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Old Settlers
Sunday, 5 June 2005
Molly Walsh Bannaky
a Review I had written for a children's book about Molly Walsh. It was written for The Legacy, the bi-annual journal of the LEETE Family.
Be lucky, Michael

My review of MOLLY BANNAKY by Alice McGill;
1999: Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston, MA.

This is a book is a delight. The illustrations (by Chris K Soentpiet) are lovely, and very evocative of primitive Colonial life in the early eighteenth century, and the story of Molly Bannaky is simply and beautifully told by Alice McGill.

Molly Walsh was a serving girl in England who was convicted of stealing a pail of milk for which the penalty was death on the gallows. Because she could read, she ‘called for the book’ and invoked a provision that had its origins in the days of Henry II, grandson of William the Conqueror. Initially, the idea had been that the secular Courts would send members of the Clergy accused of a felony to the Ecclesiastical Courts to see what their verdict should be. By degrees this ‘benefit of clergy’ was extended to all those who could read the Bible (usually Psalm 51 in which the first verse, appropriately, is ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.’) but, also by degrees, the Judges substituted a form of exile as their sentence.

Accordingly, Molly Walsh was transported to Maryland as an indentured servant for a period of seven years. She is thought to have arrived there in the year 1683.

The rest of the book, which may be read aloud to children in little more than ten minutes, tells how she survived the seven years of servitude, acquired land of her own and married a slave that she had bought to help her grow tobacco. His name in Africa had been something like Bannaka and he may have been of a royal family in Senegal, where a period of upheaval and war had filled the holds of the slave ships with all sorts and conditions of its people.

Molly and Bannaka had four daughters and the only son of Mary, who may have been the oldest daughter, was Benjamin Banneker, perhaps the most famous Afro-American of all time. A man of most extraordinary achievements in his day: he carved himself a wooden clock; he assisted in the survey of the ten mile square of Washington DC (a seat of government conceived to accommodate fifty States when there were but thirteen) and he compiled an annual Almanac with the principal purpose of enabling people in remote areas to set their clocks.

In 1980, the US Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp depicting Benjamin Banneker.

If I had to offer any criticism at all, it would be that it is obvious that Alice McGill has never milked a cow in her life.

Posted by bneson at 11:33 PM EDT

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