“Alfred Thomas Wood’s life reads like a cross between the scams and impersonations of
Catch me if you can and the tribulations of Forrest Gump.” Webster on the Absquatulator
One hundred years before the Hollywood film The Great Impostor, Alfred Thomas Wood roved through the momentous mid-19th century events, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to New England, Liberia, Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Canada, the U.S. Mid-West and the South. He is the great “absquatulator.”
Posing as an Oxford-educated preacher in Maine and Boston, he claimed to be a Cambridge-educated doctor of divinity in Liberia. He spent 18 months in an English prison, then in Hamburg in 1854, he published a history of Liberia in German.
Speaking in Montreal, he claimed to have been Superintendent of Public Works in Sierra Leone. Wood served the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as an Oxford-educated Doctor of Divinity, then toiled in post-Civil War Tennessee during Reconstruction as a Cambridge-trained MD.
Perusing the life of a resourceful but dubious “absquatulator,” Frank Mackey wittily casts new light on vital mid-19th century events.
Frank Mackey is a Montreal writer whose recent books include Black Then: Blacks and Montreal 1780s-1880s and Done with Slavery: The Black Fact in Montreal, 1760-1840. He has worked as a journalist throughout Canada and in England and taught journalism at Concordia University.
Webster (Aly Ndiaye) is a Senegalo-Québécois rap artist who has pioneered hip-hop in Quebec. He speaks widely on the history of Africans and slaves in Quebec. He lives in Montreal.
In the Media
“Waging a one-man con game against a society that set out to crush him, Wood emerges as a flawed but fascinating historical character. (…) [an] impressively researched biography.” Kate Jaimet Canada’s History
“The Great Absquatulator is a feat of historical sleuthing, dogged archive-digging and sure-handed storytelling. It adds to Frank Mackey’s already considerable list of credits as a groundbreaking chronicler of the Black presence in 19th-century Quebec and elsewhere” Ian McGillis, The Montreal Gazette
“Here’s a great non-fiction title from Baraka Books that will surely stand as one of my favourite reads of 2021. True crime? Check. Historical true crime? Check. International true crime? Check. Well-researched? Check. This book checks all the proverbial boxes for its genre(s). Frank Mackey has compiled a truly fascinating story of the life of Alfred Thomas Wood, a truly great imposter, but an incredibly absurd one at times.” James Fisher, The Miramichi Reader
Praise for The Great Absquatulator
“Frank Mackey has a knack of digging up and dusting off stories that, were it not for him, would very likely have been swallowed up by time. Or to put it more metaphorically, he has forced time to cough up its children who have been buried for centuries. That’s what he did with Alexander Grant, and now it’s Alfred Thomas Wood’s turn.” Webster
“The latest fruit of Frank Mackey’s research into Black history is both startling and absorbing. A.T. Wood defied the stereotypes and conventions of his age: a great traveller and a master of deceit, he worked by turns as a carpenter, a preacher, an author, a teacher, a public speaker, a doctor and a political activist. Mackey fears that Wood “is trapped in the pages of this book” but for once he is wrong – his words release a grand impostor into the public eye.” Mark Abley
“A foremost authority on African-Canadian history pertaining to all things Montréalais and/or Québécois, Frank Mackey drafts a portrait of Alfred Thomas Wood that claims the hitherto unknown “Great Absquatulator” was a practitioner of outrageous frauds, serial seductions (perhaps even fringing on incest), and also a master plagiarizer of other people’s titles, attainments, and prestige. Indeed, Mackey recovers—via obsessive research—a scoundrel, a scamp, a scalawag, who plied his deceptions on three continents and in at least five countries, and who may have been born George Andrew Smith in Nova Scotia. However, whatever or whoever “Wood” or “Smith” really was, he was an author, and the translation from German and reprinting of his History of the Republic of Liberia renders the mysterious deceiver a possible, early African-Canadian scribe who now may take his place in our bibliographies—even if always with an asterisk.” George Elliott Clarke, 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada (2016-2017), Author, Where Beauty Survived: An Africadian Memoir (Knopf, 2021)
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