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Journeys of the Slave Narrative in the Early Americas

Journeys of the Slave Narrative in the Early Americas

Nicole N. Aljoe
Ian Finseth
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Journeys of the Slave Narrative in the Early Americas
    Book Description:

    Focusing on slave narratives from the Atlantic world of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, this interdisciplinary collection of essays suggests the importance-even the necessity-of looking beyond the iconic and ubiquitous works of Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. In granting sustained critical attention to writers such as Briton Hammon, Omar Ibn Said, Juan Francisco Manzano, Nat Turner, and Venture Smith, among others, this book makes a crucial contribution not only to scholarship on the slave narrative but also to our understanding of early African American and Black Atlantic literature.

    The essays explore the social and cultural contexts, the aesthetic and rhetorical techniques, and the political and ideological features of these noncanonical texts. By concentrating on earlier slave narratives not only from the United States but from the Caribbean, South America, and Latin America as well, the volume highlights the inherent transnationality of the genre, illuminating its complex cultural origins and global circulation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3639-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Remapping the Early American Slave Narrative
    (pp. 1-16)
    Nicole N. Aljoe

    InThe Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness,Paul Gilroy offers “the image of ships in motion across the spaces between Europe, America, Africa, and the Caribbean as a central organizing symbol” for his analysis of modernity’s roots within the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century African Atlantic slave trade. He explains: “The image of the ship—a living, micro-cultural, micro-political system in motion—is especially important for historical and theoretical reasons. . . . Ships immediately focus attention on the middle passage, on the various projects for redemptive return to an African homeland, on the circulation of ideas and activists as well as the movement...

  5. Irony and Modernity in the Early Slave Narrative: Bonds of Duty, Contracts of Meaning
    (pp. 17-46)
    Ian Finseth

    In his 1810 narrative, the African American Methodist deacon George White recounts a particularly terrifying dream he experienced following a camp-meeting in 1804. Some time after awaking, White tells his wife about the dream and its visions of hell: “I related the whole to my bosom companion; who, having heard it with astonishment, and much affection, was desirous to know what I thought would be the result; concerning which, I gave her my opinion in full; and we covenanted together from that time, to be more faithful to God than ever, and to escape, if possible, the torments I had...

  6. Trials and Confessions of Fugitive Slave Narratives
    (pp. 47-73)
    Gretchen J. Woertendyke

    Few slave conspiracies rattled nineteenth-century Americans as much as those of Denmark Vesey (1822) and Nat Turner (1831). Taking place less than a decade apart, both events saturated newspaper accounts, trial transcripts, and quasi-literary narratives, in addition to resulting in large-scale executions, deportations, and imprisonments. Yet despite their infamous status in the annals of slave historiography and local lore, the hypothetical conspiracy of Denmark Vesey in Charleston, South Carolina, and actual insurrection of Nat Turner in Southampton, Virginia, have not been considered slave narratives. Why?

    Neither self-written memoirs nor dictated biographies, the writing produced in the wake of these spectacular...

  7. “They Us’d Me Pretty Well”: Briton Hammon and Cross-Cultural Alliances in the Maritime Borderlands of the Florida Coast
    (pp. 74-100)
    Jeffrey Gagnon

    The opening scene of Briton Hammon’sA Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man(1760) appears to describe yet another stereotypical eighteenth-century tale of Indian savagery and captivity. According to the text, a ship carrying the narrator is returning home to Massachusetts in late spring of 1748 with a cargo of logwood when it becomes lodged on a shallow reef off the southern Florida coast.¹ As the captain and crew debate whether to ditch the expensive cargo to lift the ship off the reef, a group of unidentified local Natives launch a marine assault...

  8. Uncommon Sufferings: Rethinking Bondage in A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man
    (pp. 101-126)
    Keith Michael Green

    Although it has often been recognized as the first slave narrative published in North America,¹ Briton Hammon’sNarrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man(1760) is actually a quintessential example of several kinds of captivity, but not explicitly or even especially of chattel slavery. The fourteen-page document relates the Atlantic seaman’s many fantastic adventures, detailing his departure from New England aboard a trading vessel, his shipwreck off the coast of Florida, his subsequent capture by Florida Natives, his paradoxical rescue and semicaptivity by the Cuban governor, his detention by a Spanish press gang, and...

  9. Narrating an Indigestible Trauma: The Alimentary Grammar of Boyrereau Brinch’s Middle Passage
    (pp. 127-142)
    Lynn R. Johnson

    From the late eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries, African survivors of the Middle Passage publicly exposed the traumas of the Atlantic slave trade through oral and published autobiographical testimonies. As direct witnesses to the various machinations of slave trafficking, they undoubtedly understood that they were the most effective agents in rallying to end the human victimization and cultural decimation that were endemic to the business. Like other writers of trauma literature, they reasoned that “if they could only make [the world] see what they have seen,” it “too could be changed.”¹ In making their experiences of slavery real to global...

  10. “The Most Perfect Picture of Cuban Slavery”: Transatlantic Bricolage in Manzano’s and Madden’s Poems by a Slave
    (pp. 143-170)
    R.J. Boutelle

    As the only extant slave narrative from Spanish America, the memoir of Juan Francisco Manzano marks a foundational contribution to both the Cuban and Afro-Caribbean literary traditions.¹ Because of the Spanish colonial government’s strict management of dissenting discourse and strategic censorship of potentially incendiary materials, however, it was not until 1937 — over a century after the text’s composition — that Cuban historian José Luciano Franco finally dusted off a surviving manuscript and publishedAutobiografía, cartas y versos de Juan Francisco Manzanoin Havana. The primary vehicle for the narrative’s dissemination in the mid-nineteenth century was Irish abolitionist Richard Robert Madden’sPoems...

  11. Seeking a Righteous King: A Bahamian Runaway Slave in Cuba
    (pp. 171-186)
    José Guadalupe Ortega

    In 1791, Juan Antonio (el ingles), José Rafael, and Juan Francisco left New Providence, Bahamas, for Cuba with the hope of gaining their freedom upon arrival. The onset of the French and Haitian Revolution had spurred rumors of emancipation and abolition from Port-au-Prince and other Caribbean ports to the British West Indies. Convinced that Spanish royal decrees and colonial officials in Cuba were emancipating English slaves of African descent, Juan Antonio and his companions secured a small craft and followed the ocean currents linking the Bahamas to various Atlantic commercial circuits. They arrived at the coast of the province of...

  12. Literary Form and Islamic Identity in The Life of Omar Ibn Said
    (pp. 187-208)
    Basima Kamel Shaheen

    In 1995, the original manuscript ofThe Life of Omar Ibn Said, Written by Himself,the most complete American slave narrative in the Arabic language, was rediscovered in an old trunk in Virginia. This was the first time Ibn Said’s autobiographical text was seen since its disappearance in the early years of the twentieth century, and in 2011 Ala Alryyes published an authoritative English translation of the narrative, providing scholars with the only edition of Ibn Said’s text that preserves the meaning of the original manuscript. This edition of Ibn Said’sLifebrought one of the earliest and most important...

  13. Coda: Animating Absence
    (pp. 209-224)
    Kristina Bross

    How do we gain access to the lives described in the embedded slave narratives of early colonial texts? For a long time, many of us interested in the mission pamphlets, travel stories, exploration narratives, and other writings of the early modern Atlantic world have suffered a degree of analytical paralysis. Those of us earning our critical chops in the 1990s were schooled in theories of discourse and power, convinced by New Historicist and some postcolonial notions that such texts could only be understood as signs and symptoms of European discursive power. This theory and criticism taught us that when we...

  14. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 225-228)
  15. Index
    (pp. 229-240)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-242)