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Sun Feb 10, 2013, 02:47 PM

The secret writing of American slaves Through rare diaries and letters, a portrait of ordinary life

THROUGHOUT THE 1840s and 1850s, Adam Plummer kept a simple diary. In a small, leather-bound book, the Maryland resident noted major life events, such as his marriage to Emily Plummer in 1841 and the births of their nine children; recorded his payments and receipts; and listed the things he owned, like a mirror and a “blue flowered suger bole.”

But Adam Plummer was a slave, and so he also wrote about events that, to a modern reader, seem far less mundane. Again and again in his diary, he struggled to detail how his family had been torn apart. On one page, he managed to write only the following in a shaky hand: “November 25 Day 1851 Emily Plummer and five Childrens who whous sold publick.”

On the next page, Plummer tried again, this time with a more even script: “Emily plummer and four Childrens on November 28, 1851 Sold at public sale. The said woman was bought by Mrs M A Thomson in the Washington City.” Since Plummer still lived on a plantation in Maryland, his wife and children were now “banished form me Eyes.”

Plummer’s diary, in short, is both a modest record of a life and something far more stark and horrifying, the notes of an American owned by someone else. It belongs to an exceptionally small body of writing: documents written by slaves while they were still enslaved. Most writing about American slavery came from freed slaves living in the North, like Frederick Douglass, or from sympathetic white authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe. But in a few cases, actual slaves wrote letters, diaries, and other private snippets for themselves—often at great personal risk.


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Reply The secret writing of American slaves Through rare diaries and letters, a portrait of ordinary life (Original post)
ismnotwasm Feb 2013 OP
RainDog Feb 2013 #1
BlancheSplanchnik Feb 2013 #2
Matariki Feb 2013 #4
Number23 Feb 2013 #3

Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:19 PM

2. ....this world....

Is just too cruel to bear sometimes

This was a real person. His wife was a real person. Their kids...

....this world.....

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 11:58 PM

3. Fascinating. Thanks for posting this.

I've tried to read the Autobiography of Frederick Douglas a hundred times. I just can't.

ETA: WoW!!! The slave narratives sound brilliant:

In a classic slave narrative, a former slave recounts the story of his or her bondage and escape. Since religious groups and antislavery societies often commissioned (and paid for) these narratives, they tended to follow a “born again” script, in which the narrator experienced a series of life-changing epiphanies. One of the more common of these involved learning to read or write. In his “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” which may be the most famous slave narrative today and was a bestseller when it appeared in 1845, Douglass remembers trading pieces of bread to poor white children in exchange for reading lessons. “The more I read,” he writes, “the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers.”

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