Book Casts Doubts on Parts of 18th-Century Slave Narrative

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Book Casts Doubts on Parts of 18th-Century Slave Narrative


COLLEGE PARK, MD.

Olaudah Equiano wrote with vivid detail of life as human cargo the foul smells aboard the slave ship that brought him from West Africa to the New World in the 18th century, the anguished cries of women, the despair of those headed to a life of bondage.

The best-selling autobiography he later published is now a key text for scholars studying slavery and its roots in Africa, one of the few firstperson accounts by a slave of the brutal cross-Atlantic trip known as the Middle Passage.

But part of Equiano's tale may be more fiction than fact.

A forthcoming biography of Equiano by English professor Vincent Carretta of the University of Maryland, College Park, contends Equiano was actually born in South Carolina and could never have made the trip he describes. Carretta uses baptismal and naval records he unearthed to prove his point.

By challenging the authenticity of a major voice in the history of African slavery and one of the most widely taught slave narratives, Carretta's work, titled Equiano, The African: Biography of a Self-Made Man, has stirred a furor among some historians and literary scholars.

"I think devastating is not underestimating some people's reaction to this notion," says Dr. Philip Morgan, a Princeton University history professor who has written about 18th-century slavery. …

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