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American Slavery As It Is

Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses

Theodore Dwight Weld

Compiled by a prominent abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, ###American Slavery As It Is# combines information taken from witnesses, and from active and former slave owners, to generate a condemnation of slavery from both those who observed it and those who perpetuated it. The narrative describes the appalling day-to-day conditions of the over 2,700,000 men, women and children in slavery in the United States. Weld demonstrates how even prisoners--in the United States and in other countries--were significantly better fed than American slaves. Readers will find one of the most meticulous records of slave life available in this text. Unlike personal slave narratives, which focus on a single man or woman's experience, ###American Slavery# details the overall conditions of slaves across multiple states and several years.

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Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

Elizabeth Keckley

###Behind the Scenes# is the life story of Elizabeth Keckley, a shrewd entrepreneur who, while enslaved, raised enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son. Keckley moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker for the wives of influential politicians. She eventually became a close confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. Several years after President Lincoln's assassination, when Mrs. Lincoln's financial situation had worsened, Keckley helped organize an auction of the former first lady's dresses, eliciting strong criticism from members of the Washington elite. ###Behind the Scenes# is, therefore, both a slave narrative and Keckley's attempt to defend the motives behind the auction. However, the book's publication prompted an even greater public outcry, with the added racial subtext of white society's disdain for Keckley's audacity in publishing details of the Lincolns' private lives. Keckley's dressmaking business failed, the Lincoln family cut all ties with her, and she lived out her final days in a home for the indigent. Scholars have acknowledged the book's valuable account of slave life as well as its intimate view into the Lincoln White House. Biographers of the Lincolns have quoted extensively from Keckley's text.

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The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia

Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America

Nat Turner

Perhaps no other moment in history crystallized the fears of slave owners in the South like the August 21-22, 1831, slave insurrection led by Nat Turner in Southampton, Virginia. ###The Confessions of Nat Turner# details Turner's life and the events surrounding that armed revolt, which left more than fifty men, women, and children dead and that culminated in Turner's execution. Interviewed by Thomas R. Gray while in prison for his crimes, Turner begins his story with his earliest childhood memories, and the subsequent narrative leads the reader through his decision, formed over years in slavery, to strike for freedom. He discusses his religious conversion and his belief that he was called by God to murder slave owners. He spares no detail as he describes each murder he oversaw or committed. Unique in its historical moment and powerful voice, ###The Confessions of Nat Turner# provides an uncensored look into one of the key events in the slave-holding South.

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The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina

John Andrew Jackson

In ###The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina#, escaped slave John Andrew Jackson seeks to educate his readers on the horrors of slavery. He spares no details in relating the murder of his sister, the separation of his family, and his own frequent whippings at the hands of a "Christian" master and mistress. He offers a scathing review of white religious hypocrisy, criticizing those who could not see the contradiction between worshiping a merciful God on Sundays and holding slaves under inhumane conditions. Jackson details his escape from slavery into Massachusetts as a ship stowaway after he is separated by sale from his first wife and child. He also describes his interactions with Harriet Beecher Stowe; his failed attempts to purchase the freedom of his family members; and his eventual escape into Canada following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. His work also includes a variety of carefully recorded hymns and antislavery songs. Jackson would eventually flee to England with his second wife before returning to South Carolina after the War.

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Fifty Years in Chains

Or, the Life of an American Slave

Charles Ball

Fifty Years in Chains: Or, the Life of an American Slave (1859) was an abridged and unauthorized reprint of the earlier Slavery in the United States (1836). In the narratives, Ball describes his experiences as a slave, including the uncertainty of slave life and the ways in which the slaves are forced to suffer inhumane conditions. He recounts the qualities of his various masters and the ways in which his fortune depended on their temperament. As slave narrative scholar William L. Andrews has noted, Ball's oft-repeated narrative directly influenced the manner and matter of later fugitive slave narratives.

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Harriet, the Moses of Her People

Sarah Hopkins Bradford

In 1869, Sarah Hopkins Bradford published Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Though often disjointed, this account presented to the public a legendary figure of the Underground Railroad. In 1886, Bradford substantially rewrote the biography at the request of Tubman, who hoped its sales would raise enough funds for the building of a hospital for old and disabled colored people. This second edition, Harriet, the Moses of Her People, provided little new information, but arranged the jumbled narrative of Scenes in chronological order, providing a clearer account of Tubman's life.

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The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Negro Patriot of Hayti

Comprising an Account of the Struggle for Liberty in the Island, and a Sketch of Its History to the Present Period

John Relly Beard

Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803) won international renown in the Haitian fight for independence. He led thousands of former slaves into battle against French, Spanish, and English forces, routing the Europeans and seizing control of the entire island of Hispaniola. L'Ouverture became governor and commander-in-chief of Haiti before officially acknowledging French rule in 1801, when he submitted a newly written constitution to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and the French legislature for ratification. In response, Bonaparte sent an army to depose L'Ouverture, who was taken prisoner in June of 1802 and shipped to France, where he died of pneumonia in April 1803. The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture (1853) was first published in London on the fiftieth anniversary of L'Ouverture's death and remained the authoritative English-language history of L'Ouverture's life until the late twentieth century.

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A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery

Moses Roper

The ###Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper# can be read as an extended autobiographical meditation on the meaning of race in antebellum America. First published in England, the text documents the life of Moses Roper, beginning with his birth in North Carolina and chronicling his travels through South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Roper was able to obtain employment on a schooner named ###The Fox#, and in 1834 he made his way to freedom aboard the vessel. Once in Boston, he was quickly recruited as a signatory to the constitution of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), but he sailed to England the next year. Roper's narrative is especially interesting because although it was published after Frederick Douglass's much-heralded 1845 ###Narrative#, Roper actually preceded Douglass in his involvement in AASS as well as in his travel to the United Kingdom. This text is often cited by literary scholars because of its length, its extensive detail, and its unforgiving portrayal of enslaved life in the "land of the free."

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Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America

Moses Grandy

Born into slavery in North Carolina around 1786, Moses Grandy was bequeathed to his young playmate, his original owner's son, when they were both eight years old. Hired out until he was twenty-one, Grandy describes each of his temporary masters--some cruel and some kind. His first wife is sold shortly after they marry, and he never sees her again. After saving his money whenever possible and buying his freedom for $600, Grandy is betrayed by his childhood friend, who sells him. Grandy marries again and purchases his freedom a second time, only to be once again betrayed. With the assistance of white friends, Grandy buys his freedom a third time and moves north. He is also able to purchase the freedom of his second wife, but their children remain in slavery. Grandy wrote this ###Narrative# to raise funds for the freedom of his children.

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Slave Songs of the United States

Edited by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison

First published in 1867, ###Slave Songs of the United States# represents the work of its three editors, all of whom collected and annotated these songs while working in the Sea Islands of South Carolina during the Civil War, and also of other collectors who transcribed songs sung by former slaves in other parts of the country. The transcriptions are preceded by an introduction written by William Francis Allen, the chief editor of the collection, who provides his own explanation of the origin of the songs and the circumstances under which they were sung. One critic has noted that, like the editors' introductions to slave narratives, Allen's introduction seeks to lend to slave expressions the honor of white authority and approval. Gathered during and after the Civil War, the songs, most of which are religious, reflect the time of slavery, and their collectors worried that they were beginning to disappear. Allen declares the editors' purpose to be to preserve, "while it is still possible… these relics of a state of society which has passed away."

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