Catching Up with Pat Wall, author of LIVES of CONSEQUENCE

Patricia Q. Wall, author of Lives of ConsequencePortsmouth Marine Society Press

“Somebody said I don’t shout loud enough,” says Patricia Q. Wall, author of what is apparently the only published book about slavery in Maine. Lives of Consequence (2017), her groundbreaking study of black lives in colonial Maine, has yet to topple the longstanding myth that slavery was entirely a southern institution. But in her own quiet way, Pat is still shouting the truth.

“I keep saying–you know folks, slavery was a fact of life in Maine from the 1600s until statehood in 1820.” Pat continues to hammer home her message at book talks and lectures across New England. She has gigs coming up this year at the New England Genealogical Society in Boston and at the Tate House Museum in Portland.

“The talk is simply to shake things up,” Pat says. She charges no fee for her lectures and is ready to go wherever open-minds are willing to listen. “If somebody wants me to give a talk, just call me,” she says.

Her first two books, Beyond Freedom and Child Out of Place were fictionalized accounts of an enslaved Portsmouth girl written primarily for young readers. Research for those projects led her to ask–where are all the Africans who lived here in colonial days?

That simple question kicked off a five year journey. Maine records were sparse when they existed at all. The author was forced to comb through countless handwritten wills, letters, estate inventories, and court and church records.

Wall’s painstaking research uncovered, not just a few, but as many as 500 forgotten African and mixed race residents. Her work, published by the Portsmouth Historical Society, focuses on the large colonial parish of “Old Kittery,” just across the New Hampshire border–a region that now includes the towns of Eliot, Berwick, and South Berwick.

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Her study for Lives of Consequence led to the frustrating conclusion that —while hundreds of blacks lived in the Kittery region during its first two centuries–almost all of them were lost to history.

Wall received the Allen History Award from the Maine Historical Society for outstanding contributions in the field of Maine history and geneaology for her work on Lives of Consequence.

Thousands of “invisible” blacks, enslaved and freed, were a presence at one time or another in nearly every town and village in early New England, she says. Their unpaid work helped build the nation. Thousands of white families, meanwhile, benefited enormously and were deeply dependent “on the skills, labor, and innate wisdom of their enslaved black servants,” “Wall says.

Pat Wall admits she is “winding down as the years go by…” She finds herself spending more and more time experimenting with abstract painting in her home community at Riverwoods in Exeter, NH. “I really like the place,” she says. “They talk about it being a retirement community, but everybody is really ‘with-it’ here, they’re all active mentally and physically.”

Although Pat Wall doesn’t see another full-length book in her future, she plans to write more articles about local black history. She also loves working with readers one-on-one, via email. She loves hearing from people who have been changed by her work. And then there are those who, even confronted with the facts, insist that their white Maine ancestors could not possibly have enslaved others. The truth can be a bitter pill.

“I started out knowing zilch about African American history,” Pat says. “As a white person growing up in Philadelphia, I hadn’t a clue.” All that changed when she met black heritage scholar Valerie Cunningham and began digging into local records. Today Pat Wall holds out hope that, one reader at a time, she can bend history from myth back to reality.

“I’ve been told my book is a good model, and there is so much more to be discovered in other towns in Maine– for anyone who wants to follow the same kind of dogged digging.”

Read More about Lives of Consequence

Contact Pat Wall via email.