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Slave Narratives

John Simkin

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Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano was born in Essaka, an Igbo village in the kingdom of Benin (now Nigeria) in 1745. His father was one of the province's elders who decided disputes. According to James Walvin "Equiano described his father as a local Igbo eminence and slave owner".

When he was about eleven, Equiano was kidnapped and after six months of captivity he was brought to the coast where he encountered white men for the first time. Equiano later recalled in his autobiography, Narrative of the Enslavement of a Native of America (1787): "The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast, was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled, and tossed up to see if I were sound, by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me. Their complexions, too, differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke, (which was very different from any I had ever heard) united to confirm me in this belief. Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country."

Olaudah Equiano was placed on a slave-ship bound for Barbados. "I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a greeting in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life; so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think, the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. The air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. The wretched situation was again aggravated by the chains, now unsupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable."

After a two-week stay in the West Indies Equiano was sent to the English colony of Virginia. In 1754 he was purchased by Captain Henry Pascal, a British naval officer. He was given the new name of Gustavus Vassa and was brought back to England. According to his biographer, James Walvin: "For seven years he served on British ships as Pascal's slave, participating in or witnessing several battles of the Seven Years' War. Fellow sailors taught him to read and write and to understand mathematics. He was also converted to Christianity, reading the Bible regularly on board ship. Baptized at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, on 9 February 1759, he struggled with his faith until finally opting for Methodism."

By the end of the Seven Years' War he reached the rank of able seaman. Although he was freed by Pascal he was re-enslaved in London in 1762 and shipped to the West Indies. For four years he worked for a Montserrat based merchant, sailing between the islands and North America. "I was often a witness to cruelties of every kind, which were exercised on my unhappy fellow slaves. I used frequently to have different cargoes of new Negroes in my care for sale; and it was almost a constant practice with our clerks, and other whites, to commit violent depredations on the chastity of the female slaves; and these I was, though with reluctance, obliged to submit to at all times, being unable to help them." James Walvin points out that "Equiano... also trading to his own advantage as he did so. Ever alert to commercial openings, Equiano accumulated cash and in 1766 bought his own freedom."

Equiano now worked closely with Granvile Sharpe and Thomas Clarkson in the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Equiano spoke at a large number of public meetings where he described the cruelty of the slave trade. In 1787 Equiano helped his friend, Offobah Cugoano, to published an account of his experiences, Narrative of the Enslavement of a Native of America. Copies of his book was sent to George III and leading politicians. He failed to persuade the king to change his opinions and like other members of the royal family remained against abolition of the slave trade.

Equiano published his own autobiography, The Life of Olaudah Equiano the African in 1789. He travelled throughout England promoting the book. It became a bestseller and was also published in Germany (1790), America (1791) and Holland (1791). He also spent over eight months in Ireland where he made several speeches on the evils of the slave trade. While he was there he sold over 1,900 copies of his book.

David Dabydeen has argued: "With Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce and Granville Sharpe, Equiano was a major abolitionist, working ceaselessly to expose the nature of the shameful trade. He travelled throughout Britain with copies of his book, and thousands upon thousands attended his readings. When John Wesley lay dying, it was Equiano's book he took up to reread."

On 7th April 1792 Equiano married Susanna Cullen (1761-1796) of Soham, Cambridgeshire. The couple had two children, Anna Maria (16th October 1793) and Johanna (11th April 1795). However, Anna Maria died when she was only four years old. Equiano's wife died soon afterwards. During this period he was a close friend of Thomas Hardy, secretary of the London Corresponding Society. Equiano became an active member of this group that campaigned in favour of universal suffrage.

Olaudah Equiano was appointed to the expedition to settle former black slaves in Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa. However, he died at his home at Paddington Street, Marylebone, on 31st March, 1797 before he could complete the task.


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Ottobah Cugoano

Ottobah Cugoano was born in Africa in about 1757. As a child he was kidnapped by slave-traders. He later recalled: "I was early snatched away from my native country, with about eighteen or twenty more boys and girls, as we were playing in a field. We lived but a few days' journey from the coast where we were kidnapped... Some of us attempted, in vain, to run away, but pistols and cutlasses were soon introduced, threatening, that if we offered to stir, we should all lie dead on the spot."

Cugoano was placed on a slave-ship bound for the West Indies. "We were taken in the ship that came for us, to another that was ready to sail from Cape Coast. When we were put into the ship, we saw several black merchants coming on board, but we were all drove into our holes, and not suffered to speak to any of them. In this situation we continued several days in sight of our native land. And when we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable than life; and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames: but we were betrayed by one of our own countrywomen, who slept with some of the headmen of the ship, for it was common for the dirty filthy sailors to take the African women and lie upon their bodies; but the men were chained and pent up in holes. It was the women and boys which were to burn the ship, with the approbation and groans of the rest; though that was prevented, the discovery was likewise a cruel bloody scene."

On his arrival he was sold as a slave to plantation owners in Grenada. According to Cugoano he was treated very badly: "Being in this dreadful captivity and horrible slavery, without any hope of deliverance, for about eight or nine months, beholding the most dreadful scenes of misery and cruelty, and seeing my miserable companions often cruelly lashed, and, as it were, cut to pieces, for the most trifling faults; this made me often tremble and weep, but I escaped better than many of them. For eating a piece of sugar-cane, some were cruelly lashed, or struck over the face, to knock their teeth out. Some of the stouter ones, I suppose, often reproved, and grown hardened and stupid with many cruel beatings and lashings, or perhaps faint and pressed with hunger and hard labour, were often committing trespasses of this kind, and when detected, they met with exemplary punishment. Some told me they had their teeth pulled out, to deter others, and to prevent them from eating any cane in future. Thus seeing my miserable companions and countrymen in this pitiful, distressed, and horrible situation, with all the brutish baseness and barbarity attending it, could not but fill my little mind horror and indignation."

Ottobah Cugoano remained in the Caribbean until purchased by an English merchant. He was taken to England in 1772 where he was set free and was baptized "John Stuart" at St James's Church, Piccadilly on 20 August 1773. Later he entered the service of the royal artist, Richard Cosway.

Cugoano became one of the leaders of London's black community. In 1786 he played an important role in the case of Henry Demane, a black man who had been kidnapped and was about to be shipped to the West Indies as a slave. He contacted Granville Sharp, who managed to get Demane rescued before the ship left port. According to his biographer, Vincent Carretta: "Cugoano was one of the first identifiable Afro-Britons actively engaged in the fight against slavery. In 1786 he joined William Green, another Afro-Briton, in successfully appealing to Granville Sharp to save a black person, Harry Demane, from being forced into West Indian slavery. With Olaudah Equiano... he continued the struggle against slavery with public letters to London newspapers."

Cugoano was taught to read and write. In 1787, with the help of his friend, Olaudah Equiano, he published an account of his experiences, Narrative of the Enslavement of a Native of Africa. Copies of his book was sent to George III, Edmund Burke and other leading politicians. He failed to persuade the king to change his opinions and like other members of the royal family remained against abolition of the slave trade. In his book Cugoano was the first African to demand publicly the total abolition of the slave trade and the freeing of all slaves.

In Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (1787) he criticised religious and secular pro-slavery arguments and demanded the immediate abolition of the slave trade and emancipation of all slaves. He also called for punishments for slave owners, including enslavement by their former slaves.

In 1793 Cugoano upset William Wilberforce by describing him as a hypocrite when he refused to support the campaign to end slavery in the British Empire. Vincent Carretta has pointed out: "No record has been found of Cugoano's either having opened a school or having participated in settling Sierra Leone.... The cause, date, and place of Cugoano's death, and the date and place of his burial are unknown."


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Henry Box Brown

Henry Brown was born into slavery in Louisa County, Virginia, in 1815. When he was 15 years old he was sold to a plantation owner in Richmond. He later recalled: "My father and mother were left on the plantation; but I was taken to the city of Richmond, to work in a tobacco manufactory, owned by my old master's son William, who had received a special charge from his father to take good care of me, and which charge my new master endeavoured to perform."

The Nat Turner Rebellion took place in 1831 in neighbouring Southampton County. Brown later explained the impact that this had on the slaves on his plantation: "About eighteen months after I came to the city of Richmond, an extraordinary occurrence took place which caused great excitement all over the town. I did not then know precisely what was the cause of this excitement, for I could got no satisfactory information from my master, only he said that some of the slaves had plotted to kill their owners. I have since learned that it was the famous Nat Turner's insurrection. Many slaves were whipped, hung, and cut down with the swords in the streets; and some that were found away from their quarters after dark, were shot; the whole city was in the utmost excitement, and the whites seemed terrified beyond measure. Great numbers of slaves were loaded with irons; some were half hung as it was termed - that is they were suspended from some tree with a rope about their necks, so adjusted as not quite to strangle them - and then they were pelted by men and boys with rotten eggs."

Brown met another slave, Nancy, who he wanted to marry. "I now began to think of entering the matrimonial state; and with that view I had formed an acquaintance with a young woman named Nancy, who was a slave belonging to a Mr. Leigh a clerk in the Bank, and, like many more slave-holders, professing to be a very pious man. We had made it up to get married, but it was necessary in the first place, to obtain our masters' permission, as we could do nothing without their consent. I therefore went to Mr. Leigh, and made known to him my wishes, when he told me he never meant to sell Nancy, and if my master would agree never to sell me, I might marry her. He promised faithfully that he would not sell her, and pretended to entertain an extreme horror of separating families. He gave me a note to my master, and after they had discussed the matter over, I was allowed to marry the object of my choice." Over the next few years Nancy gave birth to three children.

In 1848 Nancy and her three children were sold to a slave trader who sent them to North Carolina. Brown later recalled: "I had not been many hours at my work, when I was informed that my wife and children were taken from their home, sent to the auction mart and sold, and then lay in prison ready to start away the next day for North Carolina with the man who had purchased them. I cannot express, in language, what were my feelings on this occasion. I received a message, that if I wished to see my wife and children, and bid them the last farewell, I could do so, by taking my stand on the street where they were all to pass on their way for North Carolina. I quickly availed myself of this information, and placed myself by the side of a street, and soon had the melancholy satisfaction of witnessing the approach of a gang of slaves, amounting to three hundred and fifty in number, marching under the direction of a Methodist minister, by whom they were purchased, and amongst which slaves were my wife and children."

The following year Brown, with the help of Samuel Smith, a store-keeper in Richmond, decided to try and escape. "I then told him my circumstances in regard to my master, having to pay him 25 dollars per month, and yet that he refused to assist me in saving my wife from being sold and taken away to the South, where I should never see her again. I told him this took place about five months ago, and I had been meditating my escape from slavery since, and asked him, as no person was near us, if he could give me any information about how I should proceed. I told him I had a little money and if he would assist me I would pay him for so doing."

The two men devised a plan where the slave would be shipped to a free state by Adams Express Company. Brown paid $86 to Smith, who contacted the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, who agreed to receive the box. Smith sent the box to Philadelphia on 23rd March, 1849. According to one account "Brown's box traveled by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally delivery wagon. Several times during the 27-hour journey, carriers placed the box upside-down or handled it roughly, but Brown was able to remain still enough to avoid detection." The box containing Brown was received by William Still and James Miller McKim.

Henry "Box" Brown became active in the Anti-Slavery Society and became one of their most important speakers. In 1849 he published Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown. After the passing of Fugitive Slave Law Brown moved to England. A second edition of his autobiography was published in Manchester in 1851. Over the next ten years he made speeches all over Britain.


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Austin Steward

Austin Steward was born a slave in Prince William County, Virginia, in 1793. "As was the usual custom, we lived in a small cabin, built of rough boards, with a floor of earth, and small openings in the sides of the cabin were substituted for windows. The chimney was built of sticks and mud; the door, of rough boards; and the whole was put together in the rudest possible manner. As to the furniture of this rude dwelling, it was procured by the slaves themselves, who were occasionally permitted to earn a little money after their day's toil was done."

Steward's master, William Helm, owned over a hundred slaves. When Steward was eight years old he became a house slave at Helm's mansion. His job was "to serve as an errand boy, where I had to stand in the presence of my master's family all the day, and a part of the night, ready to do any thing which they commanded me to perform. My master's family consisted of himself and wife, and seven children.... Mrs. Helm was a very industrious woman, and generally busy in her household affairs - sewing, knitting, and looking after the servants; but she was a great scold, - continually finding fault with some of the servants, and frequently punishing the young slaves herself, by striking them over the head with a heavy iron key, until the blood ran; or else whipping them with a cowhide, which she always kept by her side when sitting in her room. The older servants she would cause to be punished by having them severely whipped by a man, which she never failed to do for every trifling fault."

Steward was involved in providing food for the slaves: "The amount of provision given out on the plantation per week, was invariably one peck of corn or meal for each slave. This allowance was given in meal when it could be obtained; when it could not, they received corn, which they pounded in mortars after they returned from their labor in the field. The slaves on our plantation were provided with very little meat. In addition to the peck of corn or meal, they were allowed a little salt and a few herrings.... Captain William Helm allowed his slaves a small quantity of meat during harvest time, but when the harvest was over they were obliged to fall back on the old allowance."

Steward was highly critical of the way the slaves were punished: "The usual mode of punishing the poor slaves was, to make them take off their clothes to the bare back, and then tie their hands before them with a rope, pass the end of the rope over a beam, and draw them up till they stood on the tips of their toes. Sometimes they tied their legs together and placed a rail between. Thus prepared, the overseer proceeded to punish the poor, helpless victim. Thirty-nine was the number of lashes ordinarily inflicted for the most trifling offence. Who can imagine a position more painful? Oh, who, with feelings of common humanity, could look quietly on such torture? Who could remain unmoved, to see a fellow-creature thus tied, unable to move or to raise a hand in his own defence; scourged on his bare back, with a cowhide, until the blood flows in streams from his quivering flesh?"

Helm sold his plantation and moved to Bath in Steuben County. In financial difficulties, Helm had to hire his slaves out to local farmers. Some of these men treated him very badly and eventually he escaped. Steward reached Canada in 1815 where he joined the Wilberforce Colony that had been established by the Society of Friends. Steward later recalled: "The Society of Friends at this time, however, with commendable sympathy for the oppressed and abused colored residents of Cincinnati, and with their proverbial liberality, raised a sum of money sufficient to purchase eight hundred acres of land of the Canada Company for the benefit of the colony. The funds were placed in the hands of one of their number, Frederick Stover, who went to Canada as their agent, purchased the land, and settled colored people upon it, which comprised nearly all of the Wilberforce settlement."

Steward returned to Monroe County in 1837 where he became a businessman and served on a committee appointed to oversee black schools in the area. After fire destroyed his business, Steward moved to Canandaigua where he became a schoolteacher. He also became involved in the anti-slavery and temperance campaigns. He was also a strong opponent of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Steward's autobiography, Twenty-Two Years a Slave appeared in 1857 and is considered one of the best slave narratives available.

Austin Steward died in Rochester in 1860.


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Harriet Jacobs

Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina in 1813. Harriet's mother, Delilah, was the slave of John Horniblow, a tavern-keeper, and her father, Daniel Jacobs, a white slave owned by Dr. Andrew Knox. She later recorded: " I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away. My father was a carpenter, and considered so intelligent and skillful in his trade, that, when buildings out of the common line were to be erected, he was sent for from long distances, to be head workman. On condition of paying his mistress two hundred dollars a year, and supporting himself, he was allowed to work at his trade, and manage his own affairs. His strongest wish was to purchase his children; but, though he several times offered his hard earnings for that purpose, he never succeeded. In complexion my parents were a light shade of brownish yellow, and were termed mulattoes. They lived together in a comfortable home; and, though we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise, trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to be demanded of them at any moment." Delilah died when Harriet was six years old and was brought up by her grandmother.

In 1825 Harriet was sold to Dr. James Norcom. She became a house-slave: "Mrs. Norcom, like many southern women, was totally deficient in energy. She had not strength to superintend her household affairs; but her nerves were so strong, that she could sit in her easy chair and see a woman whipped, till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash. She was a member of the church; but partaking of the Lord's supper did not seem to put her in a Christian frame of mind. If dinner was not served at the exact time on that particular Sunday, she would station herself in the kitchen, and wait till it was dished, and then spit in all the kettles and pans that had been used for cooking. She did this to prevent the cook and her children from eking out their meager fare with the remains of the gravy and other scrapings. The slaves could get nothing to eat except what she chose to give them."

In her book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet described a slave-market she observed in North Carolina. "On one of these sale days, I saw a mother lead seven children to the auction-block. She knew that some of them would be taken from her; but they took all. The children were sold to a slave-trader, and their mother was bought by a man in her own town. Before night her children were all far away. She begged the trader to tell her where he intended to take them; this he refused to do. How could he, when he knew he would sell them, one by one, wherever he could command the highest price? I met that mother in the street, and her wild, haggard face lives to-day in my mind. She wrung her hands in anguish, and exclaimed, Gone! All gone! Why don't God kill me? I had no words wherewith to comfort her. Instances of this kind are of daily, yea, of hourly occurrence."

Harriet's brother Benjamin attempted to escape. However, like most runaways he was captured: "That day seems but as yesterday, so well do I remember it. I saw him led through the streets in chains, to jail. His face was ghastly pale, yet full of determination. He had begged one of the sailors to go to his mother's house and ask her not to meet him. He said the sight of her distress would take from him all self-control. She yearned to see him, and she went; but she screened herself in the crowd, that it might be as her child had said."

When she reached the age of fifteen Dr. James Norcom attempted to have sex with her: "My master, Dr. Norcom, began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt. The master's age, my extreme youth, and the fear that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him bear this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they left me trembling."

Several of the young slaves gave into his demands. According to Harriet: "My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves." This upset Mrs. Norcom: "The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage. Even the little child, who is accustomed to wait on her mistress and her children, will learn, before she is twelve years old, why it is that her mistress hates such and such a one among the slaves. Perhaps the child's own mother is among those hated ones. She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master's footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse."

Dr. James Norcom continued to make sexual advances towards her. When rebuffed, Norcom refused her permission to marry. Jacobs was seduced by Samuel Sawyer, a lawyer, and she had two children by him. Dr. Norcom continued to sexually harass Harriet and threatened to sell her children to a slave-dealer.

In 1834 Harriet became a runaway. Norcom published an advert in the local newspaper: "Ran away from the subscriber, an intelligent, bright, mulatto girl, 21 years age. Five feet four inches high. Dark eyes, and black hair inclined to curl; but it can be made straight. Has a decayed spot on a front tooth. She can read and write, and in all probability will try to get to the Free States. All persons are forbidden, under penalty of the law, to harbor or employ said slave. $150 will be given to whoever takes her in the state, and $300 if taken out of the state and delivered to me, or lodged in jail."

Harriet managed to reach Philadelphia. "I made my way back to the wharf, where the captain introduced me to the colored man, as the Rev. Jeremiah Durham, minister of Bethel church. He took me by the hand, as if I had been an old friend. He told us we were too late for the morning cars to New York, and must wait until the evening, or the next morning. He invited me to go home with him, assuring me that his wife would give me a cordial welcome; and for my friend he would provide a home with one of his neighbors. I thanked him for so much kindness to strangers, and told him if I must be detained, I should like to hunt up some people who formerly went from our part of the country. Mr. Durham insisted that I should dine with him, and then he would assist me in finding my friends. The sailors came to bid us good by. I shook their hardy hands, with tears in my eyes. They had all been kind to us, and they had rendered us a greater service than they could possibly conceive of."

Harriet later moved on to New York City where she worked as nurse-maid. She began writing her autobiography and some of it was published by Horace Greeley in his newspaper, New York Tribune. Her account of how she had been sexually abused shocked the American public and when her autobiography was completed, she found it difficult to get it published.

They were particularly concerned by Harriet's descriptions of the behaviour of Norcom (name changed to Flint in the book). Child defended the inclusion of the material by arguing: "This peculiar phase of slavery has generally been kept veiled; but the public ought to be made acquainted with its monstrous features, and I willingly take the responsibility of presenting them with the veil withdrawn. I do this for the sake of my sisters in bondage, who are suffering wrongs so foul, that our ears are too delicate to listen to them."

Others people were upset by the way Jacobs highlighted the role of the Church in maintaining slavery. Eventually the manuscript was accepted by the publishers, Thayer and Eldridge, who recruited Lydia Maria Child to edit the book. Unfortunately, Thayer and Eldridge went bankrupt and it was not until 1861 that it was published in Boston as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

During the American Civil War Jacobs worked as a nurse in Virginia. When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 Jacobs wrote to Lydia Maria Child that: "I have lived to hear the Proclamation of Freedom for my suffering people. All my wrongs are forgiven. I am more than repaid for all I have endured."

Harriet Jacobs, who lived the latter part of her life in Washington, died on 7th March, 1897, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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Henry Bibb

Henry Bibb was born in Shelby County, Kentucky in 10th May, 1815. His father was state senator James Bibb. His mother, Mildred Jackson, a slave, worked on the plantation owned by Willard Gatewood, and had seven children.

As a child, Bibb saw his brothers and sisters sold to different slave owners. Bibb was hired out to various slave holders and had little contact with his mother. He later recalled: "A slave may be bought and sold in the market like an ox. He is liable to be sold off to a distant land from his family. He is bound in chains hand and foot; and his sufferings are aggravated a hundred fold, by the terrible thought, that he is not allowed to struggle against misfortune, corporal punishment, insults and outrages committed upon himself and family; and he is not allowed to help himself, to resist or escape the blow, which he sees impending over him. I was a slave, a prisoner for life; I could possess nothing, nor acquire anything but what must belong to my keeper. No one can imagine my feelings in my reflecting moments, but he who has himself been a slave."

Bibb had a strong desire for an education but this was not allowed in Shelby County. "Slaves were not allowed books, pen, ink, nor paper, to improve their minds. There was a Miss Davies, a poor white girl, who offered to teach a Sabbath School for the slaves. Books were supplied and she started the school; but the news got to our owners that she was teaching us to read. This caused quite an excitement in the neighbourhood. Patrols were appointed to go and break it up the next Sabbath."

Bibb married in his late teens but was furious when his wife's owner forced her to become a prostitute. As he explained: "A poor slave's wife can never be true to her husband contrary to the will of her master. She can neither be pure nor virtuous, contrary to the will of her master. She dare not refuse to be reduced to a state of adultery at the will of her master."

After making several attempts to escape he was finally successful in 1837. "One of the most self-denying acts of my whole life was to take leave of my affectionate wife, who stood before me on my departure, with dear little Frances in her arms, and with tears of sorrow in her eyes as she bid me a long farewell. It required all the moral courage that I was master of to suppress my feelings while taking leave of my little family."

Six months later he returned and helped his family escape, but they were caught and sold to a plantation owner in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Once again the family attempted to escape but were captured after being attacked by wolves. Bibb was then sold to a group of Native Americans. After escaping from them he began his long and unsuccessful attempt to rescue the rest of the family.

In 1842 Bibb began lecturing on slavery and along with Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown, became one of the best known of the African American activists. Bibb also worked for the Liberty Party in Michigan. During one lecture tour he met Mary Miles of Boston and the couple married in June, 1848. The following year the Anti-Slavery Society published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave.

In January 1851, Bibb joined with Josiah Henson to form the Refugees' Home Colony in Canada for escaped slaves. He also established Canada's first African American newspaper, the Voice of the Fugitive. One of the newspaper's regular contributors was Martin Delaney. During this period Bibb led the campaign to persuade fugitive slaves and free African Americans to settle in Canada.

Henry Bibb died during the summer of 1854.


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