The Slave's Narrative

By Charles T. Davis; Henry Louis Gates Jr. | Go to book overview
22.
Southern Cultivator, VIII ( 1850), p. 163. Quoted in Kenneth M. Stampp , The Peculiar Institution ( New York, 1969), p. 78.
23.
Genovese, ibid., p. 318. Rawick, ibid., Vol. 5, p. 1539. Howard W. Odum , Negro Workaday Songs ( New York, 1969), p. 117.
24.
Frances Butler Leigh, Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation ( London, 1883), p. 229.

The Making of a Fugitive Slave Narrative:
Josiah Henson and Uncle Tom—A Case Study

ROBIN W. WINKS

In recent years a number of historians have demonstrated that slave narratives are to be taken seriously as historical evidence. A sub-set of the genre, the narratives of fugitive slaves, has been subjected to even closer scrutiny than have the accounts of the slaves who remained in the Southern states, and again, the narratives have been found to contain much of great value to the historian and of emotional authenticity to the general reader.These accounts range from the Narrative of Frederick Douglass , first published in 1845, and submitted to the most intense study, ultimately to be shown to be largely trustworthy, to the Memoirs of Archy Moore, published in 1836, and shown to be almost wholly fabrication.In testing the authenticity of such accounts, the historian must define "authenticity," "accuracy," and "fabrication" both in terms of evidence and in the larger terms of meaning, intent, and impact.Obviously the memoirs of sometimes aged persons recalling a turbulent series of events from a distant past are always suspect, whatever the source; equally obviously historians of an earlier generation were right to doubt some of the narratives some of the time, simply because the authors of such narratives were bound at the least to be intent upon self‐ explanation if not self-serving. Those narratives written prior to the American Civil War suffered under the additional strain of being used, re-written, and both intentionally and unintentionally abused to support a case, usually (but not invariably) that of the abolitionists.Reprinted abroad, such narratives helped bolster received opinions about American institutions.To expect the narratives of fugitive slaves in particular to

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