Northern Slave, Black Dakota

Northern Slave, Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey  (Pond Dakota Press, March 1, 2013)

bookBorn a slave in the free territory, Joseph Godfrey died reviled for his controversial role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

Separated from his mother at age five when their master sold her, Joseph Godfrey was kept in bondage in Minnesota to serve the fur-trade elite. To escape his masters’ beatings and abuse, he sought refuge among the Dakota people he’d befriended as a child slave. Godfrey married a Dakota woman and was living with his family on the Lower Sioux Reservation in 1862. Conscripted to don war paint and join Dakota warriors who killed defenseless settlers in the opening days of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, he became the first of hundreds of men tried by a military court when the six-week war ended in late September. Commander Henry Sibley, who created the court, was one of his former masters. Sibley approved death sentences for Godfrey and 302 other Dakota soldiers.

In this riveting, first-ever biography, historian and retired trial lawyer Walt Bachman untangles the thorny questions that haunt Godfrey’s story to this day: How was he enslaved in a free state? Did he murder the frontier settlers for which the Dakota dubbed him “Many Kills”? Did he turn traitor on his Dakota kinsmen to save his own skin? Did his testimony during the post-war trials send 38 Dakota men – including his father-in-law – to the gallows? Why did President Abraham Lincoln remove Godfrey’s name from the execution list? In this carefully researched, stunning historical debut, Bachman reveals how Godfrey escaped from slavery and how he has been miscast as a villain by whites and Dakotas alike, arguing that the 1862 war trials that ended with the largest mass execution in U.S. history, were both more just, and more unfair than we’ve ever guessed.