Who Wrote the Slave Narratives?

Early Caribbean slave narratives were often not written by slaves themselves, given that most slaves were prohibited from learning to read or write, but instead were recorded by white colonials or abolitionists. There are three common, distinct, types of slave narratives in our archive:

Embedded slave narratives are mainly recorded in the diaries, treatises, and surveys written by white colonials. These narratives embed the stories of enslaved people within larger works that are not distinctly about the individual enslaved person or people. In our archive, we have a collection of these texts under “Embedded Slave Narratives.” This includes the “Sleep Has No Master Narrative” by an Anonymous Negro Man and “Narrative of Koromantyn Negroes After Tacky's Rebellion” by Anonymous Koromantyn Men, both found in Bryan Edwards’ The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British colonies in the West Indies (1798). The slaves who recalled these stories did not necessarily intend for them to be published, but instead simply spoke or acted and were subsequently recorded and included in the published works.

Long-form narratives are reported to transcribers and then published as books.  One of the most famous of these texts available in our archive is Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Related by Herself  (1831)a narrative transcribed by Susanna Strickland while both Prince and Strickland were living with the Pringle family of London. These types of texts are often connected to abolitionists or anti-slavery societies that seek to humanize the enslaved and show the cruelty of their treatment. Many of these stories, such as Prince’s herself, can be authenticated. However; there are some that are thought to be the work of abolitionists who either took some creative and rhetorical liberties when finalizing the texts or entirely fabricated the texts with the intention of forwarding their own political agendas. This includes The Narrative of Ashton Warner (1831) which was also transcribed by Susanna Strickland.

A third common form of slave narrative is that of public speeches, oral accounts, or letters that are recorded and appear as shorter stand alone documents or as parts of anthologies. Examples of this form in our archive are The Narratives of Ashy and Sibell (1799). Both were originally transcribed by John Ford but were never formally published, nor have they been entirely authenticated as little is known of Ashy, Sibell, or John Ford. These types of recordings are slightly less common and the intent and occasion of their publication is often uncertain.

Abolitionist icon often Associated with The History of Mary Prince