J. William Harris is professor of history, emeritus, at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author or editor of seven books focusing on U.S. southern and African American history. Deep Souths: Delta, Piedmont, and Sea Island Society in the Age of Segregation (2001) was a cowinner of the OAH James A. Rawley Prize, the winner of the Agricultural History Society's Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Prize, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His book, The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty (2009), was named one of the Library Journal's best nonfiction books of the year. He has held Fulbright professorships in Italy and the Netherlands and fellowships at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University and the National Humanities Center. His current project is The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: A History of the American South since the Civil War.
Thomas Jeremiah was probably the wealthiest free Black man in the British North American colonies in 1775. Some of his wealth was in enslaved people. He was also hanged by American patriots in Charleston, allegedly for trying to foment a slave insurrection on behalf of the British. The story of Thomas Jeremiah gives us a window into the dramatic entanglements of race, slavery, and liberty in the era of the American founding.