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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Sibell, Narrative of Sibell; from Narratives of Ashy and Sibell (1799)

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Sibell, Narrative of Sibell; from Narratives of Ashy and Sibell (1799)

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In 1799 a white, West Indian born, John Ford recorded the narratives of Sibell and Ashy, two enslaved women in Barbados. They were reproduced by Jerome S. Handler nearly 200 years later in his 1998 article "Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in Barbados". Although usually shared as a pair, this is the narrative of Sibell. Ashy's can also be found in the archive.



The Narratives of Ashy and Sibell are first-person oral account's given by Ashy and Sibell, two African-born enslaved women in Barbados. They were originally transcribed in 1799 for a manuscript produced by John Ford. Although there is little known about John Ford, except that he was a white man that likely been born in, and lived in the West-Indies his entire life.  Each woman’s narrative provides details on her previous life in her respective African homeland, and how she came to be enslaved in Barbados. Neither comment directly on their current day to day lives on the islands, perhaps for fear of consequence. 

In 1998, Jerome S. Handler published their oral histories as part of an article, “Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in Barbados” for Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies. The original late eighteenth-century transcription can be found at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, but there is no confirmed record of how or when the transcript first arrived. According to the footnotes supplied by Handler’s 1998 article, T. D. Rogers, Deputy Keeper of Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian, believes the narratives to be part of a group of texts found in the rooms of the Bodleian during the 1890s.

There is limited scholarship that engages directly with these narratives, but they do have the potential for further scholarship (Handler; John R. Rickford; Nicole N. Aljoe). Handler and John R. Rickford used these narratives for their work that focused on the Afro-Barbadian dialect, as represented through Ford’s seemingly minimal editorial mediation of the two women’s oral accounts. Additionally, Nicole Aljoe’s analysis addresses “the inherent narrative hybridity and fragmentariness associated with slave narratives”  on the same subject (“Caribbean Slave Narratives” 367). These narratives might be potentially useful in a variety of ways, such as evidence in research on the linguistic analysis of the women’s speech,  analysis of the content of these narratives (with particular attention to their subversion to their circumstances), and with regards to Sibell’s narrative, one could also investigate how she portrays female-male relationships in 18th century Africa. 



Works Cited

Aljoe, Nicole N. "Caribbean Slave Narratives." The Oxford Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative. Ed. John Ernest. Oxford UP, 2014, pp. 362-70.

Handler, Jerome S. "Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in Barbados." Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, vol. 19 no. 1, 1998, pp. 129-40. Taylor Francis Online.

Secondary Bibliography

Aljoe, Nicole N. New Urban Atlantic : Creole Testimonies : Slave Narratives from the British West Indies, 1709-1838. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ProQuest ebrary.

Handler, Jerome S. "Survivors of the Middle Passage: Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in British America." Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, vol. 23 no. 1, 2002, pp. 25-56. Taylor Francis Online.

Rickford, John R., and Jerome S. Handler. "Textual Evidence on the Nature of Early Barbadian Speech, 1676-1835." Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages vol. 9 no. 2, 1994, pp. 221-55.

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