By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey. By Erskine Clarke. (New York: Basic Books, 2013. Pp. 449. Cloth, $29.99.) In November 1834, two South Carolina missionaries and several African American settlers arrived in Cape Palmas, a Liberian colony situated in West Africa on a beautiful stretch of land that extends nearly a mile into the Atlantic Ocean. Leighton and Jane Wilson were Presbyterian missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to spread Christianity to the Grebo people, the chief inhabitants of nearby Gbenelu, also known as Big Town. The Grebo, known for trade in rice, palm oil, chicken, and fish, also had experienced the active Spanish and Portuguese slave trade. The problem of slavery is a chief theme that historian Erskine Clarke uses to connect Cape Palmas and the Grebo of Big Town to the nineteenth-century South Carolina low country. By the Rivers of Water explores slavery, abolition, and colonization through the experiences of a South Carolina slave-owning couple who migrated across the Atlantic to mission in Liberia. Clarke offers a superbly researched and engagingly written history of the Wilsons' daring adventures and idealistic dreams in connecting the people of two continents.
The Journal of the Civil War Era – University of North Carolina Press
Published: May 7, 2015