Manhattanville Alumna’s Novel Shares the Story of a Runaway Slave

News

Manhattanville Alumna’s Novel Shares the Story of a Runaway Slave

May 31, 2017 • Anonymous

Facebook Twitter Google+ LinkedIn Email

Gretchel Hathaway

Manhattanville alumna and member of the President’s Advisory Committee, Gretchel Hathaway ’79, recently published her first book, “A Bonded Friendship.” The historical fiction novel shares the story an escaped slave and his life after arriving in New York.

After learning of the story of an escaped slave, Moses Viney, and the bond he shared with the president of Union College, Eliphalet Nott, Hathaway felt the story need to be shared, and sensed a connection to the story as Union’s dean of diversity & inclusion/chief diversity officer.

She began putting pen to paper and looking to outside sources for research help in 2012. Community libraries and local historians in Schenectady, N.Y. helped uncover Nott’s past, but she had to travel to Talbot County, M.D., where Viney was born, to learn more of his life as a slave and his eventual escape.

“I went down, and the head of the historical society told the first part of the story, and I told the second part of the story,” Hathaway said.

After connecting the two parts of Viney’s life, Hathaway had a much clearer picture. Once he made it north, he began working as a coachman for Nott. Eventually their bond became more significant as Viney began to massage and help Nott walk as he became affected by arthritis. When his old master came to New York looking for him, Nott paid the master, giving the Viney his freedom.

While the facts of the story are compelling enough, Hathaway did take liberties when writing her book. There is little known information about the romantic relationships between the two men and their wives, so she made her own variation of their love stories. Hathaway also wrote the book in first person, so she would not actually know what each person said, but did study speeches and letters from the men to have an understanding of what they might say or do.

While Hathaway found the story necessary to share, it was not always easy to write. To find the right headspace to write, she imagined her own life and how the people in it might react to different spaces. Finding the connection made understanding the characters much easier.

“Some of the voices are from people in my world. There is Ana. Ana is clearly my mother’s voice in my head. Eliphalet Nott and Mrs. Nott are the president, who I work for now and [his wife]. Moses at times was my great grandfather and sometimes my grandfather; it just wavered between the two,” she said.

Despite now having published works, Hathaway had not always been the best writer. She loved poetry and reading, but had little experience with academic writing until she came to Manhattanville College.

“[I was told by faculty], ‘we’ve got to do something about those writing skills.’ And I cried. I thought I was great in English because I had received all of these A’s in high school. I didn’t even know how bad I was writing,” Hathaway recounted.

Rather than give up, Hathaway, a psychology major and American literature minor when a student at Manhattanville, was mentored by an English professor Nancy Tompkins and psychology professor Nicole Schumf. She cites the aid and dedication that she experienced from the Manhattanville staff as defining to her future in academia.

“Whatever challenges, faculty here, at a small liberal arts school, are the ones that will help you through the process, because they really get to know you,” she said.

Hathaway is currently hoping to publish a book of her poetry, but has not ruled out writing more historical fiction. With her time at Manhattanville and now Union, both with rich histories of social justice, it is no surprise that Hathaway is passionate about keeping the history of the institutions and the country alive, especially in her writing.

“If we are not including the history of folks that were brought to America through slavery…. it means that we have really not done justice in our education system.” Hathaway continues, “Verbal history is great, but if it’s not in writing, we will lose that history.”

Written by: Katherine Matuszek ’19

Photo above courtesy of Gretchel Hathaway.

Alumni

PsychologyEnglishPresident's Advisory Committee