|The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave,
Related by Herself
Excerpts from the 1987 edition, Ed. Moira Ferguson, issued from the University of Michigan Press. This page includes the legitimating preface by Thomas Pringle, with whom Mary Prince came to live after she left the Woods in London, and it also includes her petitition to Parliament from 24 June 1829.
The idea of writing Mary Prince's history was first suggested by herself. She wished it to be done, she said, I thee good people in England might hear from a slave what a slave had felt and suffered; and a letter of her late master's, which will be found in the Supplement, induced me to accede to her wish without farther delay. The more immediate object of the publication will afterwards appear.
The narrative was taken down from Mary's own lips by a lady who happened to be at the time residing in my family as a visitor. It was written out fully, with all the narrator's repetitions and prolixities, and afterwards pruned into its present shape; retaining, as far as was practicable, Mary's exact expressions and peculiar phraseology. No fact of importance has been omitted, and not a single circumstance or sentiment has been added. It is essentially her own, without any material alteration farther than was requisite to exclude redundances and gross grammatical errors, so as to render it clearly intelligible.
After it had been thus written out, I went over the whole, carefully examining her on every fact and circumstance detailed; and in all that relates to her residence in Antigua I had the advantage of being assisted in this scrutiny by Mr. Joseph Phillips, who was a resident in that colony during the same period, and had known her there.
The names of all the persons mentioned by the narrator have been printed in full, except those of Capt. I--- and his wife, and that of Mr. D--- , to whom conduct of peculiar atrocity is ascribed. These three individuals are now gone to answer at a far more awful tribunal than that of public opinion, for the deeds of which their former bondwoman accuses them; and to hold them up more openly to human reprobation could no longer affect themselves, while it might deeply lacerate the feelings of their surviving and perhaps innocent relatives, without any commensurate public advantage
Without detaining the reader with remarks on other points which will be adverted to more conveniently in the Supplement, I shall here merely notice farther, that the Anti-Slavery Society have no concern whatever with this publication, nor are they in any degree responsible for the statements it contains. I have published the tract, not as their Secretary, but in my private capacity; and any profits that may arise from the sale will be exclusively appropriated to the benefit of Mary Prince herself.
7, Solly Terrace, Claremont Square,
January 25, 1831
THE HISTORY OF MARY PRINCE A WEST INDIAN
I was born at Brackish-Pond, in Bermuda, on a farm belonging to Mr. Charles Myners. My mother was a household slave; and my father, whose name was Prince, was a sawyer belonging to Mr. Trimmingham, a shipbuilder at Crow-Lane. When I was an infant, old Mr. Myners died, and there was a division of the slaves and other property among the family. I was bought along with my mother by old Captain Darrel, and given to his grandchild, little Miss Betsey Williams. Captain Williams, Mr. Darrel's son-in-law, was master of a vessel which traded to several places in America and the West Indies, and he was seldom at home long together.
Mrs. Williams was a kind-hearted good woman, and she treated all her slaves well. She had only one daughter, Miss Betsey, for whom I was purchased, and who was about my own age. I was made quite a pet of by Miss Betsey, and loved her very much. She used to lead me about by the hand, and call me her little rigger. This was the happiest period of my life; for I was too young to understand rightly my condition as a slave, and too thoughtless and full of spirits to look forward to the days of toil and sorrow.
My mother was a household slave in the same family. I was under her own care, and my little brothers and sisters were my play-fellows and companions. My mother had several fine children after she came to Mrs. Williams, - three girls and two boys. The tasks given out to us children were light, and we used to play together with Miss Betsey, with as much freedom almost as if she had been our sister.
My master, however, was a very harsh, eelfish man; and we always dreaded his return from sea. His wife was herself much afraid of him; and, during his stay at home, seldom dared to shew her usual kindness to the slaves. He often left her, in the most distressed circumstances, to reside in other female society, at some place in the West Indies of which I have forgot the name. My poor mistress bore his ill-treatment with great patience, and all her slaves loved and pitied her. I was truly attached to her, and, next to my own mother, loved her better than any creature in the world. My obedience to her commands was cheerfully given: it sprung solely from the affection I felt for her, and not from fear of the power which the white people's law had given her over me.
I had scarcely reached my twelfth year when my mistress became too poor to keep so many of us at home and she hired me out to Mrs. Pruden, a lady who lived about five miles off, in the adjoining parish, in a large house near the sea. I cried bitterly at parting with my dear mistress and Miss Betsey, and when I kissed my mother and brothers and sisters, I thought my young heart would break, it pained me so. But there was no help; I was forced to go. Good Mrs. Williams comforted me by saying that I should still be near the home I was about to quit, and might come over and see her and my kindred whenever I could obtain leave of absence from Mrs. Pruden. A few hours after this I was taken to a strange house, and found myself among strange people. This separation seemed a sore trial to me then; but oh! 'twas light, light to the trials I have since endured! - 'twas nothing - nothing to be mentioned with them; but I was a child then, and it was according to my strength.
I knew that Mrs. Williams could no longer maintain me; that she was fain to part with me for my food and clothing; and I tried to submit myself to the change. My new mistress was a passionate woman; but yet she did not treat me very unkindly. I do not remember her striking me but once, and that was for going to see Mrs. Williams when I heard she was sick, and staying longer than she had given me leave to do. All my employment at this time was nursing a sweet baby, little Master Daniel; and I grew so fond of my nursling that it was my greatest delight to walk out with him by the sea-shore, accompanied by his brother and sister, Miss Fanny and Master James. - Dear Miss Fanny! She was a sweet, kind young lady, and so fond of me that she wished me to learn all that she knew herself; and her method of teaching me was as follows: - Directly she had said her lessons to her grandmamma, she used to come running to me, and make me repeat them one by one after her; and in a few months I was able not only to say my letters but to spell many small words. But this happy state was not to last long. Those days were too pleasant to last. My heart always softens when I think of them.
At this time Mrs. Williams died. I was told suddenly of her death, and my grief was so great that, forgetting I had the baby in my arms, I ran away directly to my poor mistress's house; but reached it only in time to see the corpse carried out. Oh, that was a day of sorrow- a heavy day! All the slaves cried. My mother cried and lamented her sore; and I (foolish creature!) vainly entreated them to bring my dear mistress back to life. I knew nothing rightly about death then, and it seemed a hard thing to bear. When I thought about my mistress I felt as if the world was all gone wrong; and for many days and weeks I could think of nothing else. I returned to Mrs. Pruden's; but my sorrow was too great to be comforted, for my own dear mistress was always in my mind. Whether in the house or abroad, my thoughts were always talking to me about her.
I staid at Mrs. Pruden's about three months after this; I was then sent back to Mr. Williams to be sold. Oh, that was a sad sad time! I recollect the day well. Mrs. Pruden came to me and said, 'Mary, you will have to go home directly; your master is going to be married, and he means to sell you and two of your sisters to raise money for the wedding.' Hearing this I burst out a crying, - though I was then far from being sensible of the full weight of my misfortune, or of the misery that waited for me. Besides, I did not like to leave Mrs. Pruden, and the dear baby, who had grown very fond of me. For some time I could scarcely believe that Mrs. Pruden was in earnest, till I received orders for my immediate return. - Dear Miss Fanny! how she cried at parting with me, whilst I kissed and hugged the baby, thinking I should never see him again. I left Mrs. Pruden's, and walked home with a heart full of sorrow. The idea of being sold away from my mother and Miss Betsey was so frightful, that I dared not trust myself to think about it. We had been bought of Mrs. Myners, as I have mentioned, by Miss Betsey's grandfather, and given to her, so that we were by right her property, and I never thought we should be separated or sold away from her.
When I reached the house, I went in directly to Miss Betsey. I found her in great distress; and she cried out as soon as she saw me, 'Oh, Mary! my father is going to sell you all to raise money to marry that wicked woman. You are my slaves, and he has no right to sell you; but it is all to please her.' She then told me that my mother was living with her father's sister at a house close by, and I went there to see her. It was a sorrowful meeting; and we lamented with a great and sore crying our unfortunate situation. 'Here comes one of my poor piccaninnies!' she said, the moment I came in, 'one of the poor slave-brood who are to be sold to-morrow.'
Oh dear! I cannot bear to think of that day, - it is too much. - It recalls the great grief that filled my heart, and the woeful thoughts that passed to and fro through my mind, whilst listening to the pitiful words of my poor mother, weeping for the loss of her children. I wish I could find words to tell you all I then felt and suffered. The great God above alone knows the thoughts of the poor slave's heart, and the bitter pains which follow such separations as these. All that we love taken away from us - oh, it is sad, sad! and sore to be borne! - I got no sleep that night for thinking of the morrow; and dear Miss Betsey was scarcely less distressed. She could not bear to part with her old playmates and she cried sore and would not be pactfied.
The black morning at length came; it came too soon for my poor mother and us. Whilst she was putting on us the new osnaburgs in which we were to be sold, she said, in a sorrowful voice, (I shall never forget it!) 'See, I am shrouding my poor children; what a task for a mother!'- I She then called Miss Betsey to take leave of us. 'I am going to carry my little chickens to market,' (these were her very words) 'take your last look of them; may be you will see them no more.' 'Oh, my poor slaves! my own slaves!' said dear Miss Betsey, 'you belong to me; and it grieves my heart to part with you.' - Miss Betsey kissed us all, and, when she left us, my mother called the rest of the slaves to bid us good bye. One of them, a woman named Moll, came with her infant in her arms. 'Ay!' said my mother, seeing her turn away and look at her child with the tears in her eyes, 'your turn will come next.' The slaves could say nothing to comfort us; they could only weep and lament with us. When I left my dear little brothers and the house in which I had been brought up, I thought my heart would burst.
Our mother, weeping as she went, called me away with the children Hannah and Dinah, and we took the road that led to Hamble Town, which we reached about four o'clock in the afternoon. We followed my mother to the market-place, where she placed us in a row against a large house, with our backs to the wall and our arms folded across our breasts. I, as the eldest, stood first, Hannah next to me, then Dinah; and our mother stood beside, crying over us. My heart throbbed with grief and terror so violently, that I pressed my hands quite tightly across my breast, but I could not keep it still, and it continued to leap as though it would burst out of my body. But who cared for that? Did one of the many bystanders, who were looking at us so carelessly, think of the pain that wrung the hearts of the negro woman and her young ones? No, no! They were not all bad, I dare say, but slavery hardens white people's hearts towards the blacks; and many of them were not slow to make their remarks upon us aloud, without regard to our grief - though their light words fell like cayenne on the fresh wounds of our hearts. Oh those white people have small hearts who can only feel for themselves.
At length the vendue master, who was to offer us for sale like sheep or cattle, arrived, and asked my mother which was the eldest. She said nothing, but pointed to me. He took me by the hand, and led me out into the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round, exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue. I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or a lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words - as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts. I was then put up for sale. The bidding commenced at a few pounds, and gradually rose to fifty seven, when I was knocked down to the highest bidder; and the people who stood by said that I had fetched a great sum for so young a slave.
I then saw my sisters led forth, and sold to different owners; so that we had not the sad satisfaction of being partners in bondage. When the sale was over, my mother hugged and kissed us, and mourned over us, begging of us to keep up a good heart, and do our duty to our new masters. It was a sad parting; one went one way, one another, and our poor mammy went home with nothing."
Oh the horrors of slavery! - How the thought of it pains my heart! But the truth ought to be told of it; and what my eyes have seen I think it is my duty to relate; for few people in England know what slavery is. I have been a slave - I have felt what a slave feels, and I know what a slave knows; and I would have all the good people in England to know it too, that they may break our now it too, that they may break our chains, and set us free.
I still live in the hope that God will find a way to give me my liberty, and give me back to my husband. I endeavour to keep down my fretting, and to leave all to Him, for he knows what is good for me better than I know myself. Yet, I must confess, I find it a hard and heavy task to do so.
I am often much vexed, and I feel great sorrow when I hear some people
in this country say, that the slaves do not need better usage, and do not
want to be free. They believe the foreign people,! who deceive them, and
say slaves are happy. I say, Not so. How can slaves be happy when they
have the halter round their neck and the whip upon their back? and are
disgraced and thought no more of than beasts? - and are separated from
their mothers, and husbands, and children, and sisters, just as cattle are
sold and separated? Is it happiness for a driver in the field to take down
his wife or sister or child, and strip them, and whip them in such a
disgraceful manner? - women that have had children exposed in the open
field to shame! There is no modesty or decency shown by the owner to his
slaves; men, women, and children are exposed alike. Since I have been here
I have often wondered how English people can go out into the West Indies
and act in such a beastly manner. But when they go to the West Indies,
they forget God and all feeling of shame, I think, since they can see and
do such things. They tie up slaves like hogs - moor them up like cattle,
and they lick them, so as hogs, or cattle, or horses never were flogged; -
and yet they come home and say, and make some good people believe, that
slaves don't want to get out of slavery. But they put a cloak about the
truth. It is not so. All slaves want to be free- to be free is very sweet.
I will say the truth to English people who may read this history that my
good friend, Miss S‹, is now writing down for me. I have been a slave
myself - I know what slaves feel - I can tell by myself what other slaves
feel, 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. I never heard a
Buckra man say so, till I heard tell of it in England. Such people ought
to be ashamed of themselves. They can't do without slaves, they say.
What's the reason they can't do without slaves as well as in England? No
slaves here - no whips - no stocks - no punishment, except for wicked
people. They hire servants in England; and if they don't like them, they
send them away: they can't lick them. Let them work ever so hard in
England, they are far better off than slaves. If they get a bad master,
they give warning and go hire to another. They have their liberty. That's
just what we want. We don't mind hard work, if we had proper treatment,
and proper wages like English servants, and proper time given in the week
to keep us from breaking the Sabbath. But they won't give it; they will
have work - work - work, night and day, sick or well, till we are quite
done up; and we must not speak up nor look amiss, however much we be
abused. And then when we are quite done up, who cares for us, more than
for a lame horse? This is slavery. I tell it to let English people know
the truth; and I hope they will never leave off to pray God, and call loud
to the great King of England, till all the poor blacks be given free, and
slavery done up for evermore.
Mary Prince's petition presented to Parliament on 24 June 1829
A Petition of Mary Prince or James, commonly called
Molly Wood, was presented, and read; setting forth, That the
Petitioner was born a Slave in the colony of Bermuda, and is now
about forty years of age; That the Petitioner was sold some years go for
the sum of 300 dollars to Mr John Wood, by whom the Petitioner was
carried to Antigua, where she has since, until lately resided as a
domestic slave on his establishment; that in December 1826, the Petitioner
who is connected with the Moravian Congregation, was married in a
Moravian Chapel at Spring Gardens, in the parish of Saint
John's, by the Moravian minister, Mr Ellesen, to a free Black of the
name of Daniel James, who is a carpenter at Saint John's, in
Antigua, and also a member of the same congregation; that the
Petitioner and the said Daniel James have lived together ever since as man
and wife; that about ten months ago the Petitioner arrived in
London, with her master and mistress, in the capacity of nurse to
their child; that the Petitioner's master has offered to send her back in
his brig to the West Indies, to work in the yard; that the
Petitioner expressed her desire to return to the West Indies, but
not as a slave, and has entreated her master to sell her, her freedom on
account of her services as a nurse to his child, but he has refused, and
still does refuse; further stating the particulars of her case; and
praying the House to take the same into their consideration, and to grant
such relief as to them may, under the circumstances, appear right.
Ordered, That the said Petition do lie upon the Table.