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Critical Conceptualization of Slavery by the African American Literatures (1746–1865)

The evolution of Black American identities across the United States can be traced back to the slavery period (1746-1895). One of the defining American identity is the racial hierarchy that was established in the slave era. This profile impacts life today, where the majority relish the advantages of their non-colored identity. At the same time, the colored population still falls victim to various systematic injustices that are historically rooted in the United States. Today, historians may contend with the accuracy of documented incidents of brutality suffered by African Americans at the hands of their enslavers if African-American literature did not capture the first-hand information accounts of these maltreatment. Authors such as Maria W. Miller Stewart and Harriet A. Jacobs document their real-time slavery experiences, generating significant African-American literature to understand the roots of slavery in the United States. The paper conceptualizes slavery in the context of African-American literatures analyzing the real-time documented servitude incidents and trends crucial to constructing their path to freedom.

Slave Narratives Captured in African-American Literature

From the African American literature, all Black slaves only separated by the acts of maltreatment and segregation. According to Jorgensen-Earp, the free Blacks in Boston, who formed the basis of Stewart’s 1832 Franklin Hall speech, lived in the shadow of the world. The only difference between the free Blacks in Boston and African American enslaved in the South are the masters. Before the 1983 Emancipation in Massachusetts, a free Black community was established in Boston (Jorgensen-Earp 16). However, the term freedom was reflective of the free Black community living in Boston. The living conditions of this community did not meet the standards of a free person. For instance, the free Black community in Boston was isolated from the larger residential areas and provided an employment status equating to servitude. Stewart, in her lecture noted, “but few, if any, have an opportunity of becoming rich and independent; and the employment we most pursue are as unprofitable to us as the spider’s web or the floating bubbles that vanish into air.” (par. 9). In that case, slavery emerged as a form of institutionalized American identity, and it did not matter whether the African American were free or under servitude. A system was put in place to oppress them irrespective of their slavery status.

Also, the African-American narrative of slavery documented how Black women suffered at the hands of the White mistress. In her text, “Incidents of a Slave Girl,” Jacobs documents the ordeal she went through at the hands of Mrs. Flint. The African American literature identifies the masters’ sexual attraction towards young Black women as the cause of conflict between them and their White mistress. Many slave women became victims to their masters satisfying their various sexual needs. “My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves, but the mothers did not dare tell the mistress who the father of their children is” (Jacobs). In most cases, young African-American girls had to deal with unprincipled masters and a jealous mistress. An unprincipled will prey on a young and naïve African girl into sex slavery, which in most cases resulted in the birth of slave children. On the other hand, the jealous mistress will expose African American women to severe maltreatment as a way of expressing their position as the wife to the enslaver. As a result, in African-American literature, sexual-based oppressions perpetrated by enslavers create conflicts between the victims and their mistress.

Discrimination by race and gender was core to literature documentation of slavery. African American men and women experienced slavery differently, a trend that became clear when either of them tried owning properties. Maria Stewart’s husband died on 17 Dec, 1829, and a white businessman affiliated with the deceased was robbed of her inheritance (Jorgensen-Earp 20). Stewart’s husband owned properties in this instance, indicating that free African American men who existed during slavery could acquire wealth. However, it was a different case for the African-American women who faced racial and gender barriers to acquiring and owning properties. While inferring to Stewart’s inheritance incident, David Walker noted that “when a man of color died, if he owned any property, it must fall in the hands of some white person irrespective of if they had a wife and children” (Jorgensen-Earp 20). Thus, the right to own property was not a grunted freedom per se, given that African American men temporarily held onto their wealth, and when they died, it was possessed by a random White person who had a court system in place to assist with wrongful acquisition.

African Americans were born to facilitate slavery in the United States. Jacobs accounts for continued persecution into slavery when Dr. Flint considered her children as a future investment to generate wealth. Dr. Flint often said to her: “These brats will bring me a handsome sum of money one of these days” (Jacobs). Being born as an African American predestined a person directly or indirectly into slavery. Jacobs was born and served as an enslaved person, and Dr. Flint was already planning ways her children could fetch him money. Although most Black parents would strive hard that their children do not serve as enslaved people, the racist structure erected by the White people made it impossible. Even Jacobs’s mother did not want her to serve as a slave, and immediately after she died, her wishes vanished. Therefore, the young African generations facilitated continued oppression of the community, as they were considered an investment.

Free from Slavery

Slave narratives identify how Black people fought for their freedom through activism, non-violent protests, and violent retaliations. However, Jacobs points out how her freedom was bought from her master. Jacobs’s freedom was bought for three hundred dollars paid to her enslaver, Mr. Dodge. When looking at the slave narratives documents African American paths to freedom, most of them strived for independence and self-reliance. Specifically, Jacobs’s bought freedom empowered her towards self-reliance, where she can explore growth opportunities such as employment to improve her family status. Still, other authentic slave narratives portray complex paths adopted by the Blacks, including activism and knowledge acquisition through reading and writing, as an approach to learning their surroundings and overcoming oppression. Specifically, Fredrick Douglas, in his narrative “Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave,” notes the significance of literacy acquisition as a freedom-attaining approach to slavery (Goswami 558). All these documented paths show the different routes of freedom the African Americans took in freeing themselves from slavery.


The Black American Literature documents real-time accounts of events demonstrating the genesis and evolution of slavery in the United States. Stewart’s lecture at Franklin Hall reveals how the free Black status acquired by African Americans in Boston during the slave era did not present the needed freedom for the community to prosper. The biographical accounts of Harriet Jacobs further elaborate on different oppressional treatments suffered at the hands of a slave master and their mistress. Young Black women had to deal with immoral masters and jealous slave mistresses, placing them on a dangerous path. In the end, Jacobs’ freedom had to be paid in the sum of three hundred dollars. Furthermore, slave narratives show alternative routes to freedom taken by African Americans. For instance, in his biographical narrative, Douglas identifies how learning to read and write helps people know their surroundings and navigate and overcome oppression.


Goswami, M. “A critical conspectus of African American literature in its historical and social stances.” International Journal of English Language, Literature in Humanities, vol. 7, no. 6, 2019, 554–567.

Stewart, M, W, M. Lecture delivered at Franklin Hall. Voices of Democracy, 21 Sept 1832, Accessed 30 Nov 2023.

Jacobs, H, A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. In: Lydia Maria Francis (ed.). (2nd ed.). Academic Affairs Library, 2003.

Jorgensen, C, R. “Maria W. Miller Stewart, “Lecture delivered at Franklin Hall” (21 September 1832).” Voices of Democracy, vol. 1, 2006, 15-42.


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