This rare edition of Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, Written by Himself (1st English ed., third imp., 1846) is one of three versions published by Frederick Douglass. The foremost Black abolitionist, Douglass escaped his enslavement and worked first with William Lloyd Garrison in Massachusetts, and then independently, traveling and lecturing internationally, raising funds for his own manumission. The motto of his Rochester, NY newspaper, The North Star, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color,” is indicative of his support for women’s rights and his friendship with women’s suffrage pioneer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a friendship later strained by differences over race and gender politics that are still being enacted in the twentieth-first century.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself. Wortley: J. Barker, 1846. Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection at the Stevenson Library, Bard College. Call # E449 .D749
“Frederick Douglass,” frontispiece, Narrative of an American Slave, Written by Himself, (3rd English ed. 1846), from the Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection at the Stevenson Library, Bard College.
Individual and group acts of resistance characterize the whole of the slave experience, but never so much as in the years preceding the Civil War. In this magnificent early edition of The Underground Rail Road — a record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hair-breadth escapes, and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom, (Philadelphia, 1872) — William Still compiled hundreds of stories along with pictures of self-liberated slaves and depictions of their circumstances. The work of Harriet Tubman, “The Moses of her People” is referenced throughout the book.
The Underground Railroad: a record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hair-breadth escapes, and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom, as related by themselves and others or witnessed by the author : together with sketches of some of the largest stockholders and most liberal aiders and advisers of the road, by William Still ; illustrated with 70 fine engravings by Bensell, Schell and others, and portraits from photographs from life. Philadelphia : Porter & Coates, 1872. Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection at the Stevenson Library, Bard College. Call #E. 450.S85
“William Still,” C.H. Reed, wood engraving, from William Still, Underground Rail Road; A History of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters & etc. Philadelphia : Porter & Coates, 1872, from the Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection, Stevenson Library, Bard College.
“Desperate Conflict in a Barn,” C.H. Reed, wood engraving, from William Still, Underground Rail Road; A History of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters & etc. (Philadelphia) 1872, from the Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection, Stevenson Library, Bard College.
The image, Desperate Conflict in a Barn, echoes Douglass’ near-death struggle with the “slave breaker” Covey and his “merciless lash.” Douglass describes the triumph he felt fighting back against Covey, “I was nothing before, I WAS A MAN NOW. It recalled to life my crushed self-respect and my self-confidence, and inspired me with a new determination to be a FREEMAN.”
This image of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is one of only a few illustrations in Still’s book of someone who was never enslaved. Harper was revered as “the most beloved poet of the nineteenth century,” a novelist, a lecturer, and an essayist whose work, “We are All Bound Up Together,” delivered at the 1866 National Women’s Rights Convention, calls for equal rights for Black women. Curious, is it not, that such an important figure is almost unknown today?
“Mrs. Francis E.W. Harper,” from William Still, Underground Rail Road; A History of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters & etc. (Philadelphia) 1872, from the Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection, Stevenson Library, Bard College.
A profound example of resistance to slavery, Harriet Tubman escaped her enslavement and then did the unimaginable. She returned South again and again, nineteen times, to fearlessly guide more than a hundred others including family members to safety becoming the most famous “Conductor” on the Underground Railroad. In the Civil War she led the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina, liberating more than 700 people. Tubman’s image is slated to replace that of the notoriously racist US President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Kasi Lemon’s outstanding film, Harriet, (2019) tells her story.
Lindsley, Harvey B., [Harriet Tubman, full-length portrait, standing with hands on back of a chair], photographic print., ca. 1871 and 1876, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print. LC-USZ62-7816
Charles Ball's autobiography, Slavery in the United States (Lewistown, Pa., J.W. Shugert, 1836) describing both the heroics and the depredations of an enslaved man encompasses his early experience fighting for the US Navy in the War of 1812, in which as many as a quarter of the US forces were African American. Ball reflected on the Battle of Bladensburg: “I stood at my gun, until the Commodore was shot down…If the militia regiments…could have been brought to charge the British …we should have killed or taken the whole of them in a short time; but the militia ran like sheep chased by dogs.” After the war, Ball lived for many years in Maryland as a free man until, like so many others, he was captured and kidnaped as a fugitive slave and forced to labor on a plantation in Georgia. Such was the reward for his courageous service to his country.
Slavery in the United States, Charles Ball 1836, Lewistown, Pa., J.W. Shugert, 1836. Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection, Stevenson Library, Bard College. Call# E444.B18.