Close
Close

Wendy Brandmark

Wendy Brandmark is an American who writes and lives in London.

Small Bodies

Wendy Brandmark, 5 August 1993

In Theory of War, Joan Brady reveals a little-known piece of American history that has dominated her own life. In the chaos after the Civil War, white children, the sons and daughters of impoverished widows, of ragged soldiers, were sold into virtual slavery. Black slaves – who had been expensive – had just been liberated. These white children, ‘a crop of kids nobody wanted’, could be bought cheaply, with few questions asked. Jonathan Carrick is probably not more than four years old, a chatty, active, bright-eyed little boy, when he is sold to Alvah Stokes, a struggling tobacco farmer, a man brutal but shrewd. Alvah beats him into silence, denies him an education and forces him to work from dawn to dusk in the tobacco fields. When Jonathan tries to escape, the local shopkeeper who had arranged the sale gives him some advice: ‘Grow up fast.’ No one in the town can do anything to stop the family’s abuse of the boy. To Alvah’s son George, Jonathan is no better than a cow or a shipment of tobacco: ‘You ain’t even human. Never will be. Your pa sold you. My pa bought you. You’re a commodity.’’

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences