Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson is the engrossing story of a mulatto slave named Pheby Delores Brown. Beginning in 1850 and going through 1857, Pheby bravely endures her life as a slave. Pheby’s mother was the plantation medicine woman who was impregnated by the owner, Master Jacob. At the beginning of her life, Pheby was pampered by Master Jacob’s sister, Miss Sally. Pheby, who had been promised her freedom at the age of 18, was educated and taught to play the piano. After Miss Sally dies, Master Jacob married a vicious woman. While Jacob was recovering from an accident, his wife had Pheby sent to the Lapier Jail in Richmond, VA to be sold as a “fancy girl”. Lapier Jail is also known as Devil’s Half-Acre, where the cruel owner, Ruben Lapier, makes sure slaves are broken, tortured, and then sold.
Instead of being auctioned, Lapier takes the beautiful Pheby as his own. Unbeknown to her, Pheby was pregnant at the time from her one interaction with the Bell Plantation stableman, Essex Henry, whom she loved. Essex had escaped from Bell Plantation shortly before Pheby was sent to Lapier Jail. After delivering a son she names Monroe, the jailer moves Pheby into his home and makes her his “yellow wife”. Of course, it is illegal for them to wed, and Lapier makes it clear that Pheby is his property. As promised, he does not sell Monroe but he keeps them separated as much as possible. While the jailer treats Pheby well, she is basically his sex-slave. She bears him five children. Pheby’s profound love for all her children governs every action she takes.
This novel is a well-researched historical fiction. It is gut-wrenching to hear of the cruelties that were inflicted upon slaves. I wish there had been a little more suspense at the end of the novel when Pheby must outsmart Lapier to protect Monroe and his father, Essex, who has reappeared. 4.5-Stars.
Yellow Wife was published January 12th 2021 by Simon Schuster. The hardcover is 272 pages.