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Edited and with an Introduction by Deiidre JViullane


First Anchor Books Edition, October 1993

Copyright © 1993 by Deirdre Mullane

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of

Canada Limited, Toronto.

Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint copyrighted material. Every reasonable effort has been made to trace the ownership of all copyrighted material included in this volume. Any errors that may have occurred are inadvertent and will be corrected in subsequent editions, provided notification is sent to the publisher.

Acknowledgments for individual pieces appear on pages 757-59

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Crossing the danger water : four hundred years of African-American writing / edited and with an introduction by

Deirdre Mullane. — 1st Anchor Books ed. p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. American literature—Afro-American authors. 2. Afro-Americans—Literary collections. 3. Afro-Americans—History. I. Mullane, Deirdre. PS508.N3C73 1993 810.8'0896073—dc20 93-17194 CIP

ISBN 0-385-42243-1

printed in the united states of america

20 19

For N'Koumba, who believes in the power of history

Editor s Acknowled

For the help and inspiration needed as this volume took shape, I would like to thank: Bob, Glen, and Matthew for their support; Laura De Flora, who provided materials from her collection; Jeff Golick, who helped with the preparation of the manuscript; the editors at Anchor Books who expressed interest in the project, Heidi Von Schreiner, Sallye Leventhal, and, espe­cially, Deborah Ackerman, who edited the book as it took on ever greater dimensions; the New York Public Library and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the publishers and authors whose works are included here.

/ teach the kings of their ancestors so that the lives of the ancients might serve them as an example, for the world is old but the future springs from the past.

Mamadou Kouyate, Mali griot Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, a.d. 1217-1237

It has been called a great many names, and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth.

Frederick Douglass The Liberator, May 26, 1865

We'll cross the danger water —"My Army Cross Over"


Introduction xix

The First Africans in North America 1

from They Came Before Columbus 2

Olaudah Equiano 6 from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,

or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789) 8

Early Slave Revolts 20 Report of Governor Hunter on the New York Slave

Conspiracy (1712) 22

Lucy Terry 24

Bars Fight (1746) 25

Jupiter Hammon 26 An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penetential

Cries (1761) 27

African-Americans in the American Revolution 29

Petition of the Africans, Living in Boston (1773) 32

The Declaration of Independence (1776) 34 Emancipation of Slaves for Military Service During the

American Revolution (1783) 37

Phillis Wheatley 39

On Being Brought from AFRICA to AMERICA (1773) 41

On Imagination (1773) 42 To the Right Honourable WILLIAM, Earl of DARTMOUTH,

His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North

America (1773) 44

Letter to Samson Occom (1774) 46

Benjamin Banneker 47

Letter to Thomas Jefferson (1791) 48

Slave Revolts 51

Testimony on Gabriel's Revolt (1800) 53

Testimony on the Vesey Conspiracy (1822) 57

Letter from a Slave Rebel (1793) 59

Letter from a Slave Rebel in Georgia (1810) 60


The Founding of the African-American Press 61

Editorial from the First Edition of Freedom's Journal (1827) 63

The Colonization Debate 67

The Argument For (1829) 70

The Argument Against (1827) 72

David Walker 74

from Walker's Appeal in Four Articles . . . (1829) 76

Nat Turner 86

from The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831) 88

George Moses Horton 98

The Slave's Complaint (1829) 99

The Amistad Case (1839) 100 United States Appellants v. the Libellants and Claimants

of the Schooner Amistad (1841) 102

The Convention Movement, 1830-1864 106 An Address to the Colored People of the United States, from

the Colored National Convention of 1848 109

Henry Highland Garnet 114 An Address to the Slaves of the United States

of America (1843) 115

Martin Delany 122 from The Condition, Elevation, and Destiny of the Colored People

of the United States, Politically Considered (1852) 124 Declaration of the Principles of the National Emigration

Convention (1854) 129

The Case of Dred Scott 132

Dred Scott's Petition for Freedom (1847) 134

Reaction to the Dred Scott Decision (1857) 136

Frederick Douglass 139

from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) 142

Letter to Thomas Auld (1848) 151

What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? (1852) 157

Harriet Jacobs 161 The Jealous Mistress

from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) 163


William Wells Brown 168

from Clotel; or, The Presidents Daughter: A Narrative of Slave

Life in the United States (1853) 170

Harriet E. Wilson 177

from Our Nig (1859) 179

Sojourner Truth 184

Address to the Ohio Women's Rights Convention (1851) 186 Address to the First Annual Meeting of the American Equal

Rights Association (1867) 187

Harriet Tubman 189

from Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People (1886) 191

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 200

Bury Me in a Free Land (1854) 202

The Slave Mother (1854) 203

A Double Standard 205

John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry 207

Letter from John A. Copeland (1859) 209

Letter to John Brown from Frances Harper (1860) 211

On John Brown's Raid (1859) 212

Emancipation Proclamation 214

The New York Draft Riots 218

An Eyewitness Account (1863) 219

Henry Highland Garnet 222 A Memorial Discourse Delivered in the Hall of the

House of Representatives (1865) 223

African-Americans in the Civil War 234

Men of Color, to Arms! (1863) 237

Camp Diary (1863) 240

The Struggle for Pay (1864) 243

Farewell Address to the Troops (1866) 245

Folk Culture and Literature 247

Slave Song 250

Promises of Freedom 251

Slave Marriage Ceremony Supplement 252

Plantation Proverbs 253


Aphorisms 255

All God's Chillen Had Wings 257

John Henry 259

The Signifying Monkey 261

Stackalee 264

Shine and the Titanic 267

Easy Rider 268

Joe Turner 269

St. Louis Blues 270

Joe Turner Blues 272

Beale Street Blues 273

Spirituals 274

Go Down, Moses 277

Who'll Be a Witness for My Lord? 278

Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jerico 279

I Got a Home in Dat Rock 280

Roll Jordan, Roll 281

My Way's Cloudy 282

Steal Away to Jesus 283

I Know Moon-Rise 284

Deep River 285

Down in the Valley 286

Swing Low Sweet Chariot 287

Ride In, Kind Saviour 288

My Army Cross Over 289

Many Thousand Gone 290

We'll Soon Be Free 291

I Thank God I'm Free at Las' 292

The Civil War Amendments 293

The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) 295

The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) 296

The Fifteenth Amendment (1870) 297

Reconstruction 298

Freedman's Bureau (1865) 301

South Carolina Black Code (1864-1865) 303 Frederick Douglass's Speech to the Thirty-second Annual

Convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society (1865) 308

Blanche K. Bruce's Speech to the United States Senate (1876) 312


Henry M. Turner's Speech to the Georgia Legislature (1868) 314 Petition from Kentucky Citizens on Ku Klux Klan Violence (1871) 317

The Exodusters 324

News Accounts from the Black Press (1879-1886) 326

Charles W. Chesnutt 328

Po' Sandy 330

The Wife of His Youth 338

Paul Laurence Dunbar 348

We Wear the Mask 350

Sympathy 351

A Negro Love Song 352

The Poet 353

Booker T. Washington 354

from Up from Slavery (1901) 356

The Atlanta Exposition Address (1895) 364

W. E. B. Du Bois 368

from The Souls of Black Folk (1903) 372

The Talented Tenth (1903) 382

Ida Wells-Barnett 393

from A Red Record (1895) 395

Mary Church Terrell 402 What Role Is the Educated Negro Woman to Play in the

Uplifting of Her Race? (1902) 404

Anna Julia Cooper 409

from A Voice in the South (1892) 411

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) 421

The Niagara Movement (1905) 428

The Founding of the NAACP 433

Principles of the NAACP (1911) 435

The Crisis (1910) 436

Agitation (1910) 437

Jack Johnson 438

The Prize Fighter (1914) 440


James Weldon Johnson 441

Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing (1900) 443

from The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912) 444

O Black and Unknown Bards (1917) 453

The Great Migration, 1910-1920 455

Letters and Articles from The Chicago Defender 457

Red Summer of 1919 460

A Directive to French Troops (1918) 462

Returning Soldiers (1919) 464

Three Hundred Years (1919) 466

Claude McKay, If We Must Die! (1919) 467

Marcus Garvey 468 Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples

of the World (1920) 471

Alain Locke 478

The New Negro (1925) 481

Claude McKay 491

The Harlem Dancer 493

Spring in New Hampshire 494

The Lynching 495

Tiger 496

The White City 497

The Tropics in New York 498

Langston Hughes 499

I, Too (1925) 501

The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1926) 502

The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926) 503

Harlem (1951) 508

Jean Toomer 509

from Cane 511

Countee Cullen 514

Yet Do I Marvel (1925) 516

Heritage (1925) 517

From the Dark Tower (1927) 521

Zora Neale Hurston 522

Sweat (1926) 524


The Scottsboro Cases 534

Appeal of the Scottsboro Boys (1932) 536

Joe Louis 538

Joe Louis Uncovers Dynamite (1935) 540

Sterling Brown 543

Strong Men (1932) 544

Robert Hayden 546

Frederick Douglass 548

Middle Passage 549

Richard Wright 554 The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch

(1937) 557

A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington Movement 567

Program of the March on Washington Movement (1942) 569

Executive Order 8802 (1941) 571

Truman Integrates the Military 573

Executive Order 9981 (1948) 576

Paul Robeson 578 Statement to the House Un-American Activities Committee

(1956) 580

Gwendolyn Brooks 582

The Mother 583

We Real Cool 584

The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock 585

Ralph Ellison 587

from Invisible Man (1952) 589

James Baldwin 601

Notes of a Native Son (1955) 603

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 620

NAACP Brief (1953) 622

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) 626

Martin Luther King, Jr. 630

Letter from Birmingham City Jail (1963) 633

I Have a Dream (1963) 647


Songs of the Civil Rights Movement 651

We Shall Overcome 652

O Freedom 653

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize 654

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round 656

Kwanzaa 657

Malcolm X 660

from The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) 664

Eldridge Cleaver 670

from Soul on Ice 672

The Black Panther Party 680

Black Panther Party Platform (1966) 683

Amiri Baraka 686

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note 688

State/meant 689

Ka 'Ba 690

The Kerner Commission 691

from The Kerner Commission Report (1968) 693

African-Americans in the Vietnam War 706

Selections from Bloods 708

Maya Angelou 712

from / Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970) 714

Alice Walker 719

from In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1974) 722

Jesse Jackson 732

Address to the Democratic National Convention (1984) 734

Rap Music 741

The Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings 743 Clarence Thomas's Second Statement to the

Senate Judiciary Committee (1991) 746


The L.A. Riots

Congresswoman Maxine Waters's Testimony Before the Senate Banking Committee (1992)

Selected Bibliography


Selected Index


This anthology represents an attempt to bring together writings—meant in the largest sense to include fiction, autobiography, poetry, letters, journalism, songs, court decisions, documents, and manifestos—that reflect the African-American experience of the last three centuries. Like any anthology, it is the product of competing priorities, the result of compromise between expected works and personal choice. When this process of selection is applied to works by African-American authors, one confronts as well the long tradition in which a single individual—Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson—has been viewed as repre­sentative. Opinions are seen not as expressions of the thinking of a particular individual in specific circumstances, but rather as somehow typical, as if differences in education, temperament, and personal history are leveled by the shared experience of race.

There is, instead, a multitude of voices to be found in this volume, some clearly engaged in dialogue with each other. John B. Russwurm and Samuel E. Cornish clash over the subject of emigration. W. E. B. Du Bois responds here directly to Washington's "Atlanta Compromise." Langston Hughes rejects the academic poetry of Countee CuIIen, Malcolm X analyzes the policy of nonviolent resistance. But while a great number of opinions are expressed here on a variety of topics, certain themes emerge nonetheless.

The definitive experience confronted by early African-American au­thors was the brutal reality of slavery. While some of the earliest writers seemed to rely on a just Providence for recompense in an afterlife, despite the careful selection by white clergymen of biblical texts on the subjects of servants and masters, few slaves proved to be true believers. Even those writers whose work is most infused with Christian sentiment, such as Phillis Wheatley, Jupiter Hammon, and Harriet Jacobs, exposed the hypocrisy of Christian slave masters. Others adapted Christian texts to their own pur­poses, as in the triumph of Old Testament figures in the African-American spirituals gathered here.

Early African-American essays and orations provide powerful evidence of a more muscular form of resistance. David Walker's Appeal, Henry High­land Garnet's "Call to Rebellion," and Frederick Douglass's oration on the Fourth of July sustain "one continual cry" against the institution of slavery. Their arguments are echoed in the published proceedings of political con­ventions and the articles and editorials from the nascent black press, which reached their highest pitch in the years just prior to the Civil War. Resistance often took more violent forms as well and the testimony of Nat Turner and others involved in armed revolts is also recounted here.

With oration, the slave narrative became the dominant form in early African-American literature. Within this genre, represented in this volume


by Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman, certain conventions were realized as the narrator recounted his or her experience in bondage, the escape, and the circumstances of life after slavery, often margin­ally better than life within it. The liberating potential of education forms a constant theme in these texts, which slave owners clearly recognized, impos­ing harsh penalties on any slave found reading or writing. The relationship between these narratives and the early works of African-American fiction, like Harriet Wilson's Our Nig and William Wells Brown's Clotel, and their uses in the present day are also explored, while the self-defining potential of autobiography continues to be an essential element in the writings of more recent authors like James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou. Beyond mere literacy, it remained to deter­mine what the proper scope of a general education should include. Booker T. Washington touched off fierce debate with his assertion that "no race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem," while W. E. B. Du Bois argues the importance of higher education for a "Talented Tenth."

Many of the writings in this volume exhibit a tension between the acknowledgment of a uniquely African-American heritage and the tendency toward assimilation, a conflict Du Bois termed a "twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body." While James Weldon Johnson examines this "tran­sition from one world into another" in The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and Richard Wright, in Uncle Tom's Children, acknowledges "the dual role which every Negro must play," Zora Neale Hurston jumps headfirst "into the crib of negroism." Various efforts to forge a cultural identity, from political and economic nationalism to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s to rap's "hip-hop nation," are considered here.

Implicit in this debate is the relationship of the African-American dias­pora to Africa herself and to other peoples of color around the world. Some of the earliest writers keenly felt profound dislocation upon being uprooted from Africa. Phillis Wheatley, whose surviving likeness depicts a young woman in European colonial dress, commented that should she return to Africa, "how like a Barbarian shou'd I look to the Natives." The pull of Africa to later generations is evident in the nineteenth-century colonization of Liberia, Marcus Garvey's efforts at economic interdependence, and Mal­colm X's ties with African leaders as he framed African-Americans' demands for parity as an issue of human rights to be argued in the court of world opinion.

Several pieces in this volume touch on the obligation of African-Ameri­cans to perform military service in every war this country has waged. Some slaves were in fact emancipated for their service in the American Revolution, yet the companies of black troops that took up arms in the Civil War fought a constant struggle for fair treatment and equal pay. In the twentieth century,


American troops fighting abroad remained segregated, and several black veterans returning after World War I were lynched during the Red Summer of 1919 while still in uniform. The oral accounts included here of African-American soldiers who fought in Vietnam make clear that well into the twentieth century, these wars continued to be fought on two fronts.

Beyond these themes, the selection of pieces for this volume remained problematic. Some poems, speeches, and essays have become so much a part of our common culture that their inclusion seemed essential. That Langston Hughes's poem "I, Too" and Countee Cullen's "Heritage" are so well known does not diminish their power for readers coming to them for the first time. The prolific writers Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin are represented by some of their early, though accomplished, works, allowing the reader to discover their strong voices as their contemporary audiences did. Malcolm X, whose thinking was marked by a constant evolu­tion, is viewed at major turning points along his intellectual and spiritual journey. While many commentators have written passionately about the riots in Los Angeles in the spring of 1992, the role of Representative Maxine Waters as a public figure in this debate made her opinions particularly meaningful. Certainly, the philosophies and talents of numerous writers are only partially represented, while many other important authors—Alexander Crummell and James Forten from the early eighteenth century; early black historians like George Washington Williams and Carter Woodson, and their heirs John Henrik Clark and John Hope Franklin; Wallace Thurman, Jessie Redmon Fa tset, Arna Bontemps, and Nella Larsen of the Harlem Renais­sance; Mary McLeod Bethune and Nannie Burroughs from the women's-club movement; new poets of the 1960s like Sonia Sanchez, Larry Neal, Don lee, and Nikki Giovanni; and important contemporary essayists like Cornel West and Derek Bell—have been reluctantly omitted for reasons of space. Some contemporary authors are not included because permission for their work could not be obtained. The selection of pieces implies no judg­ment on the talent and significance of the writers omitted; rather, those that are included were chosen because they, iit some particularly meaningful way, illustrated an essential aspect of the African-American experience, and some precedence has been given to older authors, whose works are not as widely available as those of contemporary authors.

Included here, too, are works of folklore and popular culture, from tales of strongmen like John Henry and Stagolee to the music of the spiritu­als, blues, and rap. The uses and limitations of folklore, dialect, and idiom are central to the work of Charles W. Chesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Alice Walker, to name only a few.

I have tried also to include pieces that are infrequently anthologized or are difficult to find. The possibility that African navigators may have reached the shores of the Americas in pre-Columbian times is not widely recognized,


despite scholarly studies supporting this theory. It is surprisingly difficult to find, outside of libraries, basic documents like the Emancipation Proclama­tion, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, executive orders and court rulings, and civil rights legislation. Though these documents were not written by African-Americans, their history and language provide a fuller understanding of African-American experience.

Some of the women whose works are included here may be less familiar than their male contemporaries, despite the greater interest in women's stud­ies in the past several years. Perhaps even more than others of their sex, African-American women found their loyalties divided, nowhere more appar­ent than in the areas of education and female suffrage. To those who would argue, to use Du Bois's assertion, that "the Negro race, like all races, is to be saved by its exceptional men," women like Sojourner Truth and Anna Julia Cooper respond, "We wish not for the boys less, but for the girls more." This volume strives to provide African-American women with equitable space as well.

In all of these cases, I have tried to provide, briefly, a context for the particular selection. This volume can serve only as an introduction to its vast and complex subject and perspectives on many significant events in African-American history and culture have been necessarily omitted. Fortunately, many important works by African-American writers are coming back into print, and the reader is referred to the bibliography for suggestions for further reading.

Finally, I have attempted to highlight relationships among individual writers, and the connection between these writers and a larger tradition. For more than three hundred years, in the face of economic exploitation, peon­age, lynching, prejudice, and denial of basic civil and human rights, African-American writers have collectively created a remarkable body of work, a rich and varied legacy that resonates powerfully today for all Americans.

Note to tte Reader

The texts in this volume are reprinted with original spellings, punctuation, phrasing, etc., intact to preserve both the individual authors' styles and the tenor of the historical periods in which they were written. For the reader's convenience, works mentioned in the headnotes that are also included in this volume are cross-referenced with the symbol T .

The First Africans in North America

Although African-American history is often recounted from the arrival of twenty slaves in a Dutch man-of-war at Jamestown in 1619, Africans had traveled in the New World expeditions of the Spaniards Balboa, Cortes, Pizarro, and Coronado, and with the French in Canada and the Mississippi Valley. One of the most well known of these guides, Estevanico (c.1500-1539), served as interpreter and scout to the Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico in 1527. Captured by Native Americans, he managed to escape and wandered in the Southwest for several years before joining the expedition of Cabeza de Vaca into New Mexico and Arizona in 1539. As the first African the Zuni had ever seen, he was viewed as a god, and gifts of precious turquoise and other stones were bestowed upon him. For this, or for some other offense, he was killed by Zuni warriors.

Recent evidence suggests, though, that Africans may have visited the New World in pre-Columbian times as well. In They Came Before Colum­bus, Ivan Van Sertima documents how new archaeological findings, mari­time studies, Spanish accounts of sitings of black-skinned peoples off the Isthmus of Darien and in Colombia and Peru, and African oral history all argue for an African "discovery" of the New World before the fifteenth-century Europeans.


ey Came Before Columbus

"The implications of these discoveries can no longer be dismissed or ignored"

J* hese spanish sightings of africans in the new world and the later discovery by anthropologists of distinctive L black settlements along the American seaboard (outside the %■ «#§ mainstream of the post-Columbian slave complex) constitute only one strand of the evidence of pre-Columbian contact between Africa and America. An overwhelming body of new evidence is now emerging from several disciplines, evidence that could not be verified and interpreted before, in the light of the infancy of archaeology and the great age of racial and intellectual prejudice. The most remarkable exam­ples of this evidence are the realistic portraitures of Negro-Africans in clay, gold and stone unearthed in pre-Columbian strata in Central and South America.

It has only been within the last decade, however, that this evidence has begun to filter down to the general public. When in 1862 a colossal granite head of a Negro was found in the Canton of Tuxtla, near the place where the most ancient of pre-Columbian statuettes were discovered, the historian Orozco y Berra declared in his History of the Conquest of Mexico that there was bound to be an important and intimate relationship between Mexicans and Africans in the pre-Columbian past. In his time, however, the Negroid heads could not be conclusively dated. We now know, without the shadow of a doubt, through the most modern methods of dating, that some of the Negroid stone heads found among the Olmecs and in other parts of Mexico and Central America are from as early as 800 to 700 b.c. Clearly American history has to be reconstructed to account for this irrefutable piece of archaeological data. Explanations, not excuses, have got to be found. The implications of these discoveries can no longer be dismissed or ignored. The time has come to disperse the cloud of silence and scepticism that has settled over this subject for a century.

A break in that cloud came about seven years ago with the work of Alexander Von Wuthenau. Fired by a passionate conviction that America was an inseparable part of the mainstream of world cultures before 1492 and excited by the vitality and sophistication of pre-Columbian art (so long neglected in the great art museums of the world), this art historian and lecturer carried out intensive diggings and investigations in Mexico. Out of

They Came Before Columbus 791

his dedicated commitment emerged a wealth of visible witnesses to the pre-Columbian presence of Africans and others in the Americas. His book The Art of Terracotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian South and Central America broke new ground. It shattered conventional assumptions in the field of American art as well as history. But its favorable reception has only become possible because there has been a genuine change, however gradual, however slight, in the climate of prejudice that has long inhibited any serious scholarly inquiry into this matter. . . .

What Von Wuthenau has done is to open a door upon the photo gallery of the Americas. For, lacking the camera, the ancient and medieval Americans sought to capture for all time, in the art of realistic portraiture through the medium of clay, the significant figures of their respective genera­tions. Africans move through all their major periods, from the time of the Olmec culture around 800 b.c., when they arise in massive stone sculptures, through the medieval Mexico of the Mayas, when they appear not only in terra-cotta portraits but on golden pectorals and on pipes, down to the late post-Classic period, time of the Conquest, when they begin to disappear as they disappeared all over the world until today, reemerging once more as significant figures.

A head from the post-Classic period stares at us across five centuries with a lifelike power and directness. This is clearly the type of African who came here in 1310 in the expeditionary fleet of Abubakari the Second of Mali. These men made a tremendous visual impression upon the Mixtecs, last of the great pre-Columbian potters, for this is one of their finest clay sculptures. It was found in Oaxaca in Mexico. Its realism is striking. No detail is vague, crudely wrought or uncertain. No stylistic accident can ac­count for the undisputed Negro-ness of the features. From the full, vivid lips, the darkened grain of the skin, the prognathic bone formation of the cheeks, the wide nostrils, the generously fleshed nose, down to the ceremo­nial earring and the cotton cap Cadamosto noted on warrior boatmen on the Gambia, the American artist has deftly caught the face of the African.

The court tradition of Mali and documents in Cairo tell of an African king, Abubakari the Second, setting out on the Atlantic in 1311. He com­mandeered a fleet of large boats, well stocked with food and water, and embarked from the Senegambia coast, the western borders of this West African empire, entering the Canaries current, "a river in the middle of the sea" as the captain of a preceding fleet (of which only one boat returned) described it. Neither of the two Mandingo fleets came back to Mali to tell their story, but around this same time evidence of contact between West Africans and Mexicans appears in strata in America in an overwhelming combination of artifacts and cultural parallels. A black-haired, black-bearded figure in white robes, one of the representations of Quetzalcoatl, modeled on a dark-skinned outsider appears in paintings in the valley of Mexico, while the Aztecs begin to worship a Negroid figure mistaken for their Tezcatlipoca


because he had the right ceremonial color. Negroid skeletons are found in this time stratum in the Caribbean. "A notable tale is recorded in the Peru­vian traditions ... of how black men coming from the east had been able to penetrate the Andes Mountains." Figures, like the one described above, return to prominence in American clay. We shall deal with this in subse­quent chapters, but it is important to bear in mind that the Negroid terra cottas are scattered over several periods and bear witness, in conjunction with other evidence, that this was just one of several contacts between the two continents, joined throughout pre-Columbian history by a long but easily accessible and mobile waterway.

Onto this waterway Africans sometimes stumbled accidentally. This may account for some of the Negroid heads, which represent Africans ap­pearing on the plateau of Mexico and other parts of Mesoamerica just before and after Christ. Here we see native American artists struggling in clay two thousand years ago to come to terms realistically with the alien physiognomy of the African. This struggle is not always successful. Prognathism or some other distinct Negro-African feature is sometimes deliberately overempha­sized for effect, producing vivid but grotesque evocations. Nonetheless, the dense, close curl and kink of Negroid hair, the goatee beard, so uncommon to the hairless American Indian chin, and the heavy ear pendants, a popular West African feature, come through quite clearly. With respect to the latter, Cadamosto, the Portuguese explorer who visited the Senegambian border of Mali in 1450, notes "these peoples all have their ears pierced round with holes in which they wear various ear rings, one behind the other."

There may be some stylistic distortion in the Negroid head from the Mandingo contact period. The chin juts out with an exaggerated and primi­tive power. Strangely enough, it was regarded by the American Indians as a sacred face. It was venerated later by the Aztecs, simply because it was black, as their god Tezcatlipoca. Black gods and gods with Negroid features (for black is sometimes just a ceremonial color) may be found among the Ameri­can Indians. Another black god is the god of jewelers, Naualpilli. The Negroid features of this god were sculpted in green stone by the Mexicans, while his kinky hair was cast in pure gold. There is also the god of traveling merchants, o Ek-chu-ah, who enters Mayan mythology in the wake of the Mandingo.

It is hard for many to imagine the Negro-African figure being vener­ated as a god among the American Indians. He has always been represented as the lowliest of the low, at least since the era of conquest and slavery. His humiliation as a world figure begins, in fact, with the coming of Columbus. It was in the very decade of his "discoveries" that the black and white Moors were laid low. The image of the Negro-African as a backward, slow and uninventive being is still with us. Not only his manhood and his freedom but even the memory of his cultural and technological achievements before the

They Came Before Columbus 791

day of his humiliation seem to have been erased from the consciousness of history. . . .

We cannot see very far if we enter an ancient time with contemporary blinkers, even if our pathways into the past are illuminated by a hundred torches lit by the most recent archaeological discoveries. What is needed far more than new facts is a fundamentally new vision of history.

The impulse to compose a relation, or narrative, of the experience of slavery was uniquely felt by African-Americans in bondage. "No group of slaves anywhere, at any other period in history," writes the critic Henry Louis Gates, "has left such a large repository of testimony about the hor­ror of becoming the legal property of another human being. . . . The narratives of ex-slaves are, for the literary critic, the very foundation upon which most subsequent Afro-American fictional and nonfictional narratives are based."

One of the earliest accounts of African life and the Middle Passage, Olaudah Equiano's 1789 Narrative forms a literary bridge from the Old World to the New. In it, Equiano recounts his noble Ibo parentage, his childhood and the customs of his native Benin (present-day Nigeria), his capture at age eleven by a hostile tribe, his transport by British slavers to the New World, and his remarkable travels as a servant to several British naval officers in the American colonies, Canada, and the West Indies before buying his own freedom from a Quaker merchant in Philadelphia on July 11, 1766. Upon gaining his independence, he left America for good, and later voyages took him to the Arctic, Turkey, and Central America.

Upon publication, Equiano's account was championed by a "constel­lation of worthies" and went through several popular editions. He later married Susanna Cullen, an Englishwoman, and devoted much of his final years to the cause of abolition, including publicizing the infamous case of the British slave ship Zpng, in which 132 shackled slaves were thrown overboard, after which the owners made insurance claims for their loss. He died in London on March 31, 1797, without ever having seen Africa again. His only child, a daughter, died soon after.

Recounting his first exposure to books in his Narrative, Equiano writes, "I had often seen my master and Dick employed in reading; and I had a great curiosity to talk to the books as I thought they did, and so to learn how all things had a beginning. For that purpose I have often taken up a book, and have talked to it, and then put my ears to it, when alone, in

Olaudah Equiano

hopes it would answer me; and I have been very much concerned when I found it remained silent." At the same time that it relates the details of an extraordinary life, Equiano's Narrative, like hundreds of later accounts, gives voice to the millions who endured the Middle Passage and the brutal­ity of enslavement.

from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African

"The first object that saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo."


The author's birth and parentage—His being kidnapped with his sister—Their separation—Surprise at meeting again—Are finally separated—Account of the different places and inci­dents the author met with till his arrival on the coast—The effect the sight of a slave ship had on him—He sails for the West Indies—Horrors of a slave ship—Arrives at Barbadoes, where the cargoe is sold and dispersed.

* * I hope the reader will not think I have trespassed on his

"*tf • ■'■> patience, in introducing myself to him with some account of /%- I tne manners and customs of my country. They had been

J&t implanted in me with great care, and made an impression on

# my mind, which time could not erase, and which all the * adversity and variety of fortune I have since experienced,

served only to rivet and record; for, whether the love of one's country be real or imaginary, a lesson of reason or an instinct of nature, I still look back with pleasure on the first scenes of my life, though that pleasure has been for the most part mingled with sorrow.

I have already acquainted the reader with the time and place of my birth. My father, besides many slaves, had a numerous family, of which seven lived to grow up, including myself and a sister, who was the only daughter. As I was the youngest of the sons, I became, of course, the greatest favourite with my mother, and was always with her, and she used to take particular pains to form my mind. I was trained up from my earliest years in the art of war; my daily exercise was shooting and throwing javelins; and my mother adorned me with emblems, after the manner of our greatest warriors. In this way I grew up till I was turned the age of eleven, when an end was put to my happiness in the following manner:—When the grown people in the neigh­bourhood were gone far in the fields to labour, the children generally assem­bled together in some of the neighbours' premises to play; and some of us often used to get up into a tree to look out for any assailant, or kidnapper, that might come upon us. For they sometimes took those opportunities of

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our parents' absence, to attack and carry off as many as they could seize. One day, as I was watching at the top of a tree in our yard, I saw one of those people come into the yard of our next neighbour but one, to kidnap, there being many stout young people in it. Immediately on this I gave the alarm of the rogue, and he was surrounded by the stoutest of them, who entangled him with cords, so that he could not escape till some of the grown people came and secured him.

II. But alas! ere long it was my fate to be thus attacked, and to be carried off, when none of the grown people were nigh. One day, when all our people were gone out to their work as usual, and only I and my sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and without giving us time to cry out, or to make any resistance, they stopped our mouths and ran off with us into the nearest wood. Here they tied our hands, and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment and spent the night. We were then unbound, but were unable to take any food; and being quite overpowered by fatigue and grief, our only relief was some sleep, which allayed our misfortune for a short time. The next morning we left the house and continued travelling all the day. For a long time we had kept the woods, but at last we came into a road which I believed I knew. I had now some hopes of being delivered; for we had advanced but a little way before I discovered some people at a distance, on which I began to cry out for their assistance; but my cries had no other effect than to make them tie me faster and stop my mouth; they then put me into a large sack. They also stopped my sister's mouth, and tied her hands; and in this manner we proceeded till we were out of sight of these people.

When we went to rest the following night, they offered us some vict­uals; but we refused it; and the only comfort we had was in being in one another's arms all that night, and bathing each other with tears. But alas! we were soon deprived of even the small comfort of weeping together. The next day proved one of greater sorrow than I had yet experienced; for my sister and I were then separated, while we lay clasped in each other's arms. It was in vain that we besought them not to part us; she was torn from me, and immediately carried away, while I was left in a state of distraction not to be described. I cried and grieved continually; and for several days did not eat any thing but what they forced into my mouth. At length, after many days' travelling, during which I had often changed masters, I got into the hands of a chieftain, in a pleasant country. This man had two wives and some chil­dren, and they all used me extremely well, and did all they could to comfort me; particularly the first wife, who was something like my mother. Although I was a great many days' journey from my father's house, yet these people spoke exactly the same language with us. This first master of mine, as I may


call him, was a smith, and my principal employment was working his bellows, which were the same kind as I had seen in my vicinity. They were in some respects not unlike the stoves here in gentlemen's kitchens; and were covered over with leather, and in the middle of that leather a stick was fixed, and a person stood up and worked it, in the same manner as is done to pump water out of a cask with a hand pump. I believe it was gold he worked, for it was of a lovely bright yellow colour, and was worn by the women on their wrists and ankles.

I was there, I suppose, about a month, and they at length used to trust me some little distance from the house. I employed this liberty in embracing every opportunity to inquire the way to my own home: and I also sometimes, for the same purpose, went with the maidens, in the cool of the evenings, to bring pitchers of water from the springs for the use of the house. I had also remarked where the sun rose in the morning, and set in the evening, as I had travelled along: and had observed that my father's house was towards the rising of the sun. I therefore determined to seize the first opportunity of making my escape, and to shape my course for that quarter; for I was quite oppressed and weighed down by grief after my mother and friends; and my love of liberty, ever great, was strengthened by the mortifying circumstance of not daring to eat with the free-born children, although I was mostly their companion.

III. While I was projecting my escape, one day an unlucky event happened, which quite disconcerted my plan, and put an end to my hopes. I used to be sometimes employed in assisting an elderly woman slave to cook and take care of the poultry; and one morning, while I was feeding some chickens, I happened to toss a small pebble at one of them, which hit it on the middle, and directly killed it. The old slave having soon after missed the chicken, inquired after it; and on my relating the accident (for I told her the truth, because my mother would never suffer me to tell a lie) she flew into a violent passion, threatened that I should suffer for it; and, my master being out, she immediately went and told her mistress what I had done. This alarmed me very much, and I expected an instant flogging, which to me was uncommonly dreadful; for I had seldom been beaten at home, I therefore resolved to fly; and accordingly I ran into a thicket that was hard by, and hid myself in the bushes. Soon afterwards my mistress and the slave returned, and, not seeing me, they searched all the house, but not finding me, and I not making answer when they called me, they thought I had run away, and the whole neighbour­hood was raised in the pursuit of me.

In that part of the country, as well as in ours, the houses and villages were skirted with woods, or shrubberies, and the bushes were so thick that a man could readily conceal himself in them, so as to elude the strictest search. The neighbours continued the whole day looking for me, and several times

from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano n

many of them came within a few yards of the place where I lay hid. I expected every moment, when I heard a rustling among the trees, to be found out, and punished by my master. But they never discovered me, though they often were so near that I even heard their conjectures, as they were looking about for me; and now I learned from them, that any attempt to return home would be hopeless. Most of them supposed I had fled towards home; but the distance was so great, and the way so intricate, that they thought I could never reach it, and that I should be lost in the woods. When I heard this I was seized with a violent panic, and abandoned myself to despair. Night too began to approach, and aggravated all my fears. I had before entertained hopes of getting home and had determined when it should be dark to make the attempt; but I was not convinced it was fruitless, and began to consider that, if possibly I could escape all other animals, I could not those of the human kind; and that, now knowing the way, I must perish in the woods. Thus was I like the hunted deer:

Ev'ry leaf, and ev'ry whisp'ring breath Convey'd a foe, and ev'ry foe a death.

I heard frequent rustlings among the leaves, and being pretty sure they were snakes, I expected every instant to be stung by them. This increased my anguish, and the horror of my situation became now quite insupportable. I at length quitted the thicket, very faint and hungry, for I had not eaten nor drunk any thing all the day. I crept to my master's kitchen, from whence I set out at first, which was an open shed, and laid myself down in the ashes with an anxious wish for death to relieve me from all my pains. I was scarcely awake in the morning, when the old woman slave, who was the first up, came to light the fire, and saw me in the fire place. She was very much surprised to see me, and could scarcely believe her own eyes. She now promised to intercede for me, and went for her master, who soon after came, and, having slightly reprimanded me, ordered me to be taken care of, and not ill treated.

IV. Soon after this my master's only daughter and child by his first wife, sickened and died, which affected him so much that for some time he was almost frantic, and really would have killed himself, had he not been watched and prevented. However, in a small time afterwards he recovered, and I was again sold. I was now carried to the left of the sun's rising, through many dreary wastes and dismal woods, amidst the hideous roaring of wild beasts. The people I was sold to used to carry me very often, when I was tired, either on their shoulders or on their backs. I saw many convenient well-built sheds along the road, at proper distances, to accommodate the merchants and travellers. They lie in those buildings along with their wives, who often accompany them; and they always go well armed.


From the time I left my own nation I always found somebody that understood me till I came to the sea coast. The languages of different nations did not totally differ, nor were they so copious as those of the Europeans, particularly the English. They were therefore easily learned; and, while I was journeying thus through Africa, I acquired two or three different tongues. In this manner I had been travelling for a considerable time, when one evening, to my great surprise, whom should I see brought to the house where I was, but my dear sister? As soon as she saw me she gave a loud shriek, and ran into my arms. I was quite overpowered: neither of us could speak; but for a considerable time, clung to each other in mutual embraces, unable to do any thing but weep. Our meeting affected all who saw us; and indeed I must acknowledge, in honour of those sable destroyers of human rights, that I never met with any ill treatment, or saw any offered to their slaves, except tying them, when necessary, to keep them [from] running away.

When these people knew we were brother and sister, they indulged us to be together; and the man, to whom I supposed we belonged, lay with us, he in the middle, while she and I held one .'nother by the hands across his breast all night; and thus for a while we forgot our misfortunes in the joy of being together. But even this small comfort was soon to have an end, for scarcely had the fatal morning appeared, when she was again torn from me for ever! I was now more miserable, if possible, than before. The small relief which her presence gave me from pain was gone, and the wretchedness of my situation was redoubled by my anxiety after her fate, and my apprehensions lest her sufferings should be greater than mine, when I could not be with her to alleviate them.

Yes, dear partner of all my childish sports! Sharer of my joys and sorrows; happy should I have ever esteemed myself to encounter every mis­ery for you, and to procure your freedom by the sacrifice of my own! Though you were early forced from my arms, your image has been always rivetted in my heart, from which neither time nor fortune has been able to remove it: so that, while the thoughts of your sufferings have damped my prosperity, they have mingled with adversity and increased its bitterness. To that Heaven, which protects the weak from the strong, I commit the care of your innocence and virtues, if they have not already received their full re­ward, and if your youth and delicacy have not long since fallen victims to the violence of the African trader, the pestilential stench of a Guinea ship, the seasoning in the European colonies, or the lash and lust of a brutal and unrelenting overseer.

I did not long remain after my sister. I was again sold, and carried through a number of places, till, after travelling a considerable time, I came to a town called Tinmah, in the most beautiful country I had yet seen in Africa. It was extremely rich, and there were many rivulets which flowed through it, and supplied a large pond in the centre of the town, where the people washed. Here I first saw and tasted cocoa nuts, which I thought

from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano i3

superior to any nuts I had ever tasted before; and the trees which were loaded, were also interspersed among the houses, which had commodious shades adjoining, and were in the same manner as ours, the insides being neatly plastered and whitewashed. Here I also saw and tasted, for the first time, sugar-cane. Their money consisted of little white shells, the size of the fingernail. I was sold for one hundred and seventy-two of these, by a mer­chant who lived at this place. I had been about two or three days at his house, when a wealthy widow, a neighbour of his came there one evening, and brought with her an only son, a young gentleman about my own age and size. Here they saw me; and, having taken a fancy to me, I was bought of the merchant, and went home with them. Her house and premises were situated close to one of those rivulets I have mentioned, and were the finest I ever saw in Africa: they were very extensive, and she had a number of slaves to attend her. The next day I was washed and perfumed, and when meal-time came, I was led into the presence of my mistress, and ate and drank before her with her son. This filled me with astonishment; and I could scarcely avoid expressing my surprise that the young gentleman should suffer me, who was bound, to eat with him who was free; and not only so, but that he would not at any time either eat or drink till I had taken first, because I was the eldest, which was agreeable to our custom. Indeed every thing here, and their treatment of me, made me forget that I was a slave. The language of these people resembled ours so nearly, that we understood each other per­fectly. They had also the very same customs as well. There were likewise slaves daily to attend us, while my young master and I, with other boys, sported with our days, and bows and arrows, as I had been used to do at home. In this resemblance to my former happy state, I passed about two months; and now I began to think I was to be adopted into the family, and was beginning to be reconciled to my situation, and to forget by degrees my misfortunes, when all at once the delusion vanished; for, without the least previous knowledge, one morning, early, while my dear master and compan­ion was still asleep, I was awakened out of my reverie to fresh sorrow, and hurried away even amongst the uncircumcised.

Thus, at the very moment I dreamed of the greatest happiness, I found myself most miserable; and it seemed as if fortune wished to give me this taste of joy, only to render the reverse more poignant. The change I now experi­enced was as painful as it was sudden and unexpected. It was a change indeed from a state of bliss to a scene which is inexpressible by me, as it discovered to me an element I had never before beheld, and of which till then had no idea; and wherein such instances of hardship and cruelty continually oc­curred, as I can never reflect on but with horror.

V. All the nations and people I had hitherto passed through resembled our own in their manners, customs, and language; but I came at length to a


country, the inhabitants of which differed from us in all these particulars. I was very much struck with this difference, especially when I came among a people who did not circumcise, and who ate without washing their hands. They cooked their provisions also in iron pots, and had European cutlasses and cross bows, which were unknown to us; and fought with their fists among themselves. Their women were not so modest as ours, for they ate, drank, and slept with their men. But, above all, I was amazed to see no sacrifices or offerings among them. In some of those places the people orna­mented themselves with scars, and likewise filed their teeth very sharp. They sometimes wanted to ornament me in the same manner, but I would not suffer them; hoping that I might sometime be among a people who did not thus disfigure themselves, as I thought they did. At last I came to the banks of a large river, covered with canoes, in which the people appeared to live, with their household utensils, and provisions of all kinds. I was beyond measure astonished at this, as I had never before seen any water larger than a pond or a rivulet: and my surprise was mingled with no small fear when I was put into one of these canoes, and we began to paddle and move along the river. We continued going on thus till night; and when we came to land, and made fires on the banks, each family by themselves, some dragged their canoes on shore, others cooked in theirs, and laid in them all night. Those on the land had mats, of which they made tents, some in the shape of little houses; in these we slept; and after the morning meal, we embarked again, and proceeded as before. I was often very much astonished to see some of the women as well as the men, jump into the water, dive into the bottom, come up again, and swim about. Thus I continued to travel, both by land and by water, through different countries and various nations, till at the end of six or seven months after I had been kidnapped, I arrived at the sea coast.

It would be tedious and uninteresting to relate all the incidents which befell me during this journey, and which I have not yet forgotten, or to mention the various lands I passed through, and the manners and customs of the different people among whom I lived: I shall therefore only observe, that in all the places where I was, the soil was exceedingly rich; the pumpkins, aedas, plantains, yams, &c. &c. were in great abundance, and of incredible size. There were also large quantities of different gums, though not used for any purpose; and every where a great deal of tobacco. The cotton even grew quite wild; and there was plenty of red wood. I saw no mechanics whatever in all the way, except such as I have mentioned. The chief employment in all these countries was agriculture, and both the males and females, as with us, were brought up to it, and trained in the arts of war.

The first object that saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, that was soon converted into terror, which I am yet at a loss to describe, and much more the then feelings of my mind when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled and

from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano i5

tossed up to see if I was sound, by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had got into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me. Their complexions too, differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke, which was very different from any I had ever heard, united to confirm me in this belief. Indeed such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with the meanest slave in my own country. When I looked round the ship too, and saw a large furnace or copper boiling and a multitude of black people, of every description, chained together, every one of their coun­tenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck, and fainted. When I recovered a little, I found some black people about me, who I believed were some of those who brought me on board, and had been receiving their pay: they talked to me in order to cheer me, but all in vain. I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces, and long hair. They told me I was not: and one of the crew brought me a small portion of spiritous liquor in a wine glass; but, being afraid of him, I would not take it out of his hand. One of the blacks therefore took it from him and gave it to me, and I took a little down my palate, which, instead of reviving me, as they thought it would, threw me into the greatest consternation at the strange feeling it produced, having never tasted any such liquor before.

Soon after this the blacks who brought me on board went off, and left me abandoned to despair. I now saw myself deprived of all chance of re­turning to my native country, or even the least glimpse of gaining the shore, which I now considered friendly; and I even wished for my former slavery, in preference to my present situation, which was filled with horrors of every kind, still heightened by my ignorance of what I was to undergo. I was not long suffered to indulge my grief. I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and with my crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste any thing. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across I think, the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. I had never experienced any thing of this kind before, and although, not being used to the water, I naturally feared that element the first time I saw it, yet nevertheless, could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not; and besides the crew used to watch us very closely, who were not chained down to the decks, lest we should leap into the water. I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut for attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. This


indeed was often the case with myself. In a little time after, amongst the poor chained men, I found some of my own nation, which in a small degree gave ease to my mind. I inquired of these what was to be done with us. They gave me to understand we were to be carried to these white people's country to work for them. I was then a little revived, and thought if it were no worse than working, my situation was not so desperate. But still I feared I should be put to death, the white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had never seen among any people such instances of brutal cruelty: and this is not only shewn towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves. One white man in particular I saw, when we were permit­ted to be on deck, flogged so unmercifully with a large rope near the fore­mast, that he died in consequence of it; and they tossed him over the side as they would have done a brute. This made me fear these people the more; and I expected nothing less than to be treated in the same manner. I could not help expressing my fearful apprehensions to some of my countrymen; I asked them if these people had no country, but lived in this hollow place, the ship. They told me they did not, but came from a distant one. 'Then,' said I, 'how comes it, that in all our country we never heard of them?' They told me, because they lived so very far off. I then asked, where their women were: had they any like themselves. I was told they had. 'And why,' said I, 'do we not see them?' They answered, because they were left behind. I asked how the vessel could go. They told me they could not tell; but that there was cloth put upon the masts by the help of the ropes I saw, and then the vessel went on; and the white men had some spell or magic they put in the water, when they liked, in order to stop the vessel. I was exceedingly amazed at this account, and really thought they were spirits. I therefore wished much to be from amongst them, for I expected they would sacrifice me; but my wishes were in vain, for we were so quartered that it was impossible for any of us to make our escape.

VI. While we stayed on the coast I was mostly on deck; and one day, to my great astonishment, I saw one of these vessels coming in with the sails up. As soon as the whites saw it, they gave a great shout, at which we were amazed; and the more so as the vessel appeared larger by approaching nearer. At last she came to an anchor in my sight, and when the anchor was let go, I and my countrymen who saw it, were lost in astonishment to observe the vessel stop, and were now convinced it was done by magic. Soon after this the other ship got her boats out, and they came on board of us, and the people of both ships seemed very glad to see each other. Several of the strangers also shook hands with us black people, and made motions with their hands, signifying, I suppose, we were to go to their country; but we did not understand them. At last, when the ship, in which we were, had got in all her cargo, they made

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ready with many fearful noises, and we were all put under deck, so that we could not see how they managed the vessel.

But this disappointment was the least of my grief. The stench of the hold, while we were on the coast, was so intolerably loathsome, that it was dangerous to remain there for any time, and some of us had been permitted to stay on the deck for the fresh air; but now that the whole ship's cargo were confined together, it became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, being so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspiration, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims of the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This deplorable situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable; and the filth of necessary tubs, into which children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered it a scene of horror almost inconceivable. Happily, perhaps, for myself, I was soon reduced so low here that it was thought necessary to keep me almost continually on deck; and from my extreme youth, I was not put in fetters. In this situation I expected every hour to share the fate of my companions, some of whom were almost daily brought upon deck at the point of death, and I began to hope that death would soon put an end to my miseries. Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than myself; I envied them the freedom they enjoyed, and as often wished I could change my condition for theirs. Every circumstance I met with served only to render my state more painful, and heighten my apprehensions and my opin­ion of the cruelty of the whites. One day they had taken a number of fishes; and when they had killed and satisfied themselves with as many as they thought fit, to our astonishment who were on the deck, rather than give any of them to us to eat, as we expected, they tossed the remaining fish into the sea again, although we begged and prayed for some as well as we could, but in vain; and some of my countrymen, being pressed by hunger, took an opportunity, when they thought no one saw them, of trying to get a little privately; but were discovered, and the attempt procured for them some very severe floggings.

One day, when we had a smooth sea and moderate wind, two of my wearied countrymen, who were chained together, (I was near them at the time) preferring death to such a life of misery, somehow made through the nettings and jumped into the sea; immediately another quite dejected fellow, who on account of his illness was suffered to be out of irons also followed their example; and I believe many more would very soon have done the same, if they had not been prevented by the ship's crew, who were instantly alarmed. Those of us who were the most active were in a moment put down


under the deck; and there was such a noise and confusion amongst the people of the ship as I never heard before, to stop her and get the boat out to go after the slaves. However, two of the wretches were drowned; but they got the other, and afterward flogged him unmercifully, for thus attempting to prefer death to slavery. In this manner we continued to undergo more hard­ships than I can now relate, hardships which are inseparable from this ac­cursed trade. Many a time we were near suffocation from the want of fresh air, being deprived thereof for days together. This, and the stench of the necessary tubs, carried off many.

VII. During our passage I first saw flying fishes, which surprised me very much; they used frequently to fly across the ship, and many of them fell on the deck. I also now first saw the use of the quadrant. I had often with astonishment seen the mariners make observations with it, and I could not think what it meant. They at last took notice of my surprise: and one of them, willing to increase it, as well as to gratify my curiosity, made me one day look through it. The clouds appeared to me to be land, which disap­peared as they passed along. This heightened my wonder; and I was now more persuaded than ever that I was in another world, and that every thing about me was magic. At last we came in sight of the island of Barbadoes, at which the whites on board gave a great shout, and made many signs of joy to us. We did not know what to think of this, but as the vessel drew nearer we plainly saw the harbour, and other ships of different kinds and sizes; and we soon anchored amongst them off Bridge Town. Many merchants and plant­ers now came on board, though it was in the evening. They put us in separate parcels, and examined us attentively. They also made us jump, and pointed to the land, signifying we were to go there. We thought by this we should be beaten by these ugly men, as they appeared to us; and when soon after we were all put down under the deck again, there was much dread and trembling among us, and nothing but bitter cries to be heard all the night from these apprehensions, insomuch that at last the white people got some old slaves from the land to pacify us. They told us we were not to be eaten, but to work, and were soon to go on land, where we should see many of our country people. This report eased us much; and, sure enough, soon after we landed, there came to us Africans of all languages.

We were conducted immediately to the merchant's yard, where we were all pent up together like so many sheep in a fold, without regard to sex or age. As every object was new to me, every thing I saw filled me with surprise. What struck me first was that the houses were built with bricks in stories, and were in every other respect different from those I had seen in Africa; but I was still more astonished at seeing people on horseback. I did not know what this could mean; and indeed I thought these people full of nothing but magical arts. While I was in this astonishment one of my fellow prisoners

from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano 791


spoke to a countryman of his about the horses, who said they were the same kind they had in their country. I understood them, though they were from a distant part of Africa, and I thought it odd I had not seen any horses there; but afterwards, when I came to converse with different Africans, I found they had many horses amongst them, and much larger than those I then saw.

We were not many days in the merchants' custody before we were sold after the usual manner, which is this:—On a signal given, such as the beat of a drum, the buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best. The noise and clamour with which this is attended, and the eagerness visible in the countenances of the buyers, serve not a little to increase the apprehensions of the terrified Afri­cans, who may well be supposed to consider them the ministers of that destruction to which they think themselves devoted. In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again. I remember in the vessel in which I was brought over in, in the man's apartment, there were several brothers, who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion to see their distress and hear their cries at parting. O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, "learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends, to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations now rendered more dear by their separation from the rest of their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery, with the small comfort of being together, and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretched­ness of slavery."

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