John Thompson’s narrative has been categorized as a “lesser” contribution to the fugitive slave narrative genre. 1 Although it was warmly reviewed in the August 22, 1856, edition of The Liberator, only a single edition was published at the author’s expense. 2 Unlike narratives by Josiah Henson and William Wells Brown, John Thompson’s account seems to have failed to capture public imagination. Thompson’s narrative is, however, a detailed and compelling account of his life as a slave in Maryland as well as his arduous and exciting escape.
Thompson’s description contains many of the elements present in “classic” examples of the form. He includes episodes describing the separation of families; the actions of cruel overseers; the work slaves performed in the field raising corn, wheat, and tobacco; the often meager provisions they were allowed; the power of Methodist faith among the slaves (and the implication that it is a “truer” Christianity than that of slaveholders); the nervous response “true” faith elicited from slaveholders; heartrending accounts of slave auctions; unjust floggings; cruel mistresses; episodes indicating the intertwined reality of economics and the slave system, coupled with explanations of the ways in which all who are touched by slavery are diminished (and ultimately destroyed, in many cases) by the interaction; barriers to (and the importance of) literacy; an exciting escape filled with alarming brushes with capture; and eventual escape. 3
In addition to these fairly standard elements, Thompson includes numerous descriptions of his religious faith and eventual conversion, as well as a thrilling high-seas adventure story. His descriptions combine elements of the conversion