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Slave narrative

The slave narrative is generally considered as a literary form which grew out of the experience of enslaved Africans in the New World. Some six thousand former slaves from North America and the Caribbean gave an account of their lives with about 150 published as separate books or pamphlets. They can broadly be categorised into three distinct forms: Tales of religious redemption, Tales to inspire the abolitionist struggle, Tales of progress.

In comparison the Algerine slave narratives were written by white Americans captured and enslaved in North Africa from 1785 to 1810. They have a distinct form in that they generally racialize their captors, whereas the African American slave narratives moralize their oppressors.

Table of contents
1 Tales of Religious Redemption
2 Tales to Inspire the Abolitionist Struggle
3 Tales of Progress
4 Algerine Slave Narratives
5 WPA Slave Narratives
6 External Links

Tales of Religious Redemption

From the 1770s to the 1820s the slave narratives generally gave an account of a spiritual journey leading to christian redemption. The authors frequently characterised themselves as Africans rather than slaves. These first appeared in England.

Some examples:

A Narrative of the Most remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, Bath 1772
The Interesting Narrative and the life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, London 1789
A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a native of Africa: But resident Above Sixty Years in the United State of America by Venture Smith, New London 1798

Tales to Inspire the Abolitionist Struggle

From the mid-1820's the genre became much more the conscious use of the autobiographical form to generate enthusiams for the abolitionist struggle. They became more literary in form often with the introduction of fictionalised dialogue. Between 1835 and 1865 over 80 such narratives were published. Recurrent features include: slave auctions, the break of families and frequently two accounts of escapes, one of which is successful.

Some examples:

Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, New York 1825
The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, London 1831
Slavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, A Black Man, Lewistown 1836
A Narrative of Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery, London 1837
A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Boston 1845
Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke, Sons of a Soldier of the revolution, during a Captivity of more than Twenty years among the Slaveholders of Kentucky, Boston 1846
Narrative of William Wells Brown, a fugitive Slave, Boston 1847
The Life of Josiah Henson, formerly a Slave, now an Inhabitant of Canada, Boston 1849
Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, New York 1849
The Fugative Blacksmith, or Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington, London 1849
Twelve years a slave, Narrative of Solomon Northrup Auburn, Buffalo and London 1853
Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings and Escape of John Brown, London 1855
The Life of John Thompson, A Fugitive Slave, Worcester, Massachusetts 1855
Running a thousand Miles for Freedom, or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, London 1860
Incidents the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, Boston 1861
The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina by John Andrew Jackson, London 1862
Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green, a Runaway Slave from Kentucky, Huddersfield 1864

Tales of Progress

Following the defeat of the slave states of the Confederate South, the narratives lost their urgency and were less concerned with conveying the evils of slavery. Some times they even gave a sentimental account of plantation life and also often ended with the narrator adjusting to their new life of freedom. In this the emphasis frequently shifted conceptually more towards progress than freedom.

The Life of James Mars, A Slave Born and Sold in Connecticut, Hartford 1864
The Freedman's Story by William Parker, published in The Atlantic Monthly 1866
Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedom by Louis Hughes, Milwaukee 1897
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington Garden City, New York 1901

Algerine Slave Narratives

A Curious, Historical and Entertaining Narrative of the Captivity and almost unheard of sSufferings and Cruel treatment of Mr Robert White, 1790
A Journal of theCaptivity and Suffering of John Foss; Several Years a Prisoner in Algeiers 1798
History of the Captivity and Sufferings of Mrs Marian Martin who was six years a slave in Algiers, 1810
History of the Captivity and Sufferings of Mrs LucindaMartin who was six years a slave in Algiers, 1806
The Narrative of Robert Adams, An American Sailor who was wrecked on the West Coaast of Africa in the year 1810; was detained Three Years in Slavery by the Arabs of the Great Desert, 1817

WPA Slave Narratives

During the Great Depression the New Deal Works Projects Administration used unemployed writers and researchers from the Federal Writers' Project to interview and document the stories of surviving African-Americans who had been part of the American slave system up until the Emancipation Proclamation. Produced between 1936 and 1938, the narratives retell the experiences of more than 2,300 former slaves.

External Links