The Bondwoman's Narrative
Hannah Crafts is the pen name of a female slave from the 1850's. She was born in Virginia and her mother taken away. She grew up there and was illegally taught to read and write by some sympathetic neighbors. This novel is a fictionalized account of her years in slavery until her escape.
While the novel is only average in its entertainment value as fiction, it is marvelous for its historical value. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the head of the Afro American Studies at Harvard University, spent a lot of effort in verifying the authenticity of the manuscript and verifying the veracity of the storyteller. He tried to locate the slave Hannah Crafts herself, but was never able to ascertain her identity.
Gates was able to determine that this manuscript is probably the earliest known written by an American black woman. Although The Bondwoman's Narrative is a fictionalized account, it reflects the truth of the woman's life as a slave. There is a saying - the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Gates believes only a couple names have been changed - of the more evil characters in the novel. He was able to find real people - especially white - who could have been Hannah's characters.
Hannah's life starts in Virginia. She was content with her lot, accepting that slavery was part of her life. Then after aiding in another's escape, she eventually ends up with two other families, the last being the Wheelers in North Carolina. She had the class distinction of her own race of the house slave being better than the field slave. When she was about to be banished to the fields married to a man she didn't want, she decided to run away.
Gates leaves the manuscript the way Hannah left it - with the misspellings, the strike outs, and wording. He adds some editorial corrections for the ease of the modern reader. This is an interesting book and well worth reading to gain insights of a true account of life in slavery for one who had it comparatively better than others of her race in different states or with different masters. Gates points out there is one other historical interest of the book - it is written in the style that was popular at the time, reflecting the writing style that was preferred at the time.
Notice: Non-graphic violence
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