From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives
First published between 1842 and 1895, the autobiographical narratives gathered in this volume document the experiences of eight former slaves who eventually took up residence in Worcester, Massachusetts. Each narrative tells a gripping individual story, its author clearly visible in the dress of his or her own words. Together they illuminate not only the inhumanity of slavery but also the dreams and dilemmas of emancipation, tracing the personal journeys of seven men and one woman from bondage to freedom. In their well-researched introduction, B. Eugene McCarthy and Thomas L. Doughton situate the Worcester slave narratives within a broader historical framework and analyze their meaning and significance. Drawing on a wide range of sources, they reconstruct the black community of Worcester and compare it with other New England black communities of the time, describing how the town evolved from a society with slaves in the colonial era to a hub for free blacks by the eve of the Civil War. They explain why these writings must be understood as part of a long-established tradition of African American self-representation, and show how the four narratives published before 1865 focus on the experience of slavery, while the four written after the war offer the fresh perspective of living in freedom. Headnotes describe the distinctive literary features of each narrative and provide additional information about the lives of the authors. The editors discuss why these ex-slaves came to Worcester, the circumstances in which each wrote his or her narrative, and the audiences they had in mind. No other collection of slave narratives offers such a diverse range of testimony within a specific historical and literary context, or a more compelling account of the transition from bondage to belonging.
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