This heartwrenching novel tells the story of the slave auction held by Pierce Butler, who needed to sell his "assets" in order to pay off his gambling debts. This auction which was held over the span of three days was the largest slave auction ever held in the United States. History records that Butler owned an estimated 900 slaves. He was married to Fanny Kemble, a British actress who had no idea Butler owned slaves at the time of her marriage.
Butler attempted to dissuade Fanny from coming to Butler Island but eventually she would no longer be put off and was horrified when she saw the conditions of the slaves.
She attempted to intercede for them without success. Unable to reconcile herself to the practice of slavery, Fanny eventually left Pierce and they were divorced. He was able to gain custody of their two daughters.
Lester's novel tells the story of slaves, Mattie and Will, their only child, Emma. There are also several other characters who are part of the story including Rebecca and George who are runaway slaves, Joe who likes Emma, Charles and his wife Winnie and father Sampson. Other characters include several slave owners and businessmen. These are all fictional characters who are used by Lester to bring out the story of the Weeping Time from the various viewpoints of the characters. This is well done, giving the reader a truly realistic perspective on what happened. Lester includes details such as the names and prices real slaves were sold for.
Mattie has been promised by Pierce Butler that he will not sell Emma. However, Emma is dearly beloved by Butler's oldest girl Sarah who has the abolitionist views of her mother and Frances who is more like her father. This bothers Pierce and he eventually breaks his promise with devastating results to himself. The novel presents an exciting and rewarding conclusion following the closing of the auction.
This book is historical fiction at it's finest. Highly recommended.
For further research on this event see
The Weeping Time from the African American Registry
For extensive information on the Weeping time and the Butler plantation: