Am I Not a Woman and a Sister? The Story of Mary Prince
Standing on the shoulders of the famous ex-slave Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, a Bermuda-born slave who lived from 1788 until 1833, was a woman of many firsts (Simkin). Prince was the first woman to publish an account of her years in slavery, the first black woman to publish an autobiography, and the first black woman to write an anti-slavery petition to English Parliament (Damrosch, Duguid). She is remembered and celebrated for detailing of her life in servitude in immense, often excruciating detail, as well as for the way in which her narration electrified the abolition movement in the British colonies.
Prince’s life differs in many ways from the ideal situations that Equiano faced in his time, which expressed itself in her story as a more personalized, permanent account of slavery. However, each of the two lived relatively humane lives until the age of twelve (Damrosch). Prince was sold early on with her mother to Captain Darrel Williams, and spent her early years as a playmate to Williams’ granddaughter, often avoiding mistreatment from her master, as he was habitually away on sea voyages. The major turning point in Prince’s life came with the death of Mrs. Williams, which propelled her into the hands of a series of cruel, abusive, and unflinching owners, and separated her from her mother. Her History chronicles her time as a slave in the fields of the Ingham’s property in Spanish Point, Bermuda (Bermuda Biographies). Here, over the course of five years, she grew to love a fellow slave named Hetty, who often experience the same, if not worse, treatment, at the hands of their master. Witnessing Hetty’s constant beating and eventual death as a result from it, she attempted to run away to her mother. This marks the quintessence of Prince’s character, which was described in an introduction to her work as, displaying “the triumphs of the human spirit. She demonstrated how a woman can be enslaved and yet not be a slave’. (Duguid).
Following this, she was sold to another family to work in incredibly unsafe and lethal salt ponds, but eventually made her way back to the Inghams, and was then sold to another family, the Woods, in Antigua (Williamson). Her time in Antigua marked another turning point in her life, where she joined the Moravian Church, which allowed her to become familiarized with Protestant belief systems, as well as attend classes for reading. Soon after, in 1826, Prince married a former slave named Daniel James, who was able to procure his freedom from the same means in which Equiano did – by working on the side and saving up all extra income. This infuriated her master, John Wood, though he ended up taking her with his family to London when he moved in 1828 (Simkin). While Prince was technically free on this English soil, she continued to live work as a slave due to the fact that she was financially unable to support herself, and eventually became a domestic servant for Thomas Pringle, an abolitionist that she first met while attending church in Antigua. This began the final documented chapter of her life: Susanna Moodie, a friend of Pringle, wrote down Prince’s story as she dictated it, and Pringle edited the work and published it in 1831, under the title of The History of Mary Prince. The work was wildly successful, undergoing three editions in the first year alone. However, the work generated controversy in the form of cases of libel being drawn against her by former master, in which Prince lost – unable to garner any witnesses to support her account (Williamson). After this, there is no record of Prince’s last two years of life. Her work stands as depiction not only of the evils of slavery, but also of the ways in which the enslaved are able to retain their spirit despite the best attempts of others to break them of it.
“Bermuda Biographies – Mary Prince.” Mary Prince. Bermuda Biographies, 2010. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Susan Wolfson, and Peter Manning. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print. Duguid, Beverley. Witness Against Slavery – The Story of Mary Prince. Women’s History Network, 23 Oct. 2011. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
Simkin, John. “Spartacus Educational.” Mary Prince : Biography. Spartacus Educational, Sept. 1997. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
Williamson, Jenn. “The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. Related by Herself. With a Supplement by the Editor. To Which Is Added, the Narrative of Asa-Asa, a Captured African.” Documenting the American South. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2004. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. <http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/prince/summary.html>.