Early Caribbean Slave Narratives
Child, Lydia Maria
Narrative of Joanna; An Emancipated Slave, of Surinam (1838): A Scholarly IntroductionBy: Elizabeth Polcha
Based on John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative of a Five Year Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796), this 1838 revised and redacted edition of Stedman’s travel narrative focuses on Joanna, Stedman’s fifteen-year-old enslaved "wife" who cared for him while he was stationed in Surinam. The 1838 edition was published in London by abolitionist Isaac Knapp, who packaged Narrative of Joanna within a larger anti-slavery literary compilation. Knapp listed the text 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 which appeared in the abolitionist collection The Oasis in 1834, Knapp's 1838 Narrative of Joanna speaks in a distinctly American abolitionist register.
Scholars including Tassie Gwilliam, Mary Louise Pratt, Jenny Sharpe, and Nicole Aljoe have drawn attention to the representation of Joanna and Stedman’s relationship in the 1838 Narrative, 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, including in the 1838 Narrative. Sharpe, in particular, writes about the sentimentalizing editorial shifts between the first published edition of Stedman’s 1796 Narrative of a Five Years Expedition and the later abolitionist editions of the text, noting that “Stedman’s description of Joanna’s sincerity, modesty, youth, and beauty already reflected the primitivism and sentimentalism of antislavery literature" (82).
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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 65 no. 3 (1998): 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.
How to cite this scholarly introduction:
Polcha, Elizabeth. “Narrative of Joanna; An Emancipated Slave, of Surinam: A Scholarly Introduction." The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Boston: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service, 2016.