Black American Prose Writers: Before the Harlem Renaissance

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Harriet E. Wilson
c. 1828-c. 1863

HARRET E. ADAMS WILSON was bom Harriet Adams in 1827 or 1828, as the U. S. census of 1850, taken on August 24, 1850, gives her age as twenty-two. On her marriage license her birthplace is given as Milford, New Hampshire. Nothing is known of her life prior to 1850. Her autobiographical novel, Our Nig, suggests that she was taken from her home at an early age. The 1850 census lists her as residing with a white family—Samuel Boyles, a carpenter; his wife, Mary Louisa, and their seventeen-year-old son Charles. Harriet Adams was probably their indentured servant.

A letter by "Allida" appended to Our Nig states that Harriet Adams was taken to W—, Massachusetts, by an "itinerant colored lecturer" and that she became a domestic servant at the household of a Mrs. Walker and was also a straw-hat maker. The itinerant lecturer was probably Thomas Wilson, listed on his marriage license as a resident or native of Virginia; he took Harriet Adams back to Milford and married her there on October 6, 1851. The letter by "Allida" reports that the marriage went well at the beginning, but that the husband soon after ran away to sea. Harriet, already pregnant, felt obliged to go to the Hillsborough County Farm, a home for the poor; she gave birth to a son, George Mason Wilson, in May or June 1852.

"Allida" states that the husband then returned and that the family moved to some town in New Hampshire, where Thomas Wilson supported his family "decently well." But then Thomas left again, this time for good, and Harriet, her health failing, put her son in the County Farm; shortly afterward, however, he was taken into the home of a "kindly gentleman and lady."

The Boston city directory lists a Harriet Wilson, "widow," residing at various locations in northeastern Boston from 1855 to 1863. "Allida" states that Wilson's failing health compelled her to write her autobiography as "another method of procuring her bread." Wilson states in her preface that she wrote the novel in order to reclaim her son from his foster home. But


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Black American Prose Writers: Before the Harlem Renaissance


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