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Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky

A Narrative by Francis Fedric, Escaped Slave

C. L. Innes

Publication Year: 2010

In 1854, faced with the threat of yet another brutal beating, a fifty-year-old slave in Mason County, Kentucky, decided to try again to escape. His first attempt had ended in his near starvation as he hid for nine weeks in a swamp, before hunger compelled him to return to his master. This time the slave sought the help of a neighbor with abolitionist sympathies, and he joined the hundreds of other fugitive slaves fleeing across the Ohio River and north to Canada on the Underground Railroad. After his arrival in Toronto he discarded his master’s surname (Parker), renamed himself Francis Fedric, and married an Englishwoman. In 1857, he traveled with his wife to Great Britain, where he lectured on behalf of the antislavery cause and published two versions of his life story. Born in Virginia circa 1805, Francis Fedric was not unlike thousands of other African Americans who escaped slavery in the southern states and sought refuge in Britain. Many of his fellow ex-slaves also joined the abolitionist lecture circuit and published memoirs to support both the cause and themselves. Addressed to a British audience, these memoirs constitute a distinctive subgenre of the slave narrative, and an essential continuation of the narrative tradition established in England by Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cugoano, and Mary Prince. The first of Fedric’s two memoirs, Life and Sufferings of Francis Fedric, While in Slavery: An Escaped Slave after 51 Years in Bondage (1859), offers a brief but vivid and dramatic twelve-page description of his escape. Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky; or, Fifty Years of Slavery in the Southern States of America (1863) provides a much more detailed account of life as a slave and of plantation culture in the southern states. Together the two works present a mesmerizing and distinct perspective on slavery in the South. Amazingly, these narratives, among the most interesting of the genre, remained out of print for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Collected here for the first time and meticulously edited by C. L. Innes, Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky: A Narrative by Francis Fedric, Escaped Slave includes a contextual introduction, substantial biographical information on Fedric, and extensive annotations that situate and illuminate his work. Long forgotten and never before published in the United States, Fedric’s narratives are certain to take their rightful place alongside the most recognizable accounts in the canon of slave memoirs.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Library of Southern Civilization

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

I am grateful to the Leverhulme Trust, whose financial support enabled travel to New York, Virginia, Kentucky, and Toronto, as well as frequent trips to the British Newspaper Library at Colindale in pursuit of Francis Fedric. Staff at the Schomburg...

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INTRODUCTION: Francis Fedric’s Story: Historical and Cultural Contexts

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pp. ix-xxxviii

In 1854, faced with the threat of yet another brutal beating, a fifty-yearold slave in Mason County, Kentucky, decided to make his second attempt to escape. His first attempt, about five years previously, had resulted in his near starvation...

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A Note on the Texts

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pp. xxxix-xxxx

Fedric’s first memoir, Life and Sufferings of Francis Fedric, While in Slavery: An Escaped Slave after 51 Years in Bondage, was published as a twelvepage pamphlet by Tonks and Jones, Birmingham...

Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky

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pp. 9-18

I was born in Fauquier County, in Old Virginia. My remembrance, as nearly as I can reckon, extends back to my eighth or ninth year of age. Some little striking incidents occur, now and then to my mind, which happened when I was somewhat younger...

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pp. 19-31

I had arrived at about my fourteenth year of age, without having been engaged in any definite employment,—running errands, tending the corn-fields, looking after the cattle, in short, doing anything and everything in turns about the plantation...

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pp. 32-42

The first wedding which I remember being at certainly afforded a good deal of amusement to me and others who were present. I will, therefore, endeavour to describe it as well as I can...

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pp. 43-49

In harvest-time, thirty or forty years ago, it was customary to give the slaves a good deal of grog, the masters thinking that the slaves could not do the hard work without the spirits. A great change has taken place now in this respect; many of the planters during...

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pp. 50-60

The slaveholders, as a body, are very superstitious, and are continually haunted with fears of ghosts and goblins. No one ought, therefore, to wonder at the poor ignorant slave being imbued...

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pp. 61-62

A contempt for workers characterizes every one in any way connected with slavery. Nothing seems so degrading to them as to do the slightest menial office, such as making a pie, or tart, or any little article...

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pp. 63-71

Work, work, work, one day like another, only I had now been to several prayer-meetings, and had got a knowledge of religion, which comforted me. I thought about the future...

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pp. 72-79

I still had to work on, now hopeless of ever getting my liberty. I was now very busy in the kitchen preserving various kinds of fruits. The fruit trees are generally in bloom in March. There are large orchards containing apple, peach, plum, pear, and damson...

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pp. 80-82

Travellers and strangers passing through the Southern States have no conception of the cruelty practised around them; it is kept in the background. My master was ordering two slaves to strip, for the purpose of flogging them for having been out without leave during the night. Two gentlemen rode up to the house...

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pp. 83-94

Since my first attempt to escape I was so uniformly treated badly, that my life would have been insupportable if I had not been soothed by the kind words of the good abolitionist planter who had first conveyed to me a true knowledge...

Appendix: Life and Sufferings of Francis Fedric, While in Slavery

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pp. 95-112


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pp. 113-119


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pp. 121-124

E-ISBN-13: 9780807138052
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807136843

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Library of Southern Civilization

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Subject Headings

  • Frederick, Francis, ca. 1805-ca. 1882.
  • Slaves -- Virginia -- Biography.
  • Slaves -- Kentucky -- Biography.
  • Fugitive slaves -- Canada -- Biography.
  • Slaves -- Virginia -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Slaves -- Kentucky -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Plantation life -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Plantation life -- Kentucky -- History -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Biography -- England -- African Americans -- Biography.
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