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The Negro Sale.
"Why stands she near the auction stand,
That girl so young and fair?
What brings her to this dismal place,
Why stands she weeping there?"
With the growing population of slaves in the Southern States of America,
there is a fearful increase of half whites, most of whose fathers are
slaveowners, and their mothers slaves. Society does not frown upon the man
who sits with his mulatto child upon his knee, whilst its mother stands a
slave behind his chair. The late Henry Clay, some years since, predicted
that the abolition of Negro slavery would be brought about by the
amalgamation of the races. John Randolph, a distinguished slaveholder of
Virginia, and a prominent statesman, said in a speech in the legislature of
his native state, that "the blood of the first American statesmen coursed
through the veins of the slave of the South." In all the cities and towns
of the slave states, the real Negro, or clear black, does not amount to
more than one in every four of the slave population. This fact is, of
itself, the best evidence of the degraded and immoral condition of the
relation of master and slave in the United States of America.
In all the slave states, the law says:?"Slaves shall be deemed, sold
[held], taken, reputed, and adjudged in law to be chattels personal in the
hands of their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators
and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever. A
slave is one who is in the power of a master to whom he belongs. The master
may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, and hislabour. He can
do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire anything, but what must belong to
his master. The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, who
may correct and chastise him, though not with unusual rigour, or so as to
maim and mutilate him, or expose him to the danger of loss of life, or to
cause his death. The slave, to remain a slave, must be sensible that there
is no appeal from his master." Where the slave is placed by law entirely
under the control of the man who claims him, body and soul, as property,
what else could be expected than the most depraved social condition? The
marriage relation, the oldest and most sacred institution given to man by
his Creator, is unknown and unrecognised in the slave laws of the United
States. Would that we could say, that the moral and religious teaching in
the slave states were better than the laws; but, alas! we cannot. A few
years since, some slaveholders became a little uneasy in their minds about
the rightfulness of permitting slaves to take to themselves husbands and
wives, while they still had others living, and applied to their religious
teachers for advice; and the following will show how this grave and
important subject was treated:?
"Is a servant, whose husband or wife has been sold by his or her master
into a distant country, to be permitted to marry again?"
The query was referred to a committee, who made the following report;
which, after discussion, was adopted:?
"That, in view of the circumstances in which servants in this country are
placed, the committee are unanimous in the opinion, that it is better to
permit servants thus circumstanced to take another husband or wife."
*New to this edition
About the Series
About This Volume
List of Illustrations
Clotel; or, The President's Daughter:
The Complete Text
Introduction: Cultural and Historical Background
Chronology of Brown's Life and Times
A Note on the Text and Annotations
Clotel; or, The President's Daughter [1853 Edition]
Clotel; or, The President's Daughter:
1. Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson, A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled
Thomas Jefferson, from Notes on the State of Virginia
Benjamin Banneker and Thomas Jefferson, Letter Exchange (1791)
David Walker, from Walker's Appeal
William Lloyd Garrison, To the Public
Frederick Douglass, What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?
2. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
*James Callender, The President, Again
Frances Trollope, from Domestic Manners of the Americans
William Goodell, Sale of a Daughter of Tho's Jefferson
James McCune Smith, Letter to Frederick Douglass' Paper
*Madison Hemings, from Life among the Lowly
3. “All These Combined Have Made Up My Story”: Source Texts about Slavery and Race
Thomas Bacon, from Sermons Addressed to Masters and Servants
Andrew Jackson, Two Proclamations
Thomas R. Gray, from The Confessions of Nat Turner
Theodore Dwight Weld, from American Slavery As It Is
*Harriet Martineau, from Society in America
Lydia Maria Child, The Quadroons
Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Quadroon's Story
*Frederick Douglass, from Reception Speech at Finsbury Chapel
Grace Greenwood, The Leap from Long Bridge
Daniel Webster, from The Constitution and the Union
*Martin R. Delany, from The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States
4. Writing and Revising Clotel
William Wells Brown, from Narrative of William W. Brown
Josephine Brown, from Biography of an American Bondman
William Wells Brown, from The New Liberty Party
*William Wells Brown, from A Lecture Delivered before the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem
William Wells Brown, Singular Escape
William Wells Brown, from Original Panoramic Views
*William Wells Brown, A True Story of Slave Life
*William Wells Brown, Letters from London
*Selected Reviews of Clotel
William Wells Brown, from St. Domingo: Its Revolutions and Its Patriots
William Wells Brown, from Clotelle: A Tale of the Southern States
William Wells Brown, from Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine
William Wells Brown, Battle of Milliken's Bend
William Wells Brown, from My Southern Home
1. As William Wells Brown himself notes, Clotel is a text that freely borrows from and conjoins other texts, including Lydia Marie Child's "The Quadroon" (1842) and Brown's own writings. As he writes in his "Conclusion, " "To Ms. Child I am indebted for part of a short story. Abolitionist journals are another source from whence some of the characters appearing in my narrative are taken. All these combined have made up my story." What do you think of Brown's technique of assembling and reassembling, of appropriation, recombination, and recontextualization?
2. Clotel is the first novel written by an African American. What legacy or influence do you think it has had on subsequent work? Can you think of more recent novels that you can compare in some way to Clotel?
3. The story that Thomas Jefferson's illegitimate mulatto daughter had been sold into slavery was current during Brown's life. Why do you think he made use of this story as the central motif of Clotel? How does Jefferson's own intellectual biography-he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, among other things-play into the novel?
4. Brown's own narrative, which forms the first part of Clotel, works, in the words of Robert Stepto, as "a rhetorical device, authenticating [Brown's] access to the incidents, characters, scenes, and tales, which collectively make up Clotel." What is your response to this narrative strategy? How do you think it affects the subsequent narrative?
5. How does the knowledge that Brown, an escaped slave, the first black novelist and playwright in America, and a prominent and important man of lettersand abolitionist, inform your reading of Clotel? Would your reaction to it be different had it been written by, say, a white abolitionist?
6. Arna Bontemps quotes Saunders Redding as characterizing Brown as someone who reflected "the temper and the opinion of the Negro in those years . . . the most representative Negro of the age." Judging from Clotel and any other writings of the period you are familiar with, discuss in what ways Brown seems to be "representative."