Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself edited by Moira Ferguson

Mary Prince was born a slave in Bermuda (a British colony) around 1788. She became the first black women to escape to England (blacks were “free” as long as they stayed on English soil) and this account about her journey from slavery to freedom is as fascinating and inspiring as it is horrifying.

The History of Mary Prince is a rich narrative, in the genre of slave narratives, which is focused on enlightening readers on the brutal nature of slavery. Along the way, Mary’s narrative gives interesting accounts of salt harvesting in the West Indies, the politics of both the anti- and pro-slavery moments, and the precarious role of black women in the 19th century. Mary’s narrative is multi-layered. Since she could not write, Mary’s story was transcribed by another women. Mary’s editor, Mr. Pringle, was also the secretary for the Anti-slavery society and Mary’s employer in whose house she lived. With this knowledge, gaps arise in The History, little idiosyncrasies that appear to be censored or altered in some way that will make Mary’s story palatable to its intended audience.

The marginalia make The History absolutely fascinating. Moira Ferguson’s excellent introduction sheds light on English and West Indian politics that influenced Mary, her many owners and the the making of her narrative. Also, Pringle’s short preface and lengthy supplement prove the intensity of the anti-slavery campaign. In the appendix, Ferguson includes copies of newspaper articles of two court cases surrounding The History and other contemporary events which influenced the abolition of slavery in the West Indies in 1833. 

Those interested in slave narratives should put The History of Mary Prince at the top of their list. Also, those interested in the making of history through narrativity, autobiographies, black women narratives and British history will appreciate this text. This book counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: University of Michigan Press, 1997     Pages: 173
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Purchased Copy


  1. This sounds like an interesting book. My husband is a US historian who's read a lot of slave narratives. I'll have to ask him if he's come across this one.