On September 10, 1847, a future congressman was born a slave in a cabin on Tacony Plantation on the Mississippi River three miles from the Vidalia riverfront.
John Roy Lynch was the child of an interracial union between his mother, Catherine, a beautiful mulatto woman, and Patrick Lynch, an Irishman from Ohio who managed Tacony. Although the law forbade interracial unions, the couple lived together as man and wife.
In 1849, when John Roy was a toddler, Patrick Lynch became terminally ill and died weeks later. In the years to follow, John Roy’s surviving family lived in slavery, working as house servants for the owners of Dunleith Mansion in Natchez.
By the time of Civil War, John Roy was a teenager. After the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863, the Union Army occupied Natchez and John Roy was freed. He took every opportunity to educate himself, worked a number of jobs, operated a photography studio and during Reconstruction became a Justice of Peace before his election to the Mississippi House of Representatives. There, he was selected as the first African-American Speaker of House. Later, Lynch was elected to Congress, the only native born congressman from Concordia Parish.
Lynch’s life story is as inspiring as they come.
This month, a children’s book that celebrates Lynch’s life and accomplishments has been released, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (published byErrdmans Books for Young Readers).
Chris Barton wrote the book. Don Tate provided the illustrations.
Written for children ages 7-10, the publication is drawing praise.
Kirkus Review says it’s an “honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.”
Publisher’s Weekly says “Barton offers an immersive, engaging, and unflinching portrait of the difficulties of the Reconstruction era, while Tate’s cartoonlike artwork softens moments of cruelty and prejudice without diminishing them.”
Barton grew up in Sulphur Springs, Texas, where he developed a love for writing. After marrying, he realized he had a knack for storytelling. His toddler son was his biggest fan.
Barton’s first book was The Day-Glo Brothers, a story about Bob and Joe Switzer, who invented the fluorescent paint they called “Day-Glo.” The fluorescent oranges, yellows and greens are used on highlighters, traffic cones and safety vests.
Tate, the illustrator for the John Roy Lynch book, is an Iowa native with a background in painting and digital illustrating. He previously worked for newspapers before becoming a full-time author and illustrator.
Like Barton, Tate has received numerous awards as a children’s author and his illustrations are widely praised.
Both Barton and Tate live in Houston, Tex., with their families.
Barton visited Concordia Parish in 2011 while researching the book. Over lunch one day, we shared with him the discovery in 2006 of the will of Lynch’s father filed in the Concordia Parish Clerk of Court’s office.
On May 1, 1849, an inventory and appraisement of Lynch's possessions were made at site of his death, Whitehall Plantation.
Patrick Lynch's personal possessions were valued at $218 and included a double-barrel shotgun, gold watch fob chain and key, horse saddle and bridle, a trunk containing summer and winter clothing, a six-barrel revolver, new saddle boots and $44 cash.
William Deale, a man Lynch trusted to handle his estate and secure the freedom of his wife and children, betrayed Lynch and sold them to the owner of Dunleith, Albert Vidal Davis.
Barton said his inspiration to write about Lynch was born in 2006 when he saw “Reconstruction: The Second Civil War,” a PBS documentary,
“The early life of John Roy Lynch — his single-decade journey from enslaved teenager to U.S. congressman — was one of the lenses through which the documentary told the larger story of the postwar years,” Barton recalled. “John Roy Lynch made such huge strides at such a young age, and I was captivated by the glimpses of his engaging personality that came through in his autobiography.
“The fact that such a transformation in one person’s life was even possible — and that this particular transformation (slave to congressman) was possible during only this one period in American history — makes Reconstruction itself an astonishing era.
“What little I’d learned in school about Reconstruction, I’d mostly forgotten until I saw that documentary. After seeing it, I was consumed by the desire to tell the world about John Roy Lynch. But I was also fired up to show young readers why the Civil Rights movement was still necessary more than a century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation rather than fully realized in the years immediately following the Civil War.
“What I find most interesting about John Roy Lynch is the speed at which he transformed himself. I can't help but wonder what effect the events of his very earliest years had on that later transformation -- he grew up knowing that his white father had planned to provide for John Roy's freedom, but died before he was able to carry that out. Did that sense of lost opportunity, those lost years of freedom, fuel John Roy's later drive to advance and succeed as a freedman?”