By most accounts, Dr. Bertice Berry has led a successful life. Born in poverty, she earned a doctorate, and became a nationally syndicated talk show host and best-selling author. Along the way, though, she made what she calls one of her “greatest errors.”
CBN News visited Dr. Berry at her beautiful home outside of Savannah, Georgia.
In her dining room, an inviting place lined with overflowing bookcases, she read aloud from her novel Redemption Song.
“Old man Hunn wasn’t so old then,” she read. “He was out hunting my mama and me. He wasn’t a real catcher. Others caught slaves for money. He caught ’em for keeps.”
The villain of her book, an evil slaveholder, is named after a real man: John Hunn.
“John Hunn — I knew the story, I heard the name, that he owned the plantation that our family lived on during slavery, ” Berry explained.
Despite her mother’s repeated objections, Berry believed Hunn owned her ancestors.
“Especially in the 60s and 70s you would say,” she takes on a militant voice, ‘Back when we were slaves, you know, that was my slave name,’ and my mother would say, ‘We were not slaves!’ I’m like, ‘All right. You have a slave fantasy.’ Delaware was a slave state,” she argued.
Villian or Hero?
But one day she came upon the PBS documentary “Whispers of Angels,” about the Underground Railroad.
CBN News played a clip from the film for her, where the narrator states, “Burris eventually guided them to the home of the young Quaker, John Hunn, in Middletown.”
Hunn was born in Camden, Delaware, and grew up a member of the Religious Society Friends, or Quakers.
Mike Richards, with the Camden Friends Meeting, has become an expert on Hunn.
“He became known as the chief engineer of the Underground Railroad in Delaware,” he said. “So he was very well known. And people that were helping the slaves escape would say, ‘Go see John Hunn.'”
Hunn helped as many as 200 fugitive slaves make their way to freedom.
Robin Krawitz is program director of Delaware State University’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and has studied Hunn for the past 20 years.
She learned that his father, Ezekiel Hunn, also helped runaway slaves escape.
“John Hunn’s father and uncle were the owners of this property; they inherited it in 1794,” Krawitz explained as she showed CBN News around Wildcat Manor on a cold winter day.
Pointing to the frozen river, she explained that Ezekial Hunn had funded “an African American boatman to ferry people from here and from the St. Jones River over to New Jersey, which was the closest point of freedom.”
His son, however, had other plans as a young man.
In a private home owned by a descendant of John Hunn, we had the rare opportunity to see a beautiful oil painting of him at age 22. At about the time of the portrait, he finished his training to be a silk merchant.
When he went to visit his older sister, Patience, a devout Quaker, she took one look at his fancy clothes and said, “Throw off thy Babylonish garment!”
“She basically read him the riot act,” Krawitz chuckled telling the story. “She believes Patience was saying, in essence, ‘Come back to the faith; be who you are.'”
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