"The Known World" is an account of the life of Henry Townsend, a black slave owner in Virginia. It begins with his death and tells his story through flashbacks. He is born into slavery, but his father, a master wood worker, manages to buy freedom for himself and eventually the rest of his family. While still enslaved, Henry becomes a favorite of his white master. After he is freed and gets some land, he is persuaded to get some slaves of his own. He builds a house and marries, and his lands prosper, but when he dies at a young age his estate begins to fall apart. His wife cannot handle the slaves, and some run off before she can manage to regain control.
The novel focuses on the relationships between free blacks, slaves and the white community.
This report prepared by Jack Goodstein
Jones writes about the fictional Virginia county of Manchester and peoples it with a host of vivid characters and their interrelationships. When Henry Townsend bought his freedom from slavery, he followed in the footsteps of his mentor, white slave-owner, William Robbins. Henry runs a plantation of over 30 slaves, an irony that is not lost on the slaves themselves nor on Henry's father, Augustus, whose principled stand against slaveholding by free blacks costs him very dearly. When Henry dies, his wife is unable to cope with her grief and life for his slaves is turned on its ear as slaves run away, an ambitious overseer plots to fill Henry's shoes, and slave patrollers descend with a vicious brutality.
This report prepared by Jennifer Martin-Romme