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Genius in Bondage

Genius in Bondage: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 280
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    Genius in Bondage
    Book Description:

    Until fairly recently, critical studies and anthologies of African American literature generally began with the 1830s and 1840s. Yet there was an active and lively transatlantic black literary tradition as early as the 1760s.Genius in Bondagesituates this literature in its own historical terms, rather than treating it as a sort of prologue to later African American writings. The contributors address the shifting meanings of race and gender during this period, explore how black identity was cultivated within a capitalist economy, discuss the impact of Christian religion and the Enlightenment on definitions of freedom and liberty, and identify ways in which black literature both engaged with and rebelled against Anglo-American culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5946-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Vincent Carretta and Philip Gould

    In June 1780, Ignatius Sancho wrote a letter to one of his many white correspondents describing the Gordon riots that had just erupted on the streets of London. More surprising than Sancho’s disdain for the anti-Catholic mob is his description of “the worse than Negro barbarity of the populace.”¹ If his association of blackness with savagery disrupts our assumptions about the collective identity of black writing, it also opens up rhetorical possibilities for him. In describing in detail the “burnings and devastations” by the city’s “poor, miserable, ragged rabble,” Sancho actually dramatizes a savvy reversal of the racial terms for...

  5. Part One “Race” and “Gender” in the Early Black Atlantic

    • “Betrayed by Some of My Own Complexion”: Cugoano, Abolition, and the Contemporary Language of Racialism
      (pp. 17-38)
      Roxann Wheeler

      Riddled with contradictions raised by the languages of abolition and racial difference, Ottobah Cugoano’sThoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species(1787) illustrates the logical contortions that these two discursive registers elicited. Focusing more on contemporary political, economic, and religious issues than on his experiences as a slave, Cugoano’s text engages typical religious and secular arguments marshaled to justify slavery and examines some of the major institutions of his day in terms of their alleviating or worsening the situation of slaves. In this respect, hisThoughts and Sentimentsresembles...

    • Race, Redemption, and Captivity in A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black and Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man
      (pp. 39-53)
      Karen A. Weyler

      InHeroic Women of the West(1854), John Frost relates a lengthy anecdote about an episode of Indian attack and captivity that reveals the intermingled lives of blacks, whites, and Indians during the late eighteenth century. While moving westward in 1788 into Tennessee, the Brown party was attacked by Cherokee and Creek Indians, who killed several members of the family (including the father, James Brown), stole their livestock, and took captive the mother (Jane Brown), several children, and the family’s slaves. The white members of the Brown household later escaped or were ransomed, but the slaves remained in captivity. Twenty-five...

    • Being a Man: Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho
      (pp. 54-71)
      Felicity A. Nussbaum

      Aphra Behn’s description of Oroonoko’s partially classical, partially African features has become quite familiar to students of Restoration and eighteenth-century England. The royal slave’s ideal physique, Roman nose, piercing eyes, and finely shaped mouth are reminiscent of the most elegant Greek and Roman statues, except for the blight of his color: “His face was not of that brown, rusty black which most of that nation are, but a perfect ebony, or polished jet…. The whole proportion and air of his face was so noble, and exactly formed, that,bating his colour, there could be nothing in nature more beautiful, agreeable...

    • Volatile Subjects: The History of Mary Prince
      (pp. 72-86)
      Gillian Whitlock

      This reading circles around the relations between the two women who came together in the production ofThe History of Mary Prince. This is the narrative of a former slave born in Bermuda and was first published in 1831. The relationship between Mary Prince and her amanuensis Susanna Strickland Moodie was played out at the writing scene of Mary Prince’sHistoryand raises issues that are fundamental to how we read autobiographies, and what it might mean to read these with colonialism and its aftermath in view. There is for some autobiographic subjects a kind of extreme, a crisis of...

  6. Part Two Market Culture and Racial Authority

    • Letters of the Old Calabar Slave Trade 1760–1789
      (pp. 89-115)
      Paul E. Lovejoy and David Richardson

      In this paper, we draw attention to the correspondence of the slave trade of Old Calabar in 1760–89.¹ Fourteen letters are included here, twelve by Old Calabar merchants and two by Liverpool merchants that provide evidence of correspondence as early as July 1760 and the arrangements for education in Britain in the late 1760s (see appendix). The individuals mentioned in the letters include many of the most important slave merchants in Old Calabar, Liverpool and Bristol, as well as captains of slave ships. Although the surviving correspondence is meager, the letters demonstrate that some of the merchants at Old...

    • “Remarkable Liberty”: Language and Identity in Eighteenth-Century Black Autobiography
      (pp. 116-129)
      Philip Gould

      During the post-Revolutionary era the legal and social status of African Americans was at best precarious. Numerous historians have noted as much. Joanne Melish recently has argued that this period, which witnessed the gradual emancipation of black slaves, nevertheless left them in a liminal position, somewhere between being “freed” and truly “free.” Such a position of course derived from the inability of whites to envision the reality of black citizenship. In this essay I wish to consider the literary and autobiographical ramifications of liberty. How did eighteenth-century black writers cultivate the claim to individual “freedom” or “liberty”? I address this...

    • “Property of Author”: Olaudah Equiano’s Place in the History of the Book
      (pp. 130-150)
      Vincent Carretta

      In the story of what is now commonly called “the history of the book,” Olaudah Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa, as he almost always referred to himself in public and private) has been an invisible man, and the significance of his role in the publication and distribution of his autobiography,The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself(London, 1789), has been largely overlooked.¹ For example, in an account of several late–eighteenth-century booksellers who published their autobiographies “to vindicate, to entertain, to sell, and usually to do all three,” James Raven...

  7. Part Three Language and the “Other”:: The Question of Difference

    • “Surprizing Deliverance”?: Slavery and Freedom, Language, and Identity in the Narrative of Briton Hammon, “A Negro Man”
      (pp. 153-174)
      Robert Desrochers Jr.

      Briton Hammon spent a good part of Christmas Day 1747 on his feet, en route from the seaside town of Marshfield, Massachusetts, where he lived, to the docks of Plymouth just over ten miles south. The next day Hammon negotiated a berth aboard a trading sloop bound for “Jamaicaand theBay” of Campeche, where valuable logwood lay floating west of the Yucatan peninsula. Hammon, who had been to the West Indies at least once before, knew what he might be getting himself into. Disease and death, meager rations, the latent fury of nature and ruthless shipmasters. The eighteenth-century deep-sea...

    • On Her Own Footing: Phillis Wheatley in Freedom
      (pp. 175-189)
      Frank Shuffelton

      When Phillis Wheatley wrote in 1770 to the Countess of Huntingdon, presenting a copy of her elegy on George Whitefield, the Countess’s chaplain, she opened a connection to an imperial public sphere that paid off handsomely for a self-styled “untutored African.” By the early autumn of 1773 Wheatley had become a figure of public note in Boston and London, made an almost triumphal visit to the imperial capital, published her poems in a handsome volume, and, perhaps most importantly, gained her freedom upon her return to Boston. She wrote a “short Sketch” of her trip to Col David Wooster of...

    • “Thou Hast the Holy Word”: Jupiter Hammon’s “Regards” to Phillis Wheatley
      (pp. 190-198)
      Rosemary Fithian Guruswamy

      In the early pages of her seminal work,Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of Black American Literature, Sondra O’Neale makes an incontrovertible case for Hammon’s existence as a textual protester of slavery based on his use of the Bible as a metaphorical vehicle for masked articulation of his dissent.¹ Hammon’s occupation as a slave exhorter²—a class of itinerant, often illiterate African-American preachers—suggests such an alliance with antislavery protest. Whereas contemporaneous Protestant texts place these men on the lunatic fringe, their evangelical stance allied them in the eyes of their own community with the powerful African cultic priest,...

    • Ignatius Sancho’s Letters: Sentimental Libertinism and the Politics of Form
      (pp. 199-217)
      Markman Ellis

      Over nearly two years between July 1766 and March 1768, a correspondence, and subsequently a friendship, blossomed between Ignatius Sancho—“a Negro, a Butler, and a Grocer”—and Laurence Sterne, a clergyman, a novelist, and a literary celebrity.¹ To their contemporaries, such a connection was unusual enough to appear a kind of wonder of the age, not only crossing firmly demarcated boundaries of status, education and race, but also revealing what they shared: an enthusiasm for, and ambition within, the cultural elite of London society. The fame of their association, feted and analyzed both by contemporaries and twentieth-century historians and...

    • Benjamin Banneker’s Revision of Thomas Jefferson: Conscience Versus Science in the Early American Antislavery Debate
      (pp. 218-241)
      William Andrews

      On August 19, 1791, Benjamin Banneker, a Maryland farmer, surveyor, and astronomer nearing his sixtieth birthday, wrote a letter to forty-eight-year-old Thomas Jefferson, United States Secretary of State in George Washington’s first administration. Banneker was not in the habit of writing to national political figures, but he had reason to believe that Jefferson would not regard a letter from him as an impertinence. After all, earlier that year Jefferson had approved of Banneker’s appointment to the team of surveyors charged by President Washington with laying out the District of Columbia (Bedini, 108). Banneker also may have known that he shared...

    • Fifth of July: Nathaniel Paul and the Construction of Black Nationalism
      (pp. 242-260)
      Robert S. Levine

      The opening decades of the nineteenth century, we sometimes forget, were a hopeful time for African Americans in the northern states. Strong black communities emerged in Philadelphia, New York, and other cities, and black leaders became increasingly vocal in calling for emancipation. With the New York legislature’s relatively late decision to abolish slavery in the state effective 4 July 1827, many African Americans came to believe that they would be able to achieve equal status with whites as enfranchised citizens, and that slavery might even come to an end within their lifetimes. Among those buoyed by the prospects of emancipation,...

  8. Index
    (pp. 261-274)