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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Warner, Ashton, the Narrative of Ashton Warner (1831)

Warner, Ashton, the Narrative of Ashton Warner (1831)

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Abstract

First published in London during March of 1831, the "Negro Slavery Described by a Negro", details the experiences of enslaved Ashton Warner of St. Vincent. As an infant, Warner was purchased by his Aunt and spent the majority of his young life as a free child. However, at the age of ten, he was kidnapped and forced into slavery. Although many attempts by his aunt were made to free him from enslavement, as he was legally a free, with paperwork proving such. The narrative describes "Negro Slavery Described by a Negro" was transcribed by Susannah Strickland, the same woman who transcribed Mary Prince's narrative in January of that same year. There is some controversy over the authenticity of this document, but nothing has been confirmed in any way.

Introduction

Published in March 1831, Negro Slavery Described by a Negro details the experiences of Ashton Warner of St. Vincent. It was transcribed by Susannah Strickland, the same woman who transcribed Mary Prince’s narrative in January of that same year. Purchased and manumitted by an aunt while a baby, Warner’s childhood was spent in freedom. When he was ten years old, however, an unscrupulous slave owner kidnapped and impressed him into slavery. Over the course of several years, Warner and his aunt pursued his case in the St. Vincennes and West Indian courts, endeavoring to have Warner’s manumission papers, and therefore his freedom, acknowledged by the slave-owner, Mr. Wilson. Although various government officials on St. Vincent consistently upheld the legality of Warner’s manumission papers in several different courts, direct action was never taken and Warner remained falsely enslaved for ten years. Finally, unable to continue acceptance of his illegal enslavement, Warner decides to go to London in order to try to prove his freedom in a metropolitan court of law. While in London waiting for the outcome of his suit, Warner passed away.

Though transcribed by the same person, Warner’s narrative manifests a completely distinct narrative voice from that in Mary Prince’s narrative. The first and foremost difference is in the tone. The tone of Warner’s narratives makes extensive use of fictional rhetorical strategies common to sentimental writing such as direct reader address, and appeals to sympathy. This tone has led some scholars to believe that Strickland might have invented Warner, but to date, no documentation has been discovered to prove or disprove these allegations (See M. Ferguson). In addition, unlike Prince’s narrative, dialect is almost completely absent.

Warner’s narrative offers compelling descriptions of a slave life on a smaller sugar island. It also offers one of the few descriptions of a slave marriage. Some of the most interesting aspects of Warner’s narrative are its descriptions of the extensive movements by slaves between islands in the Caribbean. Finally, unlike Prince’s narrative, Warner’s narrative was officially published and circulated by the Anti-Slavery Society in London. The narrative was published alongside four testimonies of abolitionist ministers who had been to the Caribbean.

The narrative has received little literary attention. It is primarily discussed in conjunction with Mary Prince’s narrative and the writing of Susanna Strickland.

Notes

Bibliography

Works Cited

Ferguson, Moira.  Subject to Others; British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670-1834.  New York, NY: Routledge, 1992.

 

Secondary Bibliography

Aljoe, Nicole N. “'Going to Law': Legal Discourse and Testimony in Early West Indian Slave Narratives.” Early American Literature, vol. 46 no. 2, 2011, pp. 351-381.

Wong, Edlie L. Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel. New York University Press, 2009.

 

 

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