Four of the most important and enduring American slave narratives together in one volume.
Until slavery was abolished in 1865, millions of men, women, and children toiled under a system that stripped them of their freedom and their humanity. Much has been written about this shameful era of American history, but few books speak with as much power as the narratives written by those who experienced slavery firsthand.
The basis for the film of the same name, Twelve Years a Slave is Solomon Northup’s heartrending chronicle of injustice and brutality. Northup was born and raised a freeman in New York State—until he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South.
Perhaps the most famous of all slave chronicles, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass immediately struck a chord with readers when it was first released in 1855. After escaping to freedom, Douglass became a well-known orator and abolitionist.
One of the few female slave narratives, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was originally published under a pseudonym by Harriet Jacobs. After she escaped to freedom in North Carolina, where she became an abolitionist, Jacobs described the particular suffering of female slaves, including sexual harassment and abuse.
Published in 1850, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth is Truth’s landmark memoir of her life as a slave in upstate New York and her transformation into a pioneer for racial equality and women’s rights.
These narratives serve as a timeless testament to the strength and bravery, and as a voice to the millions of people enslaved in this dark period of American history.
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Solomon Northup (1808–1857) was a free-born African American from Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1841, he was kidnapped and forced into slavery for twelve years. With the help of his family and his father’s former master, Northup ultimately won his freedom and took the traders who betrayed him to court. He is best known for his autobiographical account of his enslavement, Twelve Years a Slave.
Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was an American orator, author, and leader of the abolitionist movement. Born a slave in Maryland, Douglass successfully escaped in 1838 by boarding a train headed north. As a free man, he published several autobiographical works detailing his experiences in slavery. Douglass became the first African American to hold a high government rank, serving as minister-resident and consul general to the Republic of Haiti.
Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) was an American author. Born into slavery in North Carolina, she escaped in 1835, and spent seven years hiding in her grandmother’s attic before fleeing to the North. In 1861, she published her memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Jacobs spent the Civil War and Reconstruction periods traveling the country, advocating on behalf of the rights of freed slaves.
Sojourner Truth (1797–1883) was a civil and women’s rights activist. She was raised in Dutch-speaking Ulster County, New York, and was bought and sold into slavery four times. In 1827, Truth ran away with her child and found refuge with an abolitionist family. Once freed, Truth moved to New York City, where she became an itinerant preacher and worked with other abolitionists to spread the word on antislavery and women’s rights.