Nikki M. Taylor

Driven Toward Madness

The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio

Ohio University Press 2016

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network December 5, 2017 Adam McNeil

You may know Toni Morrison’s famed novel Beloved, but do you know much about the true story of the woman depicted in that story?...

You may know Toni Morrison’s famed novel Beloved, but do you know much about the true story of the woman depicted in that story? You will know about the real story and more, by reading her biography called Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio (Ohio University Press, 2016) authored by Howard University Professor of History and Department Chair Nikki Taylor. Driven Toward Madness tells the story of how fugitive slave Margaret Garner and her family escaped to free Ohio in late January 1856, only to be captured in a cabin outside of Cincinnati. What happened as the Garner family were being apprehended is the climax of the story; Taylor shows what drove Margaret’s attempt to kill all four of her children, while only successfully doing so by way of decapitating her two year-old daughter Mary.

Based in history, Taylor uses various theoretical frameworks like trauma studies, pain studies, black feminist theory, and literary criticism to broaden our understandings of the why surrounding Margaret Garner’s murder of her child. Taylor broadens popular understandings of black womanhood, resistance, and what are acceptable forms of gendered violence. In doing so, Taylor displays the ways antagonistic groups like abolitionists and pro-slavery activists both used Garner’s story for their own causes without necessarily recognizing Garner’s agency and humanity. Ultimately, Taylor expresses how far a person could go to protect their child from bondage, even if that meant taking their life so they reached freedom elsewhere.

Author Nikki M. Taylor is Professor of History and History Department Chair at Howard University. Her work focuses on nineteenth-century African American History. Her sub-specialties are in Urban, African American Women, and Intellectual History.


Adam McNeil is a graduating M.A. in History student at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, and received his Undergraduate History degree at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2015.

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