Based on John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative of a Five Year Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796), the 1838 version of Stedman’s travel narrative focuses on Joanna, Stedman’s enslaved wife and concubine in Surinam. This 1838 edition was published by Isaac Knapp, an abolitionist and printer, who advertised Narrative of Joanna within a wider anti-slavery literary compilation. Knapp listed Narrative under “Standard Anti-Slavery Works for sale by Isaac Knapp, at the depository, no. 25, Cornhill, Boston” and included two poems “A Negro Mother's Appeal” and “The Slave-Dealer,” in the back matter of the text. Knapp founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832 along with William Lloyd Garrison. Knapp and Garrison also co-founded the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator in 1831. Like Lydia Maria Child’s redacted version of Stedman and Joanna’s narrative included in the abolitionist collection The Oasis in 1834, Narrative of Joanna was circulated in a distinctly American abolitionist discourse.
Scholars such as Tassie Gwilliam, Mary Louise Pratt, Jenny Sharpe, and Nicole Aljoe have drawn attention to Joanna’s narrative and to Joanna and Stedman’s relationship, which Pratt refers to as a “romantic transformation of a particular form of colonial sexual exploitation” (93). Scholars have also written at length about the sentimentalizing of Joanna’s story in the later editions of Stedman’s text, such as in the 1838 Narrative. Sharpe in particular writes about the sentimentalizing editorial changes between the first published edition of Stedman’s 1796 Narrative and the later abolitionist editions of the text, explaining that “Stedman’s description of Joanna’s sincerity, modesty, youth, and beauty already reflected the primitivism and sentimentalism of antislavery literature (82).
Garrison, William Lloyd. A House Dividing Against Itself, 1836-1840. Edited by Louis Ruchames. Harvard University Press, 1971.
Gwilliam, Tassie. “‘Scenes of Horror,’ Scenes of Sensibility: Sentimentality and Slavery in John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam.” ELH vol. 65 no. 3, 1998, pp. 653–673.
Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. Routledge, 2007.
Richard Price and Sally Price. “Introduction.” Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam: Transcribed for the First Time from the Original 1790 Manuscript. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Sharpe, Jenny. Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Aljoe, Nicole N. Creole Testimonies : Slave Narratives from the British West Indies, 1709-1838. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Bohls, Elizabeth A. Slavery and the Politics of Place: Representing the Colonial Caribbean, 1770–1833. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Kennedy, Dustin. “Going Viral: Stedman’s Narrative, Textual Variation, and Life in Atlantic Studies.” Circulations: Romanticism and the Black Atlantic. Edited by Paul Youngquist and Frances Botkin. N.p. Romantic Circles Praxis, University of Maryland: 1 Oct. 2011.
Sollors, Werner. Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature. Harvard University Press, 1999.
Keywords: Joanna, abolition, abolitionists, Lydia Maria Child, Surinam, John Gabriel Stedman, Isaac Knapp, William Lloyd Garrison
Cite this Introduction
Polcha, Elizabeth. “Narrative of Joanna; An Emancipated Slave, of Surinam (1838): A Scholarly Introduction." The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Boston: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service. 2016.