The Abolitionist's Daughter by Diane C. McPhail Excerpt and Giveaway

The Abolitionist's Daughter by Diane C. McPhail

Publication Date: April 30, 2019
A John Scognamiglio Book/Kensington
Genre: Historical Fiction

In her sweeping debut, Diane C. McPhail offers a powerful, profoundly emotional novel that explores a little-known aspect of Civil War history—Southern Abolitionists—and the timeless struggle to do right even amidst bitter conflict.

On a Mississippi morning in 1859, Emily Matthews begs her father to save a slave, Nathan, about to be auctioned away from his family. Judge Matthews is an abolitionist who runs an illegal school for his slaves, hoping to eventually set them free. One, a woman named Ginny, has become Emily’s companion and often her conscience—and understands all too well the hazards an educated slave must face. Yet even Ginny could not predict the tangled, tragic string of events set in motion as Nathan’s family arrives at the Matthews farm.

A young doctor, Charles Slate, tends to injured Nathan and begins to court Emily, finally persuading her to become his wife. But their union is disrupted by a fatal clash and a lie that will tear two families apart. As Civil War erupts, Emily, Ginny, and Emily’s stoic mother-in-law, Adeline, each face devastating losses. Emily—sheltered all her life—is especially unprepared for the hardships to come. Struggling to survive in this raw, shifting new world, Emily will discover untapped inner strength, an unlikely love, and the courage to confront deep, painful truths.

In the tradition of Cold Mountain, The Abolitionist’s Daughter eschews stereotypes of the Civil War South, instead weaving an intricate and unforgettable story of survival, loyalty, hope, and redemption.


Emily studied Ginny’s back for a moment. "Ginny," she said, "there is something I keep wondering about and maybe now is the time to ask. You studied with me, with my tutor. You spent most of your life in this house. Why do you not speak correctly?"

Ginny took several swipes at a high shelf before answering. She lowered the duster and turned. "Yes, Miss Emily, I have studied and I have learned almost everything that you have, though I began somewhat later than you did. Was that correct enough?" She turned and pushed the duster into the back of a shelf.
"Yes, of course, Ginny. I know you can speak as well as I do, and yet you persist in speaking the slave-dialect."
"And do you know what speaking as well as I know how to, as well as you do, speaking better than lots of white folks around here, would make me? An ‘uppity nigger’, that’s what. Do you know what happens to ‘uppity niggers’ around here, especially women? Rape? Lashings? Things you couldn’t protect me from in spite of owning me."
"I’m sorry, Ginny. I didn’t mean—" Emily stumbled on her words. "What I mean is your education makes you special. You shouldn’t waste it."
Ginny pulled the duster through her other hand and shook her head. "No, Miss Emily, I ain’t special. I tell you who special. Them black folk breaking they backs out there in the sun trying to make a life for themselves out of leftovers, they the folk who special." Ginny straightened to her full height and laid the duster beside the closed book. "Education does not make a person special," she said, her face clear and open. "Courage and fortitude and perseverance, self-denial and any number of other admirable qualities, like Jane Eyre, like your Papa going up against slavery—those things make a person special. And as to dialect, I don’t know what that is. I do know this. What I am speaking so correctly now is ‘white’ dialect. It sets me apart from my own and I choose not to be set apart. What we speak is a language, black language, slave language, one forged out of the most impossible conditions: seized from all parts of Africa, speaking hundreds of different languages, unable to understand even one another, chained up by slavers speaking multiple other languages. And out of that, Miss Emily, these tortured people made a way to communicate with one another and with their enslavers. That is history you have not studied in your books. And those are my people whose language I will not dishonor by failing to speak it. You asked me plain out, Miss Emily, and I answer you plain And I ain’t saying nothing about that subject again." 

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Praise for The Abolitionist's Daughter

"Diane McPhail excavates a nearly forgotten corner of American history and brings it to full, beating life. This is a fascinating and heartfelt look at the kinds of stories that don't always make it into the history books." -Louis Bayard, author of Courting Mr. Lincoln

"A contender, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched story . . . as good as it deserves to be." -Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author

"Complex, vivid, and emotionally engaging. This is a story of harsh realities written with a tenderness that shines through and honors the account of one woman's struggle to overcome her society's rules and her circumstances in the face of inconceivable devastation. I couldn't put it down." -Carol E. Anderson, author of You Can't Buy Love Like That

"What an impressive book this is! Diane McPhail works a spell on the reader, transporting us to Mississippi in the 19th century, introducing us to a family torn apart by the time and place in which they live. She tells a dark tale, yet it's laced with lyricism and compassion. This is a powerful, imaginative, captivating book-I'd say, even urgent, considering the time we find ourselves in now." -Judy Goldman, author of Together

"A tender, sparkling debut that bears gentle witness to the abominations of slavery and oppression while heralding the grace, power and necessity of righting wrongs and choosing love. McPhail is full of talent and heart." -Ethel Rohan, author of The Weight of Him"

About the Author

Diane C. McPhail is an artist, writer, and minister. In addition to holding an M.F.A., an M.A., and D.Min., she has studied at the University of Iowa distance learning and the Yale Writers’ Workshop, among others. Diane is a member of North Carolina Writers' Network and the Historical Novel Society. She lives in Highlands, North Carolina, with her husband, and her dog, Pepper.

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During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a copy of The Abolitionist's Daughter! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

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Abolitionist's Daughter


  1. Thanks so much for hosting today, Marcie!

    HF Virtual Book Tours


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