Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The History Of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave #FreeBook

The History Of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave
First published in Scotland by F Westley and A H Davies in 1831.

T for my 2019 Alphabet Soup Challenge, my 2nd Mount TBR read and the 14th book for my Classics Club Challenge

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The History of Mary Prince (1831) was the first narrative of a black woman to be published in Britain. It describes Prince's sufferings as a slave in Bermuda, Turks Island and Antigua, and her eventual arrival in London with her brutal owner Mr Wood in 1828. Prince escaped from him and sought assistance from the Anti-Slavery Society, where she dictated her remarkable story to Susanna Strickland (later Moodie). A moving and graphic document, The History drew attention to the continuation of slavery in the Caribbean, despite an 1807 Act of Parliament officially ending the slave trade. It inspired two libel actions and ran into three editions in the year of its publication. This powerful rallying cry for emancipation remains an extraordinary testament to Prince's ill-treatment, suffering and survival.

The History of Mary Prince is a horrific and shocking book to read. I've read historical fiction about slavery before and found it emotionally difficult, but to actually encounter the (almost) authentic words of this slave woman is a completely different experience. I think what I found worst to stomach was the calm, rational way in which she speaks about what happened to her during her life - as though her atrocious treatment was normal. For her it Was normal. This should never be or have been normal.

The History of Mary Prince shows the inspirational strength of people who are thrust into the most awful of situations and not only survive, but also thrive and never lose hope. This same memoir also shows the most heartless and cruel aspects of human behaviour. It is absolutely not an easy read emotionally, but I think should be required reading in schools everywhere. How had I never learned about Mary Prince before? Her name and her story should be common knowledge.

Mary Prince's words were edited 'for clarity' for the original pamphlet publication and I don't think a true record of her actual narration still exists which is a shame although her personality does shine through the memoir we have. I was also interested in the pompous letters and legal meanderings included in the edition of the book I read. Dating from Mary Prince's English battle to be allowed home as a free woman, it is exasperating to see the attitudes of the white men of the day arguing against her and, to a degree, for her. The History made a huge impact in England on publication and I am grateful to still be able to read such a valuable historic document today.

Etsy Find!
by National Black Guide in
the USA

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Mary Prince / Biography and memoir / Books from Bermuda


  1. I've read a couple slave stories, but only once from a slave directly- and that was cleaned up, I'm sure. Yes, they brought me to tears. I didn't know about Mary Prince. Thanks for putting this one on my radar, Stephanie.

    1. This is such an amazing memoir. I'm just disappointed that Mary Prince isn't far better known instead of forgotten

  2. I have this downloaded for Black History Month. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 👍✨

    1. This is perfect for Black History Month! I think it's February in America? It's October in the UK

  3. I am going to download this one seeing as it is free on the kindle. I have read a lot of slave stories, and they move me and they horrify me. Especially as slavery isn't entirely ended... but I don't read nearly as many female slave narratives as male ones. So this will be something different and probably hard hitting too.

    1. Yes, very hard hitting, but well worth the read