The Slave's Little Friends - AAVV - E-Book

The Slave's Little Friends E-Book

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Beschreibung

The texts included in this anthology illustrate the wide range of possibilities that abolitionist writings offered to American children during the first half of the nineteenth century. Composing their works under the wings of the antislavery movement, authors responded to the unequal and controversial development of abolitionist politics during the decades that led up to the outbreak of the Civil War. These writers struggled to teach children "to feel right," and attempted to instruct them to actively respond to the injustice of the slavery system as rendered visible by a harrowing visual archive of suffering bodies compiled by both English and American antislavery promoters. Reading was equated with knowledge and knowledge was equated with moral responsibility, and therefore reading about "the abominations of slavery" became an act of emotional personal transformation. Children were thus turned into powerful agents of political change and potential activists to spread the abolitionist message. Invited to comply with a higher law that entailed the breaking of their nation's edicts, they were morally rewarded by the Christian God and approvingly applauded by their elders for their violation of these same American regulations. These texts enclosed immeasurable value for young nineteenth-century Americans to fulfill a more democratic and egalitarian role in their future. Undoubtedly, abolitionist writings for children took away American children's innocence and transformed them into juvenile abolitionists and empowered compassionate citizens.

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BIBLIOTECA JAVIER COY D’ESTUDIS NORD-AMERICANS

The Slave’s Little Friends: American Antislavery Writings for Children© Carme Manuel

Este volumen se enmarca dentro del proyecto “La literatura infantil y juvenil de los Estados Unidos en el s. XXI: Análisis teórico y aplicaciones prácticas” (UJI-B2018-02) (2019-2021)

1ª edición de 2022

Reservados todos los derechos

Prohibida su reproducción total o parcial

ISBN: 978-84-9134-959-4 (papel)

ISBN: 978-84-9134-960-0 (ePub)

ISBN: 978-84-9134-961-7 (PDF)

Imagen de la cubierta: Edwin Long, Uncle Tom and Little Eva (1866)

Diseño de la cubierta: Celso Hernández de la Figuera

Publicacions de la Universitat de València

https://puv.uv.es

[email protected]

Edición digital

A Nina

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

The Children’s Crusade:American Children’s Literature of Atrocity

AMERICAN ANTISLAVERY WRITINGSFOR CHILDREN

“OLD BETTY” (1823)

Margaret Bayard Smith

“THE NEGRO NURSE” (1827)

Isabel Drysdale

LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF OLAUDAH EQUIANO (1829)

Abigail Field Mott

“JUMBO AND ZAIREE” (1831)

Lydia Maria Child

“MARY FRENCH AND SUSAN EASTON” (1834)

Lydia Maria Child

From THE SLAVE’S FRIEND (1835-1839)

From JUVENILE POEMS: FOR THE USE OF FREE AMERICAN CHILDREN, OF EVERY COMPLEXION (1835)

William Lloyd Garrison

THE LIBERTY CAP (1846)

Eliza Lee Cabot Follen

THE ANTI-SLAVERY ALPHABET (1846)

Hannah and Mary Townsend

From THE YOUNG ABOLITIONISTS; OR CONVERSATIONS ON SLAVERY (1848)

Jane Elizabeth Jones

From COUSIN ANN’S STORIES FOR CHILDREN (1849)

Ann Preston

A PICTURE OF SLAVERY FOR YOUTH (184[?])

Jonathan Walker

PICTURES AND STORIES FROM UNCLE TOM’S CABIN (1853)

Harriet Beecher Stowe

THE EDINBURGH DOLL (1854)

Aunt Mary

From LOUISA IN HER NEW HOME (1854)

Sarah C. Carter

RALPH; OR, I WISH HE WASN’T BLACK (1855)

Harriet Newell Greene

From THE CHILD’S BOOK ON SLAVERY; OR, SLAVERY MADE PLAIN (1857)

Horace C. Grosvenor

“SELLING BABIES,” “A MOTHER IN PRISON” (1859)

Matilda Hamilton Fee

THE CHILD’S ANTI-SLAVERY BOOK, CONTAINING A FEW WORDS ABOUT AMERICAN SLAVE CHILDREN AND STORIES OF SLAVE-LIFE (1859)

“LITTLE LEWIS: THE STORY OF A SLAVE BOY”, Julia Colman

“MARK AND HASTY; OR, SLAVE-LIFE IN MISSOURI,” Matilda G. Thompson

“AUNT JUDY’S STORY: A STORY FROM REAL LIFE”, Matilda G. Thompson

“ME NEBER GIB IT UP!”, Anonymous

STEP BY STEP, OR TIDY’S WAY TO FREEDOM (1862)

Mrs Helen E. Brown

THE GOSPEL OF SLAVERY: A PRIMER OF FREEDOM (1864)

Iron Gray (Abel C. Thomas)

INTRODUCTION

The Children’s Crusade:American Children’s Literature of Atrocity

But the day will come when the rod of the oppressor will be broken, and the slaves will go free. God has said it. Let us pray for that day, and work for it, and it will come.

The Slave’s Friend

Our contemporary world is the scenario of constant violations of human rights. Among their many manifestations, slavery remains a widespread social and political scourge, even though it is frequently transformed into barely visible, and consequently, more fluid types of human exploitation. “The current manifestations of slavery,” Claude E. Welch affirms, “are far more subtle than those of captured, racially-differentiated slaves imported into a society to fill specific labor needs, the form most familiar to Westerners. Slavery in the twenty-first century is deeply rooted in many societies, promulgated by existing norms, in which selected groups in the general populace are particularly liable to slave-like practices” (72). Experts on the field—Kevin Bales, Joel Quirk, among others—agree that, in spite of the efforts of the numerous worldwide human rights organizations, there are more than twenty million enslaved individuals (men, women and children) throughout both the most and the least developed countries. In his Unfinished Business: A Comparative Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery, Quirk argues for the implementation of four overlapping strategies to fight contemporary forms of slavery and slave-like practices: “i) education, information and awareness, ii) further legal reform, iii) effective enforcement, and iv) release, rehabilitation and restitution” (114). At the core of modern antislavery activism, public education is “one of the most effective ways of improving general knowledge of slavery” (115). Yet, primary, secondary and even university educational curricula continue to ignore the study of slavery at international and national levels. Most children and young people lack a fundamental knowledge of how the economic and political system of human bondage shaped past first-world empires and colonization ventures, and do not recognize the permanence of new forms of human exploitation in contemporary societies. If our educational institutions have not yet introduced the study of multifarious types of bondage as a mandatory requirement, how can twenty-first-century children be exposed to these economic, political and moral injustices? Do parents explain these abuses of human rights to their children? Do parents or tutors, across different ranges of political and ideological perspectives, introduce readings or encourage children to buy books showing how other children in remote parts of the world or in their own countries are exploited because of class, skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability? Are twenty-first-century children aware of the existence of slavery in the modern world? Do parents and educators make any effort to alert them about the thriving trade of human beings in our globalized societies? Do they know about “disposable” people? Do children read about human trafficking, indentured servitude, and lifelong servitude in the world? Claude E. Wench reminds us that “the elimination of all forms of slavery may also require significant changes in social attitudes” (77). How can we then enhance our children’s awareness, raise their political consciousness towards these forms of injustice that are perpetuated throughout time?

Taking into account contemporary parental and social attitudes, the advertisement that appeared in Frederick Douglass’ Paper (published in Rochester, New York) on October 13, 1854, may come as a provocative surprise1: “INDOCTRINATE THE CHILDREN, AND WHEN THEY GROW TO BE MEN AND WOMEN THEIR PRINCIPLES WILL BE CORRECT.” Thus read the notice paid by John P. Jewett, the Boston publisher who had reached success for publishing Uncle Tom’s Cabin in book form two years before, and who was then trying to expand his series catering for potential young readers with antislavery picture books in the hope that “anti-slavery parents will see the importance of circulating such books.”

Jewett’s potential young readers in 1854, however, were not the first to have the experience of enjoying antislavery stories bought by antislavery parents. American children had had the opportunity to consume antislavery literature specifically written for them since the early decades of the nineteenth century. The works included in this anthology are a small example of the many texts written and published for children in the antebellum period. Writing about the possibilities of children’s literature in a post-holocaust world and borrowing Lawrence L. Langer’s coinage in The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination (1975), Elizabeth R. Baer asks if writers should create “literature of atrocity” for children (381) with themes that “illustrate the aesthetic problem of reconciling normalcy with horror” (381). American antislavery literature for children penned by male and female abolitionists and antislavery reformers attempted not to reconcile but to exhibit the flagrant contradictions between the American national republican ethos and the horror of the institution of slavery in an attempt to garner the little ones’ political response. “If you make children abolitionists slavery must come to an end,” announced a motto appearing in The Slave’s Friend (3.2, 1838: 8), condensing the educational and political attitude sponsored by the authors featuring in its pages.

Margaret Bayard Smith, Isabel Drysdale, Lydia Maria Child, Hannah and Mary Townsend, Eliza Lee Cabot Follen, Jane Elizabeth Jones, Ann Preston, Jonathan Walker, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sarah C. Carter, Harriet Newell Greene Butts, Abel C. Thomas and many other female and male American antislavery writers in the antebellum era seem to have been deeply convinced of three things. First, they understood the child to be the supreme representative of the national republican ethos; second, they thoroughly believed in the evil of slavery; and third, they radically defended literature as the path to raise children’s political awareness. As inheritors of the Enlightenment philosophical attitudes on childhood and educated in their infancy under the literary wings of well-known transatlantic luminaries of British children’s writing—John Newbery, Sarah Fielding, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Thomas Day, Dorothy Kilner, Sarah Trimmer, Amelia Opie and Maria Edgeworth, among others, these American antislavery authors were conscious of the prominence of their efforts when contributing to the critique of the institution of slavery and the role that American children would consequently play in its demise. Yet, as Caroline F. Levander explains, these political texts call for a critical reading since the child constructed by their antislavery rhetoric “simultaneously works to eradicate slavery and to reinforce the enduring power of white supremacy to an audience anxious about the impact of emancipation on the nation and the racial order that has historically defined it” (2006: 50). Consequently, antislavery writings for children stand as highly controversial texts in their relation to historical truth. Even so, their praiseworthy attempts to engage their readers’ ethical and political understanding must be recognized as exceptionally significant when unearthing the cultural constructions of American children as liberal citizens of a racially segregated republic.

THE ENGLISH ORIGINS OF ANTISLAVERY LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN

The spectacular rise of children’s literature in the eighteenth century catered for a new conception of the child. Following the Lockean dictums of instructing and entertaining at the same time, John Newbery was the first to capitalize on this transformation. At the end of the century, as J.R. Oldfield explains, “equally resourceful competitors had sprung up in the shape of John Marshall, Vernor and Hood, John Stockdale, and Darton and Harvey” (143). These publishers initiated the industry of children’s literature in Great Britain and would set the pace for the transatlantic American world of juvenile works, which would readily expand throughout the nineteenth century.

English reformist movements were quick to grasp the relevance of children as a new potential audience as of the early eighteenth century. The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded on May 22, 1787, by Granville Sharp, Joseph Woods, and Thomas Clarkson, among other Quakers, with the aim of promoting campaigns against slavery. To that end they encouraged writers and artists to support the abolition of the slave trade and the condemnation of slavery in the English overseas territories.

As the movement gained momentum, explicit visual elements were produced to show support as part and parcel of the growing antislavery material culture. Two of the most celebrated images—widely reproduced in transatlantic antislavery and children’s literature—were those appearing on Josiah Wedgwood’s medallions (first made in 1787 for the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade) portraying kneeling male and female slaves, with their chained hands and a pleading expression—“Am I not a Man and a Brother?” / “Am I not a Woman and a Sister?”

These images appealed to the head and the heart, to the sense and the sensibility of late-eighteenth-century Britons to such an extent that they became the unquestionable emblem of the antislavery struggle. As Marcus Wood explains, antislavery writings were profligate in their employment of imagery and they showed the “irrational belief that pictures speak for themselves in a way that words do not” (2000: 6). Thus, paintings, broadside woodcuts and photographs, among many other visual materials accompanying the written texts, must also be read and studied under harsh scrutiny. The appearance of the kneeling male/female slave on a number of everyday objects (plates, shoe buckles, coins, glasses), jewelry (medallions, hair pins, pendants), as well as in printed material (pamphlets, leaflets, books) is, consequently, not free from conflicting representational messages. Calling into doubt the exclusion from humanity and Christianity, some scholars believe that the noble slave does not pose any threat but merely interrogates the readers’/viewers’ sense of sympathy and beseeches benign inclusion into the human family. Yet, at the time these artifacts were issued, the question the kneeling slave posed was only apparently rhetorical, since it clearly asks for a reinterpretation of Africans as a separate species within the Great Chain of Being, as defended by pro-slavery Britons, as well as for recognition of sameness and, consequently, humanity.

Scholars have pointed out the ways in which sympathy became politicized during the first decades of the nineteenth century and how the visual materials accompanying antislavery and proslavery writings contributed to consolidate ideological responses. Albert Boime, Margaret Abruzzo, John H. Bickford and Cynthia W. Rich, Karen Halttunen, George E. Boulukos, Penny Brown, Brycchan Carey, Marcus Wood, among others, have written about the urgency to recognize that slavery was read about but also controversially envisioned. In Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography, Marcus Wood writes that the problem is how “to explain that the dirtiest thing the Western imagination ever did, and it does compulsively still, is to believe in the aesthetically healing powers of empathetic fiction” (36). Slavery facilitated the propagation of thousands of images that served the needs of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English and American readers for pathos but also for voyeurism. The pain of others visualized in images of defenseless sufferers promoted what Karen Halttunen calls “spectatorial sympathy,” a concept that was “instrumental in shaping the eighteenth-century literature of sensibility.” The immense corpus of fictional, dramatic, and poetic texts that subscribed to the ideas of sentimental art “undertook to teach virtue by softening the heart and eliciting tears of tender sympathy, an aim reinforced by eighteenth-century art criticism, which emphasized emotional response rather than rational judgment as the proper criterion for evaluation.” Countless scenes of tormented human beings and animals aroused readers’ and viewers’ sympathy and enhanced and demonstrated their virtue (307). For Halttunen, the gaze of free citizens “liberally mingled pleasure with vicarious pain,” delighting in a sort of “dear delicious pain,” “a sort of pleasing Anguish” (308)—condemned by Keats as an “aching pleasure”—that bordered on the pornographic. Consequently, “reform literature did eroticize pain, constructing it as sexual in nature. The eroticization of suffering in humanitarian reform sometimes took the form of overtly sexual references: to the ‘indecent’ nudity and sexual abuse of idiot or insane women, to the sexual coercion and rape of slave women […] Their treatment of scenarios of suffering, if not narrowly pornographic in nature, assumed that the spectacle of pain was a source of illicit excitement, prurience, and obscenity—the power to evoke revulsion and disgust” (324-325). For her part, Marianne Noble also asserts that the exhibition of the tortured body of the enslaved brought about a “sentimental wounding” that placed the slave as “erotic objects of sympathy rather than subjects in their own rights” (296).

In The Illustrated Slave: Empathy, Graphic Narrative, and the Visual Culture of the Transatlantic Abolition Movement, 1800-1852, Martha Cutter (10-11) distinguishes between “parallel empathy” and “hierarchical empathy” as the two strategies that explain how readers and viewers reacted to these literary and graphic materials, modes that can coexist within the same written or visual text. For this scholar, “the mode of empathy most common in abolitionist artwork and visual texts relies on hierarchy: the idea that the pained body and psyche of the enslaved is a low, unfinished, disabled, childlike, or in some way inferior entity that needs the help and mediation of the white viewer, who is separated within the text or artwork from the viewed. This hierarchical mode of empathy relies on a viewer’s pity for the enslaved, who possesses only an unfinished and open selfhood, rather than the finished and closed selfhood of the viewer” (11). In contrast to this mode of hierarchal empathy, Cutter explains that parallel empathy “relies on similarity between the enslaved person and the viewing subject; the enslaved person is seen as a conspecific, and the connection between the self and the other is emphasized over figuration of division and difference. The viewer and the enslaved are brought into some degree of concordance by this mode of parallel empathy” (11).

In the early illustrated antislavery writings this mode prevailed, claims Cutter, because it was thought to move “the viewer beyond receptivity to another’s pain (common in hierarchical empathy) toward specific, tailored helping actions (such as stopping a whipping) or larger, prosocial ones (for instance, joining an abolitionist movement or becoming part of the Underground Railroad)” (11). The viewer/reader is asked not to “feel pity” for the body in pain but to see “a self that could also potentially be whipped, tortured, or emotionally traumatized” (11). The American abolitionist writings for children included in this anthology aimed at this mode of parallel empathy. Children are constantly stimulated to reflect on themselves and on the possibilities of their taking the place of the enslaved, and not only to enjoy the pathetic and voyeuristic spectacle of slavery and its atrocities. At the same time, they are encouraged to go beyond the written and the visual to imagine what is veiled by words and images.

The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade also had women amongst its participants. It was an organization made up primarily of men, but its subscribers included many Quaker women who, throughout the 1780s and 1790s, supported and campaigned for its causes. Moira Ferguson coined the term “Anglo-Africanism” to refer to writings about Africans, a term that echoes Edward Said’s deployment of ‘Orientalism’ as a concept that includes Western views of the East, and explores the connections between feminism and abolitionism to demonstrate how in their antislavery writings British women projected their anxieties about their own oppressed status onto their literary constructions of slaves. Anglo-Africanist writings, Ferguson states, show how pro-antislavery white female authors gendered their abolitionist arguments and centered on the domestic sphere (the disruption of family bonds and sexual abuse) while they silenced the voices of slaves and described them as passive victims of physical and spiritual exploitation.

From their domestic sphere women politicized their role through calls for antislavery resistance and issues such as the boycott of sugar derived products (what was called “abstention”) were seen “from the first as a particularly female concern, and it provided women with another important opportunity to actively participate in the abolition campaign,” as Clare Midgley explains (35). For example, Mary Birkett, a Dublin Quaker, published “A Poem on the African Slave Trade: Addresses to her Own Sex. In Two Parts” (1792). Midgley writes that Birkett’s “poetic appeal called on women not only to exert their influence on men but also to take action themselves by abstaining from slave-grown sugar” (35). Women working outside the home also joined and became relevant members of the English antislavery cause. One of these women was Martha Gurney, who, for Timothy Whelan, played the most prominent role “in raising the consciousness of the English people against the slave trade” between 1788 and 1796, in her role as an active printer and seller, as well as composer, of abolitionist pamphlets (46). Another was Anna Laetitia Barbauld, whose “Epistle to William Wilberforce, Esq. On the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade,” published in June 1791, appeared as an indignant response to the defeat of the motion presented two months earlier by William Wilberforce in the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade. A year later a sugar boycott was organized against the importation of sugar from the plantations of the West Indies, where women played an outstanding role. As Charlotte Sussman observes in “Women and the Politics of Sugar, 1792,” new conceptions of womanhood explain the appearance in abolitionist pamphlets of images of an energetic “female virtue conjoined to a kind of national sensibility” that transforms “the compassion of British women” into a symbol of “a specific national identity, a quality that distinguishes England from the rest of the world” (60). These British “antisacharist” rejections would be imitated by American abolitionists in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and used as a non-violent method to protest against the products derived from slave labor.

At the same time, during these last decades of the eighteenth century, literature for the little ones was conceived as the ideal space to instill justice and more humane attitudes towards Africans, as well as a treasured path to recruit future members in the ongoing struggle against slavery. A new understanding of children’s minds and their malleability, as well as their openness and receptivity to the fair treatment of creatures, increased the perception of printed material as the way to conversion. Thus, it did not take long for abolitionist publishers to jump on the bandwagon and devote their efforts to antislavery books for children. One of the most notorious was William Darton, a Quaker and prominent abolitionist and founder of the firm Darton and Harvey in 1787.

One of his earliest titles was Little Truths Better than Great Fables: In Variety [sic] of Instruction for Children from Four to Eight Years Old. Similarly to many other children’s books of the period, this volume appears as a list of questions asked by the children to their tutor. The topics range from animals and their habitats to the existence of races in the world, as well as to the injustice of the slave trade. In 1788 Darton published a second volume, Little Truths Better than Great Fables: Containing Information on Divers Subjects, for the Instruction of Children (Philadelphia, 1800). In this second volume he included subversive versions of what the Middle Passage was for the enslaved Africans—human cargo (14-18):

Why do they call some black peoples Negroes? From Negroland, the name of a large track of country, on the borders of the river Niger, in Africa. But why are they called slaves? On account of their being made so by great numbers of people who go from England, Holland, and France, to several parts on the coast of Africa, and encourage the strong and wicked people of the land to make war and heal away the inland natives, whom the Europeans purchase by hundreds, and carry to America and the West India islands, where these poor creatures must work so long as they live! and not contented with enslaving the parents, they retain their children’s children in perpetual slavery. Great numbers of those poor people have no other provisions allowed them in many places but what they raise for themselves, and that on the very day of the week set apart for a Sabbath! Great are the hardships they endure on board many of the ships: I have read, that six hundred and eighty men, women, and children were stowed in one ship! which was also loaded with elephants’ teeth. “It was a pitiful sight,” says the writer, “to behold how those people were stowed. The men were standing in the hold, fastened one to another with stakes, for fear they should rise and kill the whites; the women were between decks, and the children were in the steerage pressed together like herrings in a barrel, which caused an intolerable heat and stench.” And in this situation several of the poor creatures frequently die; others attempt to break their confinement, try to swim back again, and are often drowned. I did not think there had been any people in England so wicked as to do those things, I am sorry to say there are. And, why do they do them? From an evil desire of gain; that kind of love for money, “which is the root of all evil.”—To hear the groans of dying men,—the cries of many widows and fatherless children,—the bitter lamentations of a husband when torn from the arms of his beloved wife,—and the mournful cries of a mother and her children, when violently separated, perhaps, never to see each other again—I say, one would think, that those things might so affect the human mind, as to cause such practices to cease.

There are many good people in England; why do they not strive to stop such cruelties? I am glad to have it in my power to say that a great number of tender minded people, both in America and England have set their slaves at liberty. Others have been using their endeavors for years past, and not without some good success; to abolish a trade so big with numberless evils, some hundreds of slaves have been liberated in divers parts of America.

In 1800 both volumes were published under the latter title. As Linda David explains, “the antislavery passage in the second volume was expanded in 1800 to include references to the poetry of Phillis Wheatley and the letters of Ignatius Sancho—surely the very earliest mention of these black writers in a children’s book” (16).2 Darton’s Little Truths “demonstrated the speed with which the growing literature on the slave trade, much of it collected and published by the London Committee and enthusiasts like Thomas Clarkson, reached juvenile readers” (Oldfield 144).

English publishers and writers were willing to join the antislavery movement and rapidly participated in the criticism against the slave trade and the evil institution by including black characters in their tales. One of the most celebrated examples appears in Thomas Day’s The History of Sanford and Merton (1783-89), where a black beggar rescues Harry Sanford from a dangerous bull. The story offers a romanticized view of African tribal life, where Africans are depicted as black Rousseaunian noble savages brutally snatched away from their land and innocent families. In 1773, Day had co-authored with John Bicknell “The Dying Negro: A Poetical Epistle,” the piece considered to be the first significant antislavery poem, although for an adult audience.

In 1788 William Cowper published “The Negro’s Complaint,” an antislavery poem that became so extremely popular that it was turned into a ballad. Harvey and Darton published a children’s version with another poem titled “Pity for Poor Africans” (The Negro’s Complaint: A Poem. To Which is Added, Pity for Poor Africans), with colored woodcuts, in 1826. The book made use of the same visual layout as other contemporary antislavery volumes—Amelia A. Opie’s The Black Man’s Lament, or How to Make Sugar (1826)—with an illustration and poetry stanzas underneath them on each page. Cowper’s poem appeared in the wake of the initial sugar boycotts in Britain and was widely distributed by the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Elizabeth Massa Hoiem explains that this reprint “uses popular generic conventions for teaching children about commodities,” which have been called It-narratives, to give agency and voice to personified commodities. Yet, here the narrator is an enslaved African who tells his own story. Cowper’s antislavery poems were widely reprinted and distributed in newspapers and magazines in the transatlantic English world and had a significant impact on the English campaigns against the slave trade as well as on American abolitionist writings.

John Aikin and his sister Anna Laetitia Barbauld also turned to black characters in some of their stories in their six-volume series Evenings at Home; or, The Juvenile Budget Opened Consisting of a Variety of Miscellaneous Pieces for the Instruction and Amusement of Young Persons (1792-1796), a miscellany of tales, fables, poems, and dialogues, which epitomize the tenets of the educational principles of the Enlightenment. These black characters “brought immediacy and authenticity to the antislavery struggle, and the device was widely imitated” (Oldfield 144).

In 1795 Hannah More published The Sorrows of Yamba; or, The Negro Woman’s Lamentation in her Cheap Repository Tracts series. More was a member of the Clapham Sect, a group of leading Evangelical reformers devoted to social reform, and her Tracts were written to instill the need to abolish the slave trade and slavery among children and adults. More’s sole authorship of the poem has been questioned and some historians believe that the piece was originally penned by the Scot Eaglesfield Smith. The Sorrows of Yamba tells the story of an African woman kidnapped and sold as a slave who suffers the death of her child on her sea voyage. Devastated by her loss, she tries to commit suicide but meets a missionary who converts her to Christianity. Her new religious beliefs help her reconcile herself with her captors and wish for her husband’s conversion to the new faith in Africa. The poem became one of the most popular and reprinted antislavery poems of its time, together with The Black Prince (1796), a poem she did not write but, according to Robert Hole, “was published under her editorship” (619). The story was a true account of the visit of Naimbanna, ‘An African King’s Son,’ to England between 1771 and 1793, to engage British help to found a colony of freed slaves in Sierra Leone and “insisted on the equality and equal rights of all ‘whatever be their colour’ and on the dignity and nobility of the black person” (619). As Hole and other critics point out, More viewed Africans as unequal to white British citizens since her position was determined by a Christian faith that rested heavily on a providential hierarchy, product of her times and of the racial ideologies of Anglican evangelical abolitionists.

In 1801, the Quaker novelist and poet Amelia Opie published “The Negro Boy’s Tale: A Poem Addressed to Children,” included in the first edition of The Father and Daughter. In 1824, Harvey and Darton reissued the poem in volume form as part of the antislavery series for children. In 1804, three years before the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, Maria Edgeworth published her tale, “The Grateful Negro,” which had at least five American editions (1804-1813, 1823, 1832, 1835). In the same year Priscilla Wakefield, an important and prolific author of children’s geography books, published A Family Tour through the British Empire, where she included some thoughts on the trade when the family visits the port of Liverpool:

As they had never been on board a ship, the opportunity was too inviting to be neglected; they entreated their mother to mention their wish to Mr. Franklin, who readily accompanied them to several of different forms and dimensions. The disposal of the apartments; the contrivances for accommodation in so small a space; and the manner of stowing goods; with the sails, masts, and rigging, the uses of which were explained by their kind instructor; not only amused them, but furnished their minds with a new set of ideas. In reply to Edwin’s enquiry, In what consists the chief trade of Liverpool? Mr. Franklin remarked that it is the second port in the kingdom, and is frequented by ships from most parts of the world. “Its foreign commerce,” said he, “is very extensive and profitable; but it is sincerely to be lamented, that one branch of it is contrary to humanity and justice: I mean that of trafficking to Guinea for slaves, whom they carry, against their inclination, to the West Indies, and then barter them for sugar, rum, cotton, and other produce.” His companions, uncorrupted by prejudice or interest, warmly declared their abhorrence of buying and selling their fellow-creatures, and were surprised that any person, who pretended to a virtuous character, would obtain a fortune by such unjust means. (55)

In 1806 Wakefield published Excursions in North America: Described in Letters from a Gentleman and his Young Companion, to their Friends in England, “one of the first children’s books to deal with the issue of American slavery” (Oldfield 145). In this text she talked about the visit of two English travelers to the recently founded American republic who, after purchasing a black slave, Sancho, at an auction in Charleston, North Carolina, free him and engage him as their guide through other states. In a letter to his brother, one of the travelers, Henry Franklin, writes about the feelings that black slaves awaken in his friend Arthur, his travelling companion:

After one of these handsome entertainments, where we had been attended by negro slaves, I observed a cloud upon the brow of my young friend, for which I could not account, till he confessed, that the sight of men, who were the property of their fellow creatures, and subject to every indignity, excited such painful reflections, that he could not banish them from his mind. I endeavoured to soothe him, by representing that their treatment here is gentle, compared with that exercised in the southern states, and in the West Indies; though the efforts that have been made for the abolition of slavery, have improved their condition every where. It is indeed to be regretted, that men, so ardent in the love of liberty for themselves as the Americans are, should continue, in any degree, to tolerate the slave trade (19).

In 1807 the English Parliament prohibited British participation in the African Slave Trade and, a year later, the United States also outlawed American participation in the trade. This new scenario shifted the attention from the injustices of the slave trade towards chattel slavery as it was known in the West Indies and the South of the United States. As Philip Gould explains, “the savage slave trader continued to function iconically in the abolitionist imagination. The figure still had rhetorical and emotional effect. This marks an important site of rhetorical continuity between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antislavery writing. […] As southern apologists criticized the severity of the northern industrial economy, northern abolitionists (many of them urban and industrial reformers as well) responded in kind by employing the well-established trope of the slave trade. It helped to secure regional claims to ‘civilization’” (Gould 192).

After the abolition of the slave trade, authors concentrated on criticizing the institution. As shown by the number of women authors penning antislavery stories, British women, as would happen with their American sisters, played a fundamental role in the antislavery campaigns from the middle of the eighteenth-century throughout the nineteenth century. Even if politically disenfranchised, they involved themselves in all venues of social and political reforms, and some of them (Elizabeth Heryrick Anne Knight, Elizabeth Pease) remained active until the abolition of slavery in the West Indies in the 1830s.

In 1821, Mary Martha Sherwood published Dazee, or the Re-Captured Negro, which had at least three American editions (1821, 1822 and 1834). It tells the story of Dazee, an African boy, who is captured by a slave trader, released by the English government, and then sent to the colony of Sierra Leone, where he is reunited with his elderly mother. As Martha Cutter explains, the text “relies on existing iconography to make its argument. Dazee is a literal replication of the Wedgwood supplicant slave, repurposed and repackaged but with unchanged features. The enslaved African in Sherwood’s text is the recipient of the gaze of both the individual in the image (on the left of the frontispiece) and of a reader. The enslaved African does not return the gaze of a reader, nor does his imprimatur contest the dominant scopic order of slavery in any way” (81-82).

By contrast, Amelia Opie’s The Black Man’s Lament; or How to Make Sugar (Harvey & Darton, 1826), according to Cutter, depicts “distinctive (rather than stereotypical) persons, unbroken corporealities that can assert a mode of ocular resistance. Again and again her illustrations depict men and (sometimes) women who appear to be staring away from the action of the scene and back at the viewer” (82).

The Black Man’s Lament, published as part of a collection of essays for children, tells the life of a slave captured by slave traders in Africa and condemned to work on a West Indian sugar plantation. The book contained fifteen hand-colored copperplate engravings that help visualize a new conception of children as citizens with moral responsibility to act politically. The style of the images shows that Harvey and Danton most probably engaged the same artist who had illustrated Cowper’s reprint of his celebrated The Negro Complaint for children, as mentioned above. As Cutter explains, the illustrator projects his respectful attitude towards blacks because these characters are represented as persons who “mobilize a politics of empathy and intersubjectivity that attempts to move beyond spectatorial sympathy by pushing a viewer to see the enslaved as connected with his or her own subjectivity, on terms of parity and equality” (xii). Thus, the first page opens with a plea for children to sign a petition to abolish the slave trade and the second attacks the cultivation of sugar cane and the transatlantic commerce of sugar as one of the roots of the evil of slavery:

Karen Sands-O’Connor (35) points out that, throughout her abolitionist poetry, Opie underlines the fact that slavery is a sin “not through ambivalent or guilt wracked white characters, but through adopting the slave’s own voice, thus forcing the recognition of the humanity of the slave” (35). The speaking voice in The Black Man’s Lament addresses children directly and emboldens them to take action against the dehumanizing system. The use of the first-person voice is, according to Sands-O’Connor, unique in children’s abolitionist literature, despite the story’s frame, and it is how Opie achieves what other children’s authors failed to do: turning the slave from object or animal into a human (35). Martha Cutter also underlines the prominence of Opie’s volume as one of the earliest and most elaborate graphic illustrated books for children exclusively devoted to an antislavery topic, since “it forwards the idea that the child’s example could motivate an adult reader […] envisioning of the child as a proto-political subject who inspires adult action may also have enabled the cultural work of a text such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which takes a similar approach to the function of children like Little Eva.” Thus, Opie “foreshadows how, in later years, the child became a unique catalyst and model for social change” (10-11).

Opie’s text, like others previously discussed, stands out amongst a vast array of British literature for children exhibiting tales of wild heathen savages in overseas territories. Yet Sands-O’Connor (21) clarifies a distinction between those books dealing with people in the Pacific islands and those about the inhabitants of Atlantic islands. “As the people providing manual labor for the farms of their British colonizers, the non-European Caribbean subjects—predominantly kidnapped West Africans—were a curious mix of wildness and domesticity,” she explains. Opie and her antislavery literary companions for children also offered this blending of peacefulness and violence, a dual description that “prepared their readers for the potential dangers, and perhaps the impossibility, of controlling the British Empire” (21). According to Cutter, “the black man’s rage in Opie’s text may denote that he can never fully embrace Christianity and might instead embrace bloody insurrection” (84). Hence, “her text portrays the opposite of the colonial discourse of enslaved, Christianized passivity, a ‘shadowy textual presence’ (Ferguson 5) that includes the potential rebellion of slaves against this colonial discourse” (85).

These early antislavery English poems and tales share a number of traits, according to Oldfield. Firstly, slavery destroys the “tranquility of domestic life in Africa”; and secondly, the blacks’ characters are “faithful, honest, and resourceful,” and their gentility is “further enhanced by their eloquence,” since “except for the obligatory ‘massah,’ they speak in the manner of educated Englishmen” (Oldfield 145). Yet what is most relevant is the fact that these English authors are keen on rewriting the racist stereotypes of Africans as inhuman creatures and objects that stand as property. To do so, their texts engage dialogic patterns of contestation about the ongoing debates on the slave trade and slavery as an institution. Whether from ameliorationist or more progressive attitudes towards the abolition of the slave trade and slavery, they try to aggrandize Africans’ dwarfed ontological status by transforming them into controversial examples of Western enlightened virtuosity and citizenry.

AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST WRITINGS FOR CHILDREN

Canonical accounts of childhood highlight the beginning of the nineteenth century as a turning point towards innovative social, cultural, and political attitudes on the notion of childhood. These early years saw the emergence of the romantic concept of the child. Children belonging to the middle and elite classes appeared as innocent beings, devoted to playful and blameless contacts with the natural world, and creatures to be kept safely away from the dreariness, poverty and marginalization of what Alan Richardson considers to be “the majority of their real Romantic-era counterparts” (1999: 170). Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, this image of the angelic child that emphasized both the Lockean spirit of malleability and the Rousseaunian faith in original innocence, was popularized by the most celebrated as well as now the least known Romantic authors in all literary genres—poetry, fiction, sermons, and educational tracts.

Taking into account Jacqueline Rose’s thesis in The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (1984), it can be argued that American abolitionist texts for children are in fact “something of a soliciting, a chase, or even a seduction” (2). Radically rooted within the antislavery political agenda, these books were written to fulfill adult desires. The image they construct is that of the abolitionist child, assembled “to secure the child who is outside the book, the one who does not come so easily within its grasp” (2). Far from reflecting the interests or desires of actual American children, these texts tried to fabricate and perpetuate American liberal adult fantasies of an equalitarian republic even if, at the same time, they were helping install a racialized ideal of a compassionate white bourgeois childhood. Hence they focus on the figure of the abolitionist child to “seduce” their white middle-class readers and convince them of the validity to identify with this ideal and reproduce it.

Caroline F. Levander explains how the child has had a “longstanding political significance in the United States” (2006: 2). In addition to being a carrier of cultural significance, the American child becomes relevant when analyzing “the racial premises underpinning liberal democracy because the nation emerges out of a series of racial encounters between Mexican, Native American, Anglo and African peoples” (2006: 4). During the first half of the nineteenth century, a period of troubling and phenomenal changes in the nation, antislavery literature for children firmly contributed to the way the United States was “imaginatively created and sustained through the logic of racial hierarchy” (2006: 4). Antislavery authors recognized the central role of the child in the configuration of a national liberal identity and attempted to contribute to a new formation of a white liberal antislavery citizenry. For Karen Sanchez-Eppler, an analogy can be established “between nation and nursery,” because “[i]n the rearing of each and every child the processes of social formation are reproduced in miniature.” Hence, parallelisms can be drawn “between the national projects of raising good, white, middle-class Christian, American children and raising an economic and cultural American empire” (2005: 186).

As Ann McLeod explains about censorship and children’s literature, in the same way that “modern middle-class childhood is managed, directed, organized, and defined by adults, for the good of the child and for the good of society,” nineteenth-century parents also “regulated their children’s lives fully, certainly including their reading” (1983: 29). Thus, their concern for moral books came first before literary merit and potential entertainment. Consequently, antislavery texts for children were expected to be bought by parents who were also abolitionists or at least sympathized to a certain extent with the cause, and would either read these books to their children or facilitate their understanding. Indeed, antislavery literature for children did not so much transform children’s attitudes towards reading as reinforce the education received from their parents at home. Children could actually test their parents’ educational depictions of horror on what they read in print and, consequently, on a literary superior authority. Abolitionist children’s literature legitimized the domestic sphere as a political school, and made it possible for parents to initiate their antislavery catechization.

It is not by chance that the rise of abolitionism in the 1830s coincided with the construction of childhood as the realm of innocence—an innocence that, far from being preserved at all costs, abolitionist writers sought to awaken to new conceptions of marginalized humanity. Martha L. Sledge explains that juvenile abolitionist literature serves three purposes. Firstly, it reveals the politics at the intersection of abolitionism and children’s literature; secondly, it shows the politicization of children and childhood through the lens of race and class, and thirdly, it exposes the use of children both to challenge nineteenth-century politics of slavery and at the same time perpetuate white, middle-class social hierarchies (69).

Together with these new conceptions of the child stands the recognition of American women’s role within reform movements throughout the nineteenth century and the leading role of Quaker and Evangelical women as antislavery activists. Quakers had defended the participation of women as equals since the beginning of the Society of Friends around the middle of the seventeenth century, when George Fox advocated women’s equality in spirituality, and acknowledged them as ministers. Relevant outside observers of Quakers—Thomas Clarkson in England, or Lydia Maria Child in the United States, for example—wrote admiringly about the freedom of speech enjoyed by Quaker women as well as about their independent roles within the development of the movement. As explained above, in the last decades of the eighteenth century, English dissenting religious groups distanced themselves from the more traditional Anglicans of the Church of England, and took it upon their shoulders to lead the fight against social evils. Both in England and America these groups contributed to the demise of the slave trade under the banner of the discourse of spiritual salvation and radical dissent. As Karen Sands-O’Connor comments, “the children’s authors who participated in the British abolitionist movement had much in common; most were women, often daughters of dissenting ministers or politicians; most had an interest in education and were motivated by a desire to further the cause of women through a promotion of charitable causes” (26). “Religion or piety was the core of woman’s virtue, the source of her strength,” writes Barbara Welter in her groundbreaking article “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” Yet, this religious exceptional predisposition veiled a purpose as women were put on the pedestal of Western moral guidance (152). To exercise their role as gatekeepers of social wrongs, female writers were welcome to the literary world and successful in publishing in newspapers and magazines where they had their works serialized. The Ladies Departments or the Juvenile Departments of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, the Liberator, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, and the National Era are among the countless journalistic niches where they placed their works. These antislavery periodicals defended the idea that young readers had to be instructed in the evils of slavery and the best method towards achieving this aim was to start at home and at an early age. Fathers, but especially mothers as guardians of the sacrosanct domestic space, were heartened to take full responsibility for their children’s indoctrination into the horrors of the American system. In fact, as Anne K. Mellor asserts, prominent male abolitionist writers “tended to attack slavery as a violation of ‘natural law,’ the argument that all men are born equal and have certain inalienable ‘rights,’” whereas female writers “tended to condemn slavery because it violated the domestic affections, separating mothers from their children, husbands from their wives, and subjected black women to sexual abuse from their white masters” (315). For Deborah G. De Rosa, these women writers, who she calls “domestic abolitionists,” “took advantage of the acceptability of domestic fiction, the rising cult of motherhood and childhood, and the increasing market for juvenile literature as a means to create a space that would permit them to walk the tightrope between female property and political controversy” (2003: 1). As in other areas of children’s pedagogy, American abolitionist writings for children will be in the hands of what Patricia Crain describes as “the technology of the maternal” (126).

It is crucial to remember that American abolitionist writers of children’s literature could look backwards across the Atlantic and drew inspiration and example from relevant British antislavery traditions, which had already deployed vivid images and language to attack slavery through the medium of juvenile literature since the second half of the eighteenth century. The fame of revered male but also female writers such as William Cowper, Thomas Day, Ann Laetitia Barbauld, Mary Edgeworth or Amalia Opie, among many others, inspired American writers to establish their own attitudes and understandings of bondage at home, and provided them with a respectable tradition from which to cull new perspectives. The transatlantic print culture made it possible for English writers to be reprinted, quoted and appropriated by American authors who had access to this antislavery material not only in their original editions, but also thanks to the numberless reprints in American magazines and newspapers, as Gould explains, “sometimes completely, sometimes partially, and sometimes even deliberately bowdlerized, with only the poem’s title to catch the eye of the perusing reader” (191). By 1830, when American abolitionists set themselves to the systematic task of producing texts for children, “British antislavery poetry was already part of American literary culture, and the abolitionists marshaled it for their own political purposes” (Gould 191). For radical abolitionists slavery was the worst of sins. In fact, the system was conceived in their rhetoric as a mirror reflecting their own degradation, and understood as one of the most fearful and corrupting influences on American children.

Yet, the recognition of American abolitionist writings for children as an outstanding literary field to understand antebellum politics and uncompromising conceptions of childhood is not unanimous among scholars. In White Supremacy in Children’s Literature: Characterizations of African Americans, 1830-1900 (2001), Donnarae MacCann, for example, dismisses these texts because “[e]ven though radical White abolitionists tried to prick the American conscience vis-à-vis slavery, many of their books would have injured the self-esteem of Blacks (and inflated the egos of European Americans) in about the same degree as proslavery texts.” For this researcher, the language of white supremacy throughout the antebellum decades resounded so loudly that “the underlying message was audible in most white abolitionist writings—the message that European cultural values would always be the exclusive measure of what was best” (22). Her point of view leads readers to discard practically all types of written texts in antebellum America literature, to say the least. Yet, as Clare Bradford notes, one of the functions of children’s literature is “to explain and interpret national histories—histories that involve invasion, conquest, violence, and assimilation” (97). Consequently, American abolitionist writings for children stand as relevant and controversial pieces in the national historical puzzle.

Paula Connolly defines radical abolitionist literature for children as representing slavery in the United States as “an unquestionably cruel system under which people suffered tremendous injustices” and which “often argued for racial equality and called for an immediate end to slavery” (15). The abolitionist writings for children published by American authors emerged out of the American context and the debates that the system spawned throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. As historian David Brion Davis (215) explains, the political and economic magnitude of slavery in the United States justifies the different orientations of its significance on both sides of the Atlantic Anglo-world. Whereas British abolitionists followed a far more establishment-oriented direction, American radical abolitionists placed themselves in direct confrontation with a national government keen on maintaining a political compromise with the slave-owning Southern states. Consequently, abolitionists were considered to be dangerous fanatics that questioned the sacrosanct basis of American antebellum societal norms. In the 1820s, at a time when the first calls for an independent American literature were first issued, children’s literature became an important field for American writers to be targeted. As explained above, American women were soon called up for the literary antislavery war and, specifically, for the juvenile trenches.

In 1824 Lydia Maria Child wrote about the urgent need for women to address juvenile audiences. In her Evenings in New England: Intended for Juvenile Amusement and Instruction, she recognized the risks involved in coming before the public, and paid homage to the British women’s contributions to children’s literature, especially by luminaries such as Maria Edgeworth and Anna Letitia Barbauld. Child, however, believed that “[e]xcellent as those books are, they are emphatically English; and I indulged the hope that American scenes, and American characters, would give a delightful locality to the following stories, though they could not boast of such simple elegance of expression, or such pointed purity of moral” (iii).

Even if the antislavery movement was a transatlantic phenomenon, scholars such as Richard S. Newman state that “abolitionism was born with the American republic. It did not fade until the nation’s near-death experience of the Civil War. Yet while abolitionists worked consistently to destroy slavery and racial injustice in these years, their strategy and tactics constantly evolved” (2). Hence, the evolution and changes in the American abolitionist movement in tactics and strategies had a projection on the literary field and on antislavery literature for children. Moreover, these texts necessarily reflected the development of political events, as well as the economic necessities, the intellectual aspirations, the literary ambitions and the political activism of their authors. As Paula Connolly emphasizes, “the presentation of abolitionist sentiment in children’s literature was neither ideologically cohesive nor uniformly critical” (14). Consequently, the texts included in this anthology will be divided into three broad groups: antislavery writings, composed during the decade of the 1820s; radical abolitionist texts, published during the decades of the 1830s and 1840s; and post-Uncle Tom’s texts, written after the phenomenal reception of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1850-1851.

Antislavery writings for children: the 1820s

During the first three decades of the nineteenth century, Americans believed that slavery was not a central issue in national politics and its existence went mainly unnoticed within the field of children’s literature. On the one hand, they were convinced that a process of gradual emancipation would be successful, and, on the other, that the South would eventually mirror the North by a process of slow but steady abolition in the different states. The colonization project (the encouragement to relocate free blacks in Liberia, the settlement of the American Colonization Society on the western coast of Africa) justified the humanitarian impulse that undergirds desires for emancipation.

The first two texts presented in this anthology were written by women not related to the antislavery struggles, yet both build around the figure of the black woman as an old individual, an antecedent of the thriving character of the black mammy. The story that might be the first to inaugurate a long list of American antislavery works for children is “OLD BETTY,” a piece written by Margaret Bayard Smith (1778-1844) and included in her children’s book American Mother (1823). The book came out in the same year that English writer Eliza Farrar published The Adventures of Congo in Search of His Master; an American Tale (London: John Harris), a title that had numerous editions in the United States. In 1805 Smith had already published another children’s story called The Diversions of Sidney. American Mother was a cheap-print book, over three by five inches (Teute 1996: 41), which was followed by a two-volume novel titled A Winter in Washington, or Memoirs of the Seymour Family (1824), and several other works, which culminated in Smith’s most widely recognized work, The First Forty Years of Washington Society, a collection of her letters and notebooks from 1800 to 1841, published in 1906 by Gaillard Hunt, an American historian and editor, chief of the division of manuscripts in the Library of Congress from 1909 to 1917, who also edited James Madison’s writings. Smith belonged to the Washingtonian political and social elite of her time, and in contrast to the period’s gender expectations, she became deeply involved in the public life of the early Republic through her writings. Yet, as Fredrika Teute explains, she was never involved in any antislavery association, a fact that did not stop her from writing about black and white relationships and made her become “one of the earliest and one of the few authors to write on the topic for the next generation” (1996: 55).

“Old Betty” was first recognized to be “one of the earliest American antislavery children’s stories known to exist” by Teute in her 1996 article “In ‘the gloom of evening’: Margaret Bayard Smith’s View in Black and White of Early Washington Society.” Teute discovered the piece in the American Antiquarian Society in 1994. The tale tells the story of “a homeless old slave wandering in the countryside on the outskirts of Washington near where the Seymour family lived” (1996: 40). It is “an old black woman’s tale of profound racial alienation and hatred […] resolved through Christian redemption” (2001: 218). In a letter dated November 26, 1824, Smith’s friend Eliza Quincy, a member of an important political family in Boston, praised the story: “There is no doubt a wide field for original and affecting description on the subjects of slaves, and slavery. Humanity and religion call for attention to their cause, and relief. It is a very difficult question, in the present situation of the slave holding states to say, how, or what can be effected, in a general way—but nothing but good can be the result of an appeal in their behalf for kinder treatment, and better instruction” (Teute 1996: 40).

The story starts with a seemingly idyllic scene of domestic happiness in the Seymour family where daughters Louisa and Matilda play with their slave companion Matty, under the care of Mrs. Seymour, who, following the principles of Republican motherhood, guards the moral growth of their daughters and little servant. When Old Betty arrives in the evening, she is encouraged to tell them her story of hard work and miseries. Betty’s body has been devastated by a life of hardships and physical tortures and she can barely walk. When invited to eat some food, she reminds them that the only food that really matters is the spiritual treasures dispensed by Jesus. At this turning point in the narrative, the black slave appropriates the teachings of white Christianity and empowers herself as a prophetess imparting Biblical wisdom to her hostesses. She then goes on to narrate how she fell in love with a slave in her plantation and how their master and mistress reject their wish to get married. Betty disobeys their orders and is consequently sold to a Georgian plantation. On board a vessel, her despair for the separation makes her forget her little baby, who dies and she tries to commit suicide, but is finally saved, and then sold to a benevolent family. In her new home she takes care of their young daughter. The girl is an angelical creature who teaches her the Bible and, as a sort of predecessor of Uncle Tom’s Eva, dies happy to welcome death and meet her Savior.

Old Betty is presented as a preacher of moral truths, even if those values act against the freedom of the enslaved. In fact, when she arrives at the Seymours’ house, her life story acts as a shadowy reminder of the fate that awaits other black enslaved women in the home. The family owns Matty, who even if treated kindly by Mrs. Seymour, is vulnerable to a tragic denouement: “Matty, who was only two years older than Louisa, had been so entirely their companion, and so carefully brought up, that she had caught their language and ideas, and though a slave, looked upon Mrs. Seymour more as a mother than a mistress: but this could not last, the age for labour was drawing on, when, instead of being the playmate, she was to become the servant of the young ladies, but always a favoured one.” Thus, the story starts with an ominous warning about the fragility of black women slaves in the slavery system. Matty’s future might resemble Old Betty’s miserable life story.

For Teute, American Mother is beneath the surface “much more than a children’s book” (1996: 46). But, far from being what she calls “a subversive text” that “rejects, questions, or undermines hierarchical relations between men and women, master and servants, whites and blacks” (1996: 46), “Old Betty” shows empathy towards the old black slave insofar as she is willing to recognize her attempts at freedom as moral failings. Hers becomes then a cautionary tale for black women. Yet, Smith’s story is valuable as an early attempt to provide a tale of slavery from the point of view of a dignified black woman.

SCENES IN GEORGIA