This Day (Best-Selling Edition)

Published:May 9, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1936, Mary Johnston died of Bright’s disease. She is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. A writer of best-selling historical novels, Johnston broke existing publishing records by selling 60,000 advance copies of To Have and to Hold (1900), her second novel, in addition to another 135,000 during its first week of publication. This proved to be the biggest popular success between Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and Gone with the Wind, which came out the year Johnston died.

I haven’t read To Have and to Hold, but I have read Johnston’s first novel, Prisoners of Hope (1898), and her eighteenth, The Slave Ship (1924). The former is an action-adventure story and romance set in Gloucester County in 1663, and based in part on the Gloucester County Conspiracy, a planned rebellion by indentured servants who intended to march to the home of Governor Sir William Berkeley and demand their freedom. The latter follows twelve years in the life of David Scott, a convict laborer who, after a daring escape, finds refuge on the slave ship Janet. There he works his way up from clerk to captain, making numerous voyages to the Slave Coast of West Africa and participating in the infamous Middle Passage, during which millions of enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas.

IMAGE: The original dust jacket for The Slave Ship by Mary Johnston (University of Virginia Special Collections)