Listen to the slaves
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Listen to the Slaves. SLAVE NARRATIVES. Charles T. Davis & Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1985) The Slave’s Narrative . Oxford University Press, New York. An engraved portrait, signed by the narrator

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Listen to the Slaves

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Listen to the slaves

Listen to the Slaves

Slave narratives


  • Charles T. Davis & Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1985) The Slave’s Narrative. Oxford University Press, New York.

  • An engraved portrait, signed by the narrator

  • A title page that includes the claim, as an integral part of the title, “Written by Himself”

  • Testimonials and/or one or more prefaces or introductions (usually written by whites)

Slave narratives1


  • A first sentence beginning, “I was born…” A place but not a date of birth

  • Sketchy account of parentage

  • Description of a cruel master, mistress, etc.

  • An account of one extraordinarily strong slave – “pure African”

  • Description of a “Christian” slaveholder

  • Description of plantation life

Slave narratives2


  • Account of slave auction, of families being destroyed

  • Description of slave patrols

  • Escape attempts

  • Taking of a new last name

  • Reflections on slavery

  • Often dictated to a white writer or reviewed by a white editor

  • “life on the road” (i.e. Bibb) – emphasis on deception over physical resistance

Slave narratives3


  • Authenticity

Slave narratives4


  • Authenticity – Samuel Ringgold Ward

    • His anti-slavery “labours” in the United States, Canada, & England

    • Published in London: John Snow, 35, Paternoster Row. 1855.

    • Begins with letter to Her Grace the Duchess of Sutherland, London, 31st October, 1855

Slave narratives5


“Before your Grace can see these lines,I

shall be again traversing the great Atlantic.

Will you, Madam, pardon this utterance of

the deep-felt sentiment of a grateful heart,

which can only find indulgence and relief in

the humble dedication of this Volume to you,

as my honoured patroness, and the generous

friend of the Negro people in all lands?” (page iv)

Horton 3


  • 1693 – Spanish crown granted freedom to slaves who ran away from the British colonies – led to first free black settlement (1738) - Fort Mose (1st legally sanctioned free black town in America)

  • Defended Spanish settlers at St. Augustine

  • Stono Rebellion - 1739

    • Led to the growth of the Black Seminole Indians

Northern slavery


  • Crispus Attucks – Boston Massacre, 1770

  • “African Americans pointed out the hypocrisy inherent in the use by slaveholders of the rhetoric of slavery and freedom.” (p.62) Discuss


    • Petition from Massachusetts slaves (p.63)

      • Discuss

Black seminole indians

Black Seminole Indians

  • Some were “slaves,” but different type of slavery

  • Owned land, etc.

  • Obtained leadership roles and intermarried

  • Creeks and Cherokees were different

  • Seminole Wars – 1817-1818, 1835-1842

  • “This, you may be assured, is a negro, not an Indian war…” (General Jesup) – 1500 soldiers killed

  • Eventually migrated to Texas


Phillis wheatley


On Being Brought from Africa to America

Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view that sable race with scornful eye:

“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”

Remember, Christians, Negroes black as Cain

May be refined and join the angelic strain.

Great american paradox

Great American Paradox

  • “It always seemed a most iniquitous scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.” (Abigail Adams, 1774) p.64

  • How can America balance slavery and freedom?

Blacks in the war

Blacks in the War

  • Debate over black participation in the war – Fear of white southerners; Washington compromise

  • Black participation in Loyalists groups

  • What did Lord Dunmore, colonial governor of Virginia, do? Somerset case?

  • Why did Washington reverse his policy on recruitment of blacks?

Race theory


  • Edward Long (British colonial administrator) – 1774 – first published in three volumes, but again in the 1970s. Passages of his book reprinted in a magazine in 1788.

Race theory1


Passages from Long:

-Negroes were “void of genius” and had “no moral situations; no taste but for women;… drinking to excess; no wish but to be idle.”

-Orang-outan nearly human: Could be taught to eat at a dinner table and taught to speak. Orangs did not “seem at all inferior in the intellectual faculties to many of the negroe race.”

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