STEAL AWAY: Stories of the Runaway Slaves by Abraham -- Ed. Chapman
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STEAL AWAY: Stories of the Runaway Slaves

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So well programmed and sensibly edited is this collection of excerpts from fifteen original slave narratives -- many of which are 'rare books' in both senses, and all of which represent what Chapman cites as a distinctive literary form, projecting the slave as hero -- that it warrants a place in the forefront of the growing group of such anthologies. The more popular writings of the more prolific writers are eschewed; thus, since ""The full text of (the) illuminating Narrative of William Wells Brown is currently available in a number of reprint editions. . . . I have selected a sketch of slave life from a later, lesser-known, and not easily accessible book"" -- and there appears chapter vii from My Southern Home, ""The Goopher King,"" whose title Chapman defines (""because current dictionaries do not always. . ."") as meaning ""a master conjure man."" and whose subject is the power of voodooism; Brown begins, ""The influence of the devil was far greater than that of the Lord. . ."" and he proves it. Instead of a familiar Frederick Douglass work, Chapman offers ""The Heroic Slave."" ""the first significant novella by a black writer in the US""; it alone constitutes Part III, ""History in Fiction,"" which follows the penetrating ""Memories of Africa and the Slave Ships"" and the enormously varied stories of ""Slave Life and Stealing Away."" The early memories of Equiano Gustavas Vassa, while commonly reproduced, are justifiably included here; they are the genuine, keen observations of a man emotionally tied to, yet physically and cognitively miles from his African home-culture. Ottobah Cugoano, lamenting his betrayal by his own countrymen, once notes that ""if there were no buyers there would be no sellers,"" but Armstrong Archer suggests in his sometimes ironic piece about his father's father's capture that in the absence iff sellers, the buyers simply turned thieves; the deception he records is equalled immediately by Baquaqua's (next) tale, on being ""Trepanned (tricked and ensnared, per Chapman) and Sold Away."" Briefer are the words of Austin Steward, Thomas Jones, and Peter Randolph (whose sad lampoon recapitulates auction-block procedure); also Belinda, in a petition to the Massachusetts legislature, Jourdon Anderson in an ever-so-gently sarcastic ""Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master,"" two well-chosen interviews from Benjamin Drew's compendium, four succinct ""Tales of Oppression"" (Isaac T. Hopper from L M. Child's revision), three of Josiah Henson's chronicles from what Chapman believes to be the most probably authentic version (1858) of an 1849 publication subjected to eviscerating elaboration, plus the Rev. W. M. Mitchell on the underground railroad and the Rev. Henry Highland Garnett's address ""To the Slaves of the United States,"" 1843. Excellent, in view and in spite of the amount of juvenile and adult material already extant, and inasmuch as each entry has a significant raison d'etre.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Praeger