From American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation
|Frontispiece from Lydia Child’s 1833 political tract, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans.|
This setback did not discourage her in the least, however, and she continued to write antislavery fiction and essays alongside her other work for the next forty years. (Story of the Week readers may recall that Child edited Harriet Ann Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in 1860–61, and for more than a century most people, including scholars, assumed that she had written it.) In 1840 she and her husband became the founding co-editors of The National Anti-Slavery Standard, the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1843, just before she ended her tenure at the Standard, she wrote the ironically titled “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes” for The Liberty Bell, an annual gift book published by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
“An intricate work of fiction, it is at once a love story and a murder mystery,” writes James G. Basker in his introductory note for “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes,” included in last year’s Library of America anthology of antislavery writings. The story’s emotional impact is intensified by the complex relationships of the slaves Rosa and George to their owners. Rosa’s mother is the “foster-mother” of Rosa’s future mistress, Marion, and the two girls had been raised almost as if they were sisters, while George is actually the half-brother of his master, Frederic.
In addition, Lydia Child’s biographer Carolyn L. Karcher explains how the story incorporates real-life elements to give it “a ring of authenticity.” For example, the two “fictionalized” newspaper articles quoted at the end are paraphrases of items that appeared during the 1830s, one in a Georgia newspaper and the other in Garrison’s anti-slavery weekly, The Liberator. Similarly, some of the story’s particulars were adapted from a tragedy that occurred on a plantation owned by a Bostonian on the island of Santa Cruz (now Saint Croix of the U.S. Virgin Islands). Child had previously questioned the official account of the incident in her antislavery essays, and her short story imagines a plausible truth behind what was reported by the papers. “Whenever she read of the barbarities committed by either blacks or Indians,” writes Karcher, “she always asked herself: ‘What was their side of the story?’ ”
Note: The epigraph is an excerpt from “The Yankee Girl” (1835), by John Greenleaf Whittier.
* * *When Frederic Dalcho brought his young bride from New-Orleans to her Georgian home, there were great demonstra¬tions of joy among the slaves of the establishment. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!
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