The Groundbreaking Mary Prince
“All slaves want to be free, to be free is sweet…I can tell by myself what other slaves fell, and by what they have told me. The man that says slaves be quite happy in slavery – that they don’t want to be free – that man is either ignorant or a lying person. I never heard a slave say so” (Damrosch 239). So are the words of Mary Prince, former slave who paved the way for slaves, women, and humanity alike with the publication of her narrative, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself. The first of its kind, this narrative brought recognition to the brutality of slavery and the sufferings of a whole race, inspiring future activists, of more than just slavery, to fight for their rights.
Born a slave on a farm in Bermuda, Prince experienced some of the worst conditions that any human can suffer through. Constant physical and emotional beatings, sexual abuse, and tiresome work were just a few things that Prince had to deal with on a daily basis. Fed up and indignant from her treatment, Prince began to rebel, where things only got worse for her as she was sent off and imprisoned, where the gruesome beatings only got worse. However, things changed drastically for her, when in 1827 she, with the help of some abolitionists, escaped from her owners and was taken to London (Damrosch 239).
While many other slaves probably experienced similar situations as Mary Prince did, it’s what she did about it that sustained her legacy. Prince was one of the first to stand up and fight for her freedom, and she did this in so many different ways. Not only was she a slave speaking up, which was reason enough to be condemned, but she was a woman as well. It was hard enough for an upper-class, white woman to express her ideas about anything and not be ridiculed during this time, let alone a black woman who was also a slave. Ironically, Prince’s History also appealed to female, middle/lower-class woman against slavery, for it “highlighted the effect of slavery upon domestic life: the breakup of families, the absence of ‘normal’ married life, the sexual oppression and the humiliation endured by female slaves” (“Source 17-Mary Prince” 1). While incomparable to Prince’s situation, these woman could relate in some ways to her struggle for the oppression they faced for being a woman as well.
With her History narrative, Prince became the first black woman to write and publish an autobiography and slave narrative. Not only that, but she later became the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament (“Mary Prince” 1). Popular and in demand during her time, Prince’s narrative showed the “resiliency and determination” (Damrosch 239) of slaves, woman, and above all else, humanity. While her fight was for the removal of slavery, Prince leaked into other areas such as women’s rights, equality of class, and freedom. A groundbreaking individual, to say the least, who has inspired generations since her time to keep the fight alive.
“Her story is of riveting interest because she highlights not only the suffering and indignities of enslavement but also the triumphs of the human spirit” (Atwater 28).
Atwater, Deborah F. African American Women’s Rhetoric: The Search for Dignity, Personhood, and Honor. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009. 28. Print.
Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 239. Print.
“Mary Prince (1788-c.1833): The First Woman to Present a Petition to Parliament.” The Abolition Project. Web. 25 Oct. 2013. <http://abolition.e2bn.org/people_37.html>.
“Source 17 – Mary Prince.” Learning the Campaign for Abolition. British Library, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2013. <http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/campaignforabolition/sources/witnesses/princeeyewitness/maryprince.html>.