Archive for the ‘Slavery period’ Category

Author: George Washington Williams



“George Washington Williams, was a 19th century American historian most famous for his volumes, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880; as Negroes, as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens (1882), and A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion (1887).”


“Williams was born in 1849 in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania and lived there until 1864, when at the age of 14 and lacking virtually any education he left home to join the Union Army. Engaged by the soldier’s lifestyle, he followed this by fighting in Mexico in the overthrow of Maximilian.

After his military career and out of a deep desire for education Williams attended the Newton Theological Institution in Massachusetts. By the time he was 25 years old he had graduated, married, and become pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston. During the next several years he wrote as a columnist for the Cincinnati Commercial, became a lawyer, founded a Boston newspaper called The Commoner (1875), and became the first black member of his state legislature.

Williams spent only one term in political office, partly because he saw little chance of reelection, and partly because he increasingly desired to commit the majority of his time to working as a historian. In his historical works Williams strove for objectivity and the truthful recording of history, but he also essentially wrote from a revisionist perspective. He researched avidly and wrote with the goal of rerecording American history to honestly and responsibly include the roles and experiences of African Americans.

His first text, The History of the Negro Race in America, received a plethora of literary reviews — largely favorable critiques. Of the negative reviews he faced, most critics noted that his writing style tended to be overblown and was tinted by his theological training.  Nonetheless almost all reviewers noted the immense value of the work he had done. Public reaction was by and large a kind of amazement — both because of the extent of his work (the text was two volumes in total) and because he was an African American. In fact his light skin tone and dignified demeanor gained him more respect from white Americans than may have been expected at the time. A History of the Negro Troops received similar but generally better reviews.

In 1890 Williams studied conditions in the Belgian Congo at the commission of President Benjamin Harrison and on one occasion wrote a letter of complaint to the Belgian Crown about the treatment of the indigenous Africans.  Although he had hoped to spark a movement in protest of the Belgian government’s role in its African colony, little came of his effort in the U.S.  He then moved to England to work on a book which would focus on Africa. Unfortunately Williams fell ill shortly after arriving in England and died at the age of 41.”


Author: Frederick Douglass


“My Bondage and My Freedom”  is the second of three autobiographical slave narrative written by the former slave, Frederick Douglass.  Published in 1855, it expands on his first (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – also available on this website), detailing his transition from bondage to liberty.

The book takes us along, meditating on the meaning of slavery, race, and freedom, and on the power of faith and literacy. It is also a portrait of an individual and a nation a few years before the Civil War.

As the narrative continues, Frederick Douglass— he was also a brilliant orator, and one of the most powerful voices of the American civil rights movement — transforms himself from slave to fugitive to reformer.



Authors: Howard W. Odum and Guy B. Johnson


Howard Washington Odum (1884-1954 was an American sociologist. Odum was known for collecting facts, ranging from oral history (including documentation of folk songs) to agricultural data. His book ‘Race and Rumors of Race’ is considered to be the earliest documentation of the civil rights movement. Odum’s views on race progressed over time and ultimately he was a progressive leader, documenting folk life, hate crimes/lynchings, and rich oral histories of the South. His work is difficult to classify under one discipline, although he identified most with sociology while being deeply committed to social welfare.

Guy B. Johnson (1901) 1991) was also a sociologist and social anthropologist, a distinguished student of black culture in the rural South and a pioneer advocate of racial equality. His main writings were on southern Black folk culture and U.S. race relations, his interests and accomplishments were broad. In Folk Culture, he analyzed the Gullah dialect of English spoken by blacks on that isolated South Carolina island and, in sophisticated technical detail, the musical structure of the spirituals they sang to support a new interpretation of black folk culture.

In The “Negro and His Songs”, both analyse the typical Negro Songs of the South.

The publication dates from 1925.



Author: Henry Edward Krehbiel


Henry Edward Krehbiel (1854–1923) was an American music critic and musicologist. He received a general education from his father, a German clergyman of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and started in 1872 the study of law. In June, 1874, he was employed as musical critic at the “Cincinnati Gazette” as musical critic, a post which he held until November, 1880. Later on, he became musical editor of the New York Tribune and grew out to be an influential music critic.

His study of Afro-American folk-songs in 1914 was one of the earliest examinations of this music.


Author: Stephen Doster




“Leisure, the escape from the tedium of everyday existence, is found in all cultures including those in which slavery exists. At first glance the terms “slavery” and “leisure” may seem to be contradictory, mutually exclusive terms. However, the need to mentally and physically break the bonds of one’s circumstances, albeit temporarily, applied equally if not more so to Caribbean and North American slaves of African descent. The creolization of slave leisure activity forms began almost immediately upon their arrival in the Americas, some of which represented a continuation of African traditions while others were adopted from white society. A few forms of leisure even afforded slaves an opportunity to elevate their status relative to that of fellow slaves, compete on an equal footing with whites, and in some instances win their freedom. This paper will examine the creolization of some forms of slave leisure activities from the most easily cross-culturally transportable, to forms that required special apparatuses or venues. It is not intended to be an exhaustive inquiry into all forms of slave leisure. The time period covered will be from the earliest days of the transatlantic slave trade to Emancipation. Finally, there will be some discussion of the impact of slave leisure on North American and Caribbean culture that continues to this day”




Author:  Harriet Jacobs, aka Linda Brent



“Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” was published in 1861 by Harriet Jacobs, using the pen name “Linda Brent”. On one level it chronicles the experiences of Harriet Jacobs as a slave, and the various humiliations she had to endure. However, on another level, it also deals with the particular tortures visited on women at her station.

Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl is considered a slave narrative. Portions of it were first published in serial form before being published as a complete work in 1861, after some difficulty finding a publisher. At the same time it is seen as an example of feminist literature.

Read a scan of the book HERE


Author: Solomon Northup



Solomon Northup was born in New York in 1808. His father, who had been a slave until his master had granted him his freedom in his will.

In 1829 Northup married Anne Hampton and worked as a labourer in Hartford. However, Solomon was captured by slave traders while visiting Washington in 1841 and sold as a slave to a man in Louisiana.

His autobiography was published by Darby & Miller in 1853. You can read it HERE.

Additional Information:

Solomon Northup: From Freedom to Slavery to Freedom Again
By Michael Kneller


Few people probably would recall Tuesday, January 4, 1853 as a significant day in the history of the United States. On this date, however, a very important meeting was being held in the small town of Marksville, Louisiana. It was at this meeting that the fate of one man was changed forever. For this day marked the release of Solomon Northup from twelve years of involuntary servitude as a slave to various owners throughout the region of Louisiana that sits to the northwest of New Orleans on the Red River. Solomon was not the first slave, nor the last, to be set free from the chains of slavery. What makes his story stand out, however, is that he was not born a slave. As a matter of fact, for the first thirty-three years of his life, Solomon Northup lived a relatively quiet existence as a free black man residing in New York State.

Solomon Northup was born into a free black family in upstate New York in 1808. His father, Mistus Northup, had spent the early part of his own life as a slave to the Northup family of Rhode Island. It was from this family that Mistus derived the last name for his own family, as it was commonplace at that time for slaves to take the last name of his/her last owner. Eventually Mistus moved to Rensselaer County, New York where he was set free upon the death of his owner.

As a young boy, Solomon split his days between working on his father’s farm and finding ways to pass his free time. He spent much of this time consumed in books or learning to play the violin. In 1829 he married a mulatto woman named Anne Hampton. Together the couple would become parents to three children, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alonzo. Throughout his adult years, Solomon worked in various jobs, ranging from agriculture to the lumber industry. Each career, although allowing him to provide a decent life for his family, did not satisfy Solomon in his quest to achieve prosperity. It was this desire to provide a better life for his family that led him to take a job offer that would forever change his life.

In 1841, while working in Saratoga Springs, New York, Solomon met two white men named Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton. The men overheard Solomon playing his violin and approached him claiming to work for a traveling circus. They proceeded to offer Northup a job providing musical entertainment for the circus at the rate of $1 a day and $3 for each performance. The two men informed him that they would need to travel to Washington D.C., where the circus currently was located but that they would then be traveling back north. Believing he would only be away from home for a short period of time, Solomon did not notify his family that he was leaving. Little did he know that this trip would mark the beginning of the twelve longest years of his life.

Even though Solomon was a free black man, Washington D.C. in 1841 was a place where slavery was legal. Free blacks traveling through areas where slavery was legal needed to furnish papers certifying their free status or face the possibility of being accused of being a runaway slave. Thus, before Solomon and his new companions left the state to begin their trip to Washington D.C., he secured papers declaring his status as a free black citizen of New York. Unfortunately, these papers would not be able to protect Solomon once he reached the nation’s capital.

The three men arrived in Washington in April of 1841. Upon meeting with the other employees of the circus, Brown and Hamilton announced they would remain in the city one more day to pay their respects to the President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, who had just passed away by attending his funeral procession through the streets of the city. Solomon stayed in a hotel room in the back of Gadsby’s Hotel, which was the only place in the establishment where blacks were allowed to stay. After watching the funeral procession for the President, the three men spent the rest of the afternoon at a saloon. It was here that Solomon, never knowing through the rest of his life if he was poisoned or not, became violently ill. He returned to his hotel room with a blinding headache only to be awakened in the middle of the night by the promises he was being taken for medicine. He was so ill that for a period of days he was in and out of consciousness. When he finally did awake, Solomon Northup, a free black man found himself alone in the darkness of a basement in chains. In the course of his sickness, he had been robbed of his documents, money, and ultimately his freedom.

Over the next few days it became clear to him that he was being held in a slave pen owned by a man named James H. Burch. It was Burch who first acquainted Solomon, whose father had been educated about slavery but had never experienced it himself, with the horrors of life for a slave. Burch proceeded to forcibly brainwash Solomon that he was never a free man, instead he was going to assume the identity of a runaway slave from the slave state of Georgia. When Solomon insisted he was free Burch proceeded to beat him repeatedly with a paddle until he submitted. Burch then told Solomon that if he ever told another person about his true identity he would be killed. Solomon never doubted that Burch was true to his word. It would be twelve years before he felt comfortable enough to disclose his true identity to another human being.

Over the time period stretching from his kidnapping in 1841 to his release in 1853 Solomon learned firsthand the ins and outs of the system of slavery. He was eventually sent away from Washington D.C., being sent to a slave pen operated by Burch’s partner Theophilius Freeman in New Orleans, Louisiana. There Solomon witnessed a slave auction, where slaves were sold to prospective owners. At the auction, slaves would be sold to the highest bidder after a degrading inspection which included being stripped naked in many cases. Solomon was sold to his highest bidder for $1,000 dollars to a devout Baptist by the name of William Ford. It was with this purchase that he began his whirlwind tour of life as a slave.

Ford brought Solomon to the Marksville area of Louisiana where he lived. Solomon regarded Ford as a good owner, because he was kind to his slaves. In fact he worked quite hard for Ford as a carpenter out of the respect he had for his owner. Despite how respectable he found Ford to be as a man, Solomon still could never bring himself to tell him his true identity. He would eventually be sold by Ford to a man named John M. Tibeats who never found satisfaction in the slave’s work as a carpenter. It was under Tibeats that Solomon committed a slave crime punishable by death: resisting a whipping. However, Ford saved Solomon’s life by interceding and forcing Tibeats to sell him to another owner. Eventually he became the property of a cruel owner by the name of Edwin Epps. It was under Epp’s that Northup saw the workings of a typical cotton plantation, where slaves worked over three hundred and sixty days a year from sunrise to well beyond sunset, and could be whipped for such actions as stopping to take a rest or not picking the same amount of cotton each day. Throughout the ten years Northup worked for Epps, his motivation to work came not from respect, but from fear of being whipped.

Early in 1852, Solomon’s eleventh year of slavery that a white man named Bass showed up to do some building for Epps. He noticed that Bass was different from most of the white men he met in those days of captivity in Louisiana. He was from Canada and was very outspoken about his hatred for slavery. To most of the white slave owners in the region he was laughed at for his beliefs, but to Solomon he became a beacon of hope. Solomon waited until he felt the time was right and then he told Bass of his real identity. Bass was so interested in the story that he agreed to send letters on behalf of Solomon to New York State to anyone who could confirm his status as a free man. It would be in September of 1852 that the letters reached the hands of people who could help him.

One of the letters sent by Solomon was forwarded to his wife, Anne, who immediately sought the consultation of a lawyer by the name of Henry B. Northrup, who was a member of the family that once owned Solomon’s father. The lawyer reviewed state laws and determined that a New York State Law passed on May 14, 1840 declared that if a free black resident was unlawfully taken into captivity as a slave they must be recovered. Upon hearing the evidence, the Governor of New York appointed Henry B. Northup to travel to Louisiana to reclaim Solomon which he did in that meeting in Marksville on January 4, 1853, despite the attempts by Epp’s to resist. Solomon Northup’s twelve-year nightmare was over. He would soon be on his way back to his home, family, and freedom.