2023 Shapiro Book Prize Lecture

March 29, 2023 – 7:30 PM (Pacific Time) – Live via Zoom

R. Isabela Morales, winner of the 2023 Shapiro Book Prize, talks about her book “Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom,”  and shares the story of the 19th-century Townsend family in their journey from slavery to freedom, from Alabama to the American West, and from the antebellum period to the rise of Jim Crow.

Hed Shot of R. Isabella Morales - 2023 Shapiro Book Award recipient

R. Isabela Morales

This lecture is part of the acceptance ceremony on the occasion of winning The Huntington’s 2023 Shapiro Book Prize for Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom.

The Townsends were children of a wealthy white cotton planter and several enslaved African American women whom he owned. They were emancipated and inherited their father’s $200,000 fortune when he died. Searching for communities where they could exercise their freedom and wealth to the fullest, members of the Townsend family homesteaded in Ohio and Kansas. They fought for the Union Army in Mississippi. Some mined for silver in the Colorado Rockies. One son returns to Alabama to purchase part of the old plantation where he had once been enslaved.

In her talk, Dr. Morales will discuss the significance of writing family history. She will share the challenges of tracing the lives of enslaved people. Finally she shares the incredible cache of unpublished letters and legal documents that forms the archival core of her book.


7:30 p.m. (Pacific Time) and recorded for later viewing. It is free with reservation.
(Zoom link – sent in confirmation email.)

About R. Isabela Morales

Dr. Morales is the editor and project manager of the Princeton & Slavery Project and the digital projects manager at the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum in Skillman, New Jersey.

About the Shapiro Center

Established in 2019, thanks to the vision and generosity of L. Dennis and Susan R. Shapiro, The Shapiro Center was created to advance scholarship, knowledge, and understanding of American history and culture. Furthermore, the centers goal is to promote use of The Huntington’s premier library collections in this field, which are unique west of the Mississippi.