Many Thousand Gone: The Ex-Slaves' Account of Their Bondage and Freedom

Many Thousand Gone: The Ex-Slaves' Account of Their Bondage and Freedom

Many Thousand Gone: The Ex-Slaves' Account of Their Bondage and Freedom

Many Thousand Gone: The Ex-Slaves' Account of Their Bondage and Freedom

Excerpt

"If any of them will tell me that to make a man into a sausage would be much worse -- would be any worse, than to make him into a slave,... I will accuse him of foolishness, of intellectual incapacity, of making a distinction without a difference. The one is just as reasonable a proposition as the other." -- Thoreau

Nearly everyone concerned with American slavery has had his say, but in our time we have forgotten the testimony of its victims. This is a history of slavery told, essentially, from the point of view of those whose unpaid labor maintained the plantation system of the Old South. The sources used are selected from among the hundreds of slave biographies and autobiographies published between 1760 and 1865. These "slave narratives" present valuable information on the slave trade, the master class, the plantation system, the reactions of the enslaved Negro and the lives of the fugitives in the North and in Canada.

What does it mean to be another man's property? How does it feel to work without wages, or, as a field hand, coerced into producing another's cotton, corn or sugar, to be forced in all society's arrangements to accept the blight of inferiority? What imaginings stirred the minds of these illiterate and brutalized men? What emotions inflamed their murderous and abortive revolts? When compelled into submission and disingenuous cooperation, what was the nature of their tenuous "adjustment" to slavery? Or having fled the plantation, what had slavery done to their personality and behavior? These are questions which only the slave himself can directly answer. They are answered in the narratives. Although a few histories of slavery have employed some of these autobiographies as sources, there is no overall account of them in print. Nor is there any work presenting the plantation system from the slaves' point of view. Above all, there is no intimate study of the psychology of the enslaved. At least a beginning is made here in examining the meaning of the slaves' experiences.

Slave narratives appeared in America in colonial times and in our early national period. The genre began with John Saffin Adam Negro's Tryall written in 1703 in answer toSamuel Sewall well . . .

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