virtually overnight, part of the African American middle class. An ambitious historical narrative about the Sanders family, Tangled Journeys tells a multi-generational, multi-racial story that is both traumatic and prosaic. At the same time, through what Ginzberg calls “whispers” — questions that the available evidence cannot answer but that force us to confront what was unseen, unheard, and undocumented— the author invites readers into the process of American history-making, the evidence historians encounter and interpret, and how stretching those sources can reshape our understanding of the past.


African American Slavery

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