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Flight from the Devil: Six Slave Narratives

Overview

During the early 19th century some African American men and women who broke their chains also gave the abolitionist movement its strongest verbal weapons in the form of detailed autobiographies that exposed the slave system. Perceptive, dramatic and often starkly horrifying, these narratives dared to challenge their author's former owners who sang the praises of human bondage. Having examined the slave narratives, recent scholars have judged them historically accurate and reliable, and the most significant form ...
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Overview

During the early 19th century some African American men and women who broke their chains also gave the abolitionist movement its strongest verbal weapons in the form of detailed autobiographies that exposed the slave system. Perceptive, dramatic and often starkly horrifying, these narratives dared to challenge their author's former owners who sang the praises of human bondage. Having examined the slave narratives, recent scholars have judged them historically accurate and reliable, and the most significant form of early African American literature. The six narratives in this volume are: Linda Brent, who was held in sexual bondage until she fled to freedom and wrote her story; William Wells Brown, a runaway who became the first African American novelist and playwright; James Pennington who escaped to become a minister and civil rights activist in Brooklyn; Lunsford Lane, an inventor/ entrepreneur who purchased his family's freedom; Jacob Stroyer, who was liberated during the war and became a minister in Salem, Massachusetts; and Moses Grandy, who escaped to England and wrote his book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865434134
  • Publisher: Africa World Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1994
  • Pages: 434
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

I have been solicited by very many friends, to give my narrative to the public. Whatever my own judgment might be, I should yield to theirs. In compliance, therefore, with this general request, and in the hope that these pages may produce an impression favorable to my countrymen in bondage; also that I may realize something from the sale of my work towards the support of a numerous family, I have committed this publication to press. It might have been two or three or even six times larger, without diminishing from the interest of any one of its pages-indeed with an increased interest-but the want of the pecuniary means, and other considerations, have induced me to present it as here seen, should edition be called for, and should my friends advise, the work will then be extended to a greater length.

I have not in this publication attempted to or desired to argue anything. It is only a simple narration of such facts connected with my own case, as I thought would be most interesting and instructive to policy of a slaveholding community, and the effect on the minds of the more humane, and the Christian portion of the southern people, of holding and trading in the bodies and souls of men.

I have said in the following pages, that my condition as a slave was comparatively a happy, indeed a highly favored one; and to put this circumstance is it owning that I have been able to come up from bondage and relate the story to the public; and that my wife, my mother, and my seven children, are here with me to this day. If for any other thing this side the invisible world, I bless heaven, it is that I was not born a plantation slave, nor even a house servant under what is termed a hard and cruel master.

It has not been any part of my object to describe slavery generally, and in the narration of my own case I have dwelt as little as possible upon the dark side-have spoken mostly of the bright. In whatever I have been obliged to say unfavorable to others, I have endeavored not to overstate, but have chosen rather to come short of giving the full picture-omitting much which it did not seem important to my object to relate. And yet would not venture to say that this publication does not contain a single period which might be twisted to convey an idea more than should be expressed.

Those of whom I have had occasion to speak, are regarded, where they are known, as among the most kind men to their slaves. Mr. Smith, some of whose conduct will doubtless seem strange to the reader, is sometimes taunted with being an abolitionist, in consequence of the interest he manifests towards the colored people. If to any his character appear like a riddle, they should remember that men, like other things, have "two sides," and often a top and bottom in addition.

While in the South I succeeded by stealth in learning to read and write a little, and since I have been in the North I have learned more. But I need not say that I have been obliged to employ the services of a friend, in bringing this Narrative into shape for the public eye. And it should perhaps be said on the part of the writer, that it has been hastily compiled, with little regard to style, only to express the ideas accurately and in a manner to be understood.

Narrative: The small city of Raleigh, North Carolina, it is know, is the capital of the state, situated in the interior and containing about thirty-six hundred inhabitants. Here lived Mr. Sherwood Haywood, a man of considerable respectability, a painter, and the cashier of a bank. He owned three plantations, at the distances respectively of seventy-five, thirty, and three miles from his residence in Raleigh. He owned in all about two hundred and fifty slaves, among the rest my mother, who was a house servant to her master, and of course a resident in the city. My father was a slave to a near neighbor. The apartment where I was born and where I spent my childhood and youth was called "the kitchen," situated some fifteen or twenty rods from the "great house." Here the house servants lodged and lived, and her the meals were prepared for the people in the mansion.

On the 30th of May, 1803, I was ushered into the world; but I did not begin to see the rising of its dark clouds, nor fancy how they might be broken or dispersed, until some time afterwards. My infancy was spent upon the floor, in a rough cradle, or sometimes in my mother's arms. My early boyhood in playing with the other boys and girls, colored and white, in the yard, and occasionally doing such little matters of labor as one of so young years could I knew no difference between myself and the white children; nor did they seem to know any in turn. Sometimes my master would come out and give a biscuit to me, and another too one of his own white boys; but I did not perceive the difference between us. I had no brothers or sisters, but there were other colored families living in the same kitchen, and the children playing in the same yard, with me and my mother.

When I was ten or eleven years old, my master sent me regularly to cutting wood, in the yard in the winter, and working in the garden in the summer. And when I was fifteen years of age, he gave me the care of the pleasure horses, and made me his carriage driver; but this did not exempt me from other labor, especially in the summer. Early in the morning I used to take his three horses to the plantation, and turn them into the pasture to graze, and myself into the cotton or cornfield, with a hoe in my hand, to work through the day; and after sunset I would take these horses back to the city, a distance of three miles, feed them, and then attend to any other business my master or any of his family had for me to do, until bed time, when with my blanket in my hand, I would go into the dining room to rest through the night. The next day the same round of labor would be repeated, unless some of the family wished to ride out, in which case I must be on hand with the horses to wait upon them, and in the meantime work about the yard. On Sunday I had to drive to Church twice, which with other things necessary to be done, took the whole day. So my life went wearily on from day to day, from night to night, and from week to week.

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