In Their Own Voices – Maryland Slave Narratives and Oral Histories

Introduction

Father Henson's Story of His Own Life“A reward of $50.00 each was offered for my father, mother and me, one by Mrs. Davidson and the other by the Sheriff of Anne Arundel County. At this time, the Hookstown Road was one of the main turnpikes into Baltimore. A Mr. Coleman whose brother-in-law lived in Pennsylvania, used a large covered wagon to transport merchandise from Baltimore to different villages along the turnpike to Hanover, Pa., where he lived. Mother and father an I were concealed in a large wagon drawn by six horses. On our way to Pennsylvania, we never alighted on the ground in any community or close to any settlement, fearful of being apprehended by people who were always looking for rewards.”

Caroline Hammond related this story of her escape from slavery as a child when she was ninety-four years old when interviewed for the Federal Writer’s Project slave narratives in 1938. Hers is one of nearly two dozen ex-Maryland slaves interviewed for the project, and one of probably thousands of narratives and biographies recorded or written by ex-slaves throughout the south.  From famous full-length autobiographies from the likes of Frederick Douglass, to short, incomplete writings from anonymous slaves such as Leonard Black, the first hand experience of slavery comes alive in recollections of those who lived the realities of slavery as intimately as anyone.

Yet the voices here are strikingly familiar in what is said, and perhaps more importantly, what is not said. While insight into the daily lives of slaves comes through, as well as details about slave masters, the challenges of escape and life as a fugitive, the descriptions are short, incomplete and superficial even though the voices themselves represent a wide range of ages, situations and locations.

Despite the shortcomings, the slave narrative, and the many drawings used in the more comprehensive published autobiographies, offers an opportunity to experience a closer reality of slavery than a textbook or researcher can provide, and they allow an opportunity to examine a great many variables that impact an historical record (many of which are summarized in essays on the Federal Writers’ Project website): the limits of memory, education, life experiences, access to materials and the focus of an interviewer among many others.

SOURCES: Works Progress Administration (WPA) Slave Narrative Project; James Olney; Leonard Rapport

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

Standard 2: How the industrial revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed the lives of Americans and led toward regional tensions

Standard 2D: The student understands the rapid growth of "the peculiar institution" after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery.
5-12: Describe the plantation system and the roles of their owners, their families, hired white workers, and enslaved African Americans. [Consider multiple perspectives]

Standard 4: The sources and character of cultural, religious, and social reform movements in the antebellum period

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Caroline Hammond (a fugitive)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1938
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938. In WPA Slave Narrative Project, Maryland Narratives, Volume 8
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  2. DESCRIPTION: The Life and Sufferings of Leonard Black, a Fugitive From Slavery/ written by himself
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: [Providence, R.I. : L. Black, 1847] (New Bedford [Mass.] : Benjamin Lindsey)
    COPYRIGHT: About Copyright and the Collections
    SOURCE:
    African American Odyssey
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  3. DESCRIPTION: The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives…
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1879
    COPYRIGHT: About Copyright and the Collections
    SOURCE:
    African American Odyssey
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  4. DESCRIPTION: The Life of John Thompson, a Fugitive Slave…Written by Himself
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1856
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and usage policy
    SOURCE:  Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  5. DESCRIPTION: Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1858
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and usage policy
    SOURCE:  Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  6. DESCRIPTION: A Sketch of Henry Franklin and Family
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1887
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and usage policy
    SOURCE:  Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  7. DESCRIPTION: Narrative of Events in the Life of William Green
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1853
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and usage policy
    SOURCE:  Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  8. DESCRIPTION: Twenty-eight fugitives escaping from the Eastern Shore of Maryland
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1872
    SOURCE: NYPL Digital Gallery (from William Still’s A Record of Facts..)
    REPOSITORY: New York Public Library

  9. DESCRIPTION: Escape of eleven passengers from Maryland in two carriages
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1872
    SOURCE: NYPL Digital Gallery (from William Still’s A Record of Facts…)
    REPOSITORY: New York Public Library

  10. DESCRIPTION: Arrival from Maryland, Robert Carr, $300 Reward
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:
    SOURCE: NYPL Digital Gallery (from William Still’s A Record of Facts…)
    REPOSITORY: New York Public Library

  11. DESCRIPTION: Arrival from Maryland, 1859; Anne Maria Jackson and her seven children
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1872
    SOURCE: NYPL Digital Gallery (from William Still’s A Record of Facts…)
    REPOSITORY: New York Public Library

Additional Media Resources

American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology. Includes audio clips of narratives being read in character.

An Introduction to the WPA Slave Narratives. Series of essays on the history, use and challenges of slave narratives.

“Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom and Communities in Antebellum Maryland.” From the Maryland State Archives.

In the First Person: An index to letters, diaries, oral histories and personal narratives.

Link to the 22 Maryland narratives in the Library of Congress WPA Slave Narratives.

Maryland’s African-American Heritage. Brief biographies, time line and short teacher activities related to some of Maryland’s famous African Americans.

Narratives/Biographies: Slavery in America. (Also includes image gallery of slavery and Underground Railroad.)

New York Public Library Digital Library. Electronic copies of several published slave narratives outside Maryland. Enter “slave narrative” in “Search Gallery” box.

William Still Underground Railroad Foundation.

Additional Instructional Resources

Daily Lives of Slaves - What Really Happened? From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Slavery and Civil Disobedience: Christiana Riot of 1851. From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Exploring the Lives of Black Women During the 19th Century. From the UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Tobacco and Slavery: Voices from the Past. See additional lesson plans relating to slavery in Slavery in America.

Secondary Resources

Adeeko, Adeleke. The Slave’s Rebellion: Literature, History, Orature. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005.

Bland, Sterling Lecater. Voices of the Fugitives: Runaway Slave Stories and Their Fictions of Self-Creation. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Davis, Charles and Henry Gates, Jr. The Slave’s Narrative. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Fulton, DoVeanna S. Speaking Power: Black Feminist Orality in Women’s Narratives of Slavery. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Olney, James. “’I Was Born’: Slave Narratives , Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature.” Callaloo 20 (1984): 46-73.

Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid Are the Federal Writers’ Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast Among True Believers.” Oral History Review (1979): 6-17.

Rawick, George P., ed. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (41 vols.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972, 1976, 1979

Sekora, John and Darwin T Turner, eds. The Art of the Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory. Macomb. IL: Western Illinois University, 1982.

Starling, Marion Wilson. The Slave Narrative: Its Place in American History. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1988.

Tackach, James ed. Slave Narratives. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2001.

Yetman, Norman. “Ex-Slave Interviews and the Historiography of Slavery.” American Quarterly 36 (1984): 181-210.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Sotterly Plantation
44300 Sotterley Lane
Hollywood, Maryland.

   

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by William Vincent.

 

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