Moses Grandy

Moses Grandy

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

I was born in Camden County, North Carolina. Slaves seldom know exactly how old they are: neither they nor their masters set down the time of a birth; the slaves, because they are not allowed to write or read; and the masters, because they only care to know what slaves belong to them.

The master, Billy Grandy, whose slave I was born, was a hard-drinking man: he sold away many slaves. I remember four sisters and four brothers; my mother had more children, but they were dead or sold away before I can remember. I was the youngest. I remember well my mother often hid us all in the woods, to prevent master selling us. When we wanted water, she sought for it in any hole or puddle formed by falling trees or otherwise: it was often full of tadpoles and insects: she strained it, and gave it round to each of us in the hollow of her hand. For food, she gathered berries in the woods, got potatoes, raw corn, etc.

After a time the master would send word to her to come in, promising, he would not sell us. But at length persons came who agreed to give the prices he set on us. His wife, with much to be done, prevailed on him not to sell me; but he sold my brother, who was a little boy. My mother, frantic with grief, resisted their taking her child away: she was beaten and held down : she fainted; and when she came to herself, her boy was gone. She made much outcry, for which the master tied her up to a peach tree in the yard, and flogged her.

Another of my brothers was sold to Mr. Tyler, Dewan's Neck, Pasquotank County; this man very much ill-treated many coloured boys. One very cold day he sent my brother out, naked and hungry, to find a yoke of steers: the boy returned without finding them, when his master flogged him, and sent him out again; a white lady who lived near, gave him food, and advised him to try again: he did so, but it seems again without success. He piled up a heap of leaves, and laid himself down in them, and died there. He was found through a flock of turkey buzzards hovering over him; these birds had pulled his eyes out.

The first who hired me was Mr. Kemp, who used me pretty well; he gave me plenty to eat and sufficient clothing.

The next was old Jemmy Coates, a severe man. Because I could not learn his way of hilling corn, he flogged me naked with a severe whip made of a very tough sapling; this lapped round me at each stroke, the point of it at last entered my belly and broke off; leaving an inch and a-half outside. I was not aware of it until on going to work again it hurt my side very much, when on looking down I saw it sticking, out of my body: I pulled it out and the blood spouted after it. The wound festered, and discharged very much at the time, and hurt me for years after.

In being hired out, sometimes the slave gets a good home, and sometimes a bad one: when he gets a good one, he dreads to see January come; when he has a bad one, the year seems five times as long as it is.

I was next with Mr. Enoch Sawyer of Camden County: my business was to keep ferry, and do other odd work. It was cruel living; we had not near enough of either victuals or clothes; I was half-starved for half my time. I have often ground the husks of Indian corn over again in a hand-mill, for the chance of getting something to eat out of it, which the former grinding had left. In severe frosts, I was compelled to go into the fields and woods to work, with my naked feet cracked and bleeding from extreme cold: to warm them, I used to rouse an ox or hog, and stand on the place where it had lain. I was at that place three years, and very long years they seemed to me. The trick by which he kept me so long was this: -- the Court House was but a mile off; on hiring day, he prevented me from going till he went himself and bid for me. On the last occasion, he was detained for a little while by other business, so I ran as quickly as I could, and got hired before he came up.

Mr. George Furley was my next master; he employed me as a car-boy in the Dismal swamp; I had to drive lumber. I had plenty to eat and plenty of clothes. I was so overjoyed at the change, that I then thought I would not have left the place to go to heaven.

Next year I was hired by Mr. John Micheau of the same county, who married my young mistress, one of the daughters of Mr. Grandy, and sister to my present owner. This master gave us very few clothes, and but little to eat; I was almost naked. One day he came into the field, and asked why no more work was done. The older people were afraid of him; so I said that the reason was, we were so hungry, we could not work. He went home and told the mistress to give us plenty to eat, and at dinner time we had plenty. We came out shouting for joy, and went to work with delight. From that time, we had food enough, and he soon found that he had a great deal more work done. The field was quite alive with the people striving who should do most.

It was some time after this, that I married a slave belonging to Enoch Sawyer, who had been so hard a master to me. I left her at home, (that is, at his house,) one Thursday morning, when we had been married about eight months. She was well, and seemed likely to be so: we were nicely getting together our little necessaries. On the Friday, as I was at work as usual with the boats, I heard a noise behind me, on the road which ran by the side of the canal: I turned to look, and saw a gang of slaves coming. When they came up to me, one of them cried out, "Moses, my dear!" I wondered who among them should know me, and found it was my wife. She cried out to me, "I am gone." I was struck with consternation. Mr. Rogerson was with them, on his horse, armed with pistols. I said to him, "for God's sake, have you bought my wife?" He said he had; when I asked him what she had done; he said she had done nothing, but that her master wanted money.

He drew out a pistol, and said that if I went near the waggon on which she was, he would shoot me. I asked for leave to shake hands with her, which he refused, but said I might stand at a distance and talk with her. My heart was so full, that I could say very little. I asked leave to give her a dram: he told Mr. Burgess, the man who was with him, to get down and carry it to her. I gave her the little money I had in my pocket, and bid her farewell. I have never seen or heard of her from that day to this. I loved her as I loved my life.

MacPherson was an overseer where slaves were employed in cutting canals. The labour there is very severe. The ground is often very boggy: the negroes are up to the middle or much deeper in mud and water, cutting away roots and baling out mud: if they can keep their heads above water, they work on. They lodge in huts, or as they are called camps, made of shingles or boards. They lie down in the mud which has adhered to them, making a great fire to dry themselves, and keep off the cold. No bedding whatever is allowed them; it is only by work done over his task, that any of them can get a blanket. They are paid nothing except for this overwork. Their masters come once a month to receive the money for their labour: then perhaps some few very good masters will give them two dollars each, some others one dollar, some a pound of tobacco, and some nothing at all. The food is more abundant than that of field slaves; indeed it is the best allowance in America: it consists of a peck of meal, and six pounds of pork per week; the pork is commonly not good, it is damaged, and is bought as cheap as possible at auctions.

MacPherson gave the same task to each slave; of course the weak ones often failed to do it. I have often seen him tie up persons and flog them in the morning, only because they were unable to get the previous day's task done: after they were flogged, pork or beef brine was put on their bleeding backs, to increase the pain; he sitting by resting himself, and seeing it done. After being thus flogged and pickled, the sufferers often remained tied up all day, the feet just touching the ground, the legs tied, and pieces of wood put between the legs. All the motion allowed was a slight turn of the neck. Thus exposed and helpless, the yellow flies and mosquitoes in great numbers would settle on the bleeding and smarting back, and put the sufferer to extreme torture. This continued all day, for they were not taken down till night.

In flogging, MacPherson would sometimes tie the slave's shirt over his head, that he might not flinch when the blow was coming: sometimes he would increase his misery, by blustering and calling out that he was coming to flog again, which he did or did not, as happened. I have seen him flog slaves with his own hands, till their entrails were visible; and I have seen the sufferers dead when they were taken down. He never was called to account in any way for it.

It is not uncommon for flies to blow the sores made by flogging. In that case, we get a strong weed growing in those parts, called the Oak of Jerusalem; we boil it at night, and wash the sores with the liquor, which is extremely bitter: on this, the creepers or maggots come out. To relieve them in some degree after severe flogging, their fellow-slaves rub their backs with part of their little allowance of fat meat.

When my mother became old, she was sent to live in a little lonely log-hut in the woods. Aged and worn out slaves, whether men or women, are commonly so treated. No care is taken of them, except, perhaps, that a little ground is cleared about the hut, on which the old slave, if able, may raise a little corn. As far as the owner is concerned, they live or die as it happens; is is just the same thing as turning out an old horse. Their children or other near relations, if living in the neighbourhood, take it by turns to go at night, with a supply saved out of their own scanty allowance of food, as well as to cut wood and fetch water for them: this is done entirely through t he good feelings of the slaves, and not through the masters' taking care that it is done. On these night-visits, the aged inmate of the hut is often found crying, on account of sufferings from disease or extreme weakness, or from want of food and water in the course of the day: many a time, when I have drawn near to my mother's hut, I have heard her grieving and crying on these accounts: she was old and blind too, and so unable to help herself. She was not treated worse than others: it is the general practice. Some few good masters do not treat their old slaves so: they employ them in doing light jobs about the house and garden.

Before I close this narrative, I ought to express my grateful thanks to the many friends in the Northern States, who have encouraged and assisted me: I shall never forget to speak of their kindness, and to pray for their prosperity. I am delighted to say, that not only to myself, but to very many other coloured persons, they have lent a benevolent helping hand. Last year, gentlemen whom I know bought no less than ten families from slavery, and this year they are pursuing the same good work. But for these numerous and heavy claims on their means and their kindness, I should have had no need to appeal to the generosity of the British public; they would gladly have helped me to redeem all my children and relations.

When I first went to the Northern States, which is about ten years ago, although I was free as to the law, I was made to feel severely the difference between persons of different colours. No black man was admitted to the same seats in churches with the whites, nor to the inside of public conveyances, nor into street coaches or cabs: we had to be content with the decks of steam-boats in all weathers, night and day, - not even our wives or children being allowed to go below, however it might rain, or snow, or freeze; in various other ways, we were treated as though we were of a race of men below the whites.

But the abolitionists boldly stood up for us, and through them things are much changed for the better. Now, we may sit in any part of many places of worship, and are even asked into the pews of respectable white families; many public conveyances now make no distinction between white and black. We begin to feel that we are really on the same footing as our fellow citizens. They see we can and do conduct ourselves with propriety, and they are now admitting us in many cases to the same standing with themselves.

During the struggles which have procured for us this justice from our fellow-citizens, we have been in the habit of looking in public places for some well-known abolitionists, and if none that we knew were there, we addressed any person dressed as a Quaker; these classes always took our part against ill usage, and we have to thank them for many a contest in our behalf. We were greatly delighted by the zealous efforts and powerful eloquence in our cause of George Thompson, who came from our English friends to aid our suffering brethren. He was hated and mobbed by bad men amongst the whites; they put his life in great danger, and threatened destruction to all who sheltered him. We prayed for him, and did all we could to defend him. The Lord preserved him, and thankful were we when he escaped from our country with his life.

At that time, and ever since, we have had a host of American friends, who have laboured for the cause night and day; they have nobly stood up for the rights and honour of the coloured man; but they did so at first in the midst of scorn and danger. Now, thank God, the case is very different Mr. William Lloyd Garrison, who was hunted for his life by a mob in the streets of Boston has lately been chairman of a large meeting in favour of abolition, held in Fanueil Hall, the celebrated public hall of Boston, called "the Cradle of Liberty."

I am glad to say also, that numbers of my coloured brethren now escape from slavery; some by purchasing their freedom, others by quitting, through many dangers and hardships, the land of bondage. The latter suffer many privations in their attempts to reach the free states. They hide themselves during the day in the woods and swamps; at night they travel, crossing rivers by swimming, or by boats they may chance to meet with, and passing over hills and meadows which they do not know; in these dangerous journeys they are guided by the north-star, for they only know that the land of freedom is in the north. They subsist on such wild fruit as they can gather, and as they are often very long on their way, they reach the free states almost like skeletons. On their arrival, they have no friends but such as pity those who have been in bondage, the number of which, I am happy to say, is increasing; but if they can meet with a man in a broad-brimmed hat and Quaker coat, they speak to him without fear-relying on him as a friend. At each place the escaped slave inquires for an abolitionist or a Quaker, and these friends of the coloured man help them on their journey northwards, until they are out of the reach of danger.

Our untiring friends, the abolitionists, once obtained a law that no coloured person should be seized as a slave within the free states; this law would have been of great service to us, by ridding us of all anxiety about our freedom while we remained there; but I am sorry to say, that it has lately been repealed, and that now, as before, any coloured person who is said to be a slave, may be seized in the free states and carried away, no matter how long he may have resided there, as also may his children and their children, although they all may have been born there. I hope this law will soon be altered again.

At present, many escaped slaves are forwarded by their friends to Canada where, under British rule, they are quite safe. There is a body of ten thousand of them in Upper Canada; they are known for their good order, and loyalty to the British government; during the late troubles, they could always be relied on for the defence of the British possessions, against the lawless Americans who attempted to invade them.

As to the settlement of Liberia on the coast of Africa, the free coloured people of America do not willingly go to it. America is their home: if their forefathers lived in Africa, they themselves know nothing of that country None but free coloured people are taken there: if they would take slaves, they might have plenty of colonists. Slaves will go any where for freedom.

We look very much to Great Britain and Ireland for help. Whenever we hear of the British or Irish people doing good to black men, we are delighted, and run to tell each other the news. Our kind friends, the abolitionists, are very much encouraged when they hear of meetings and speeches in England in our cause. The first of August, the day when the slaves in the West Indies were made free, is always kept as a day of rejoicing by the American coloured free people.

I do hope and believe that the cause of freedom to the blacks is becoming stronger and stronger every day. I pray for the time to come when freedom shall be established all over the world. Then will men love as brethren; they will delight to do good to one another; and they will thankfully worship the Father of all.

A History of a Life with its Deepest Intentions: The Analog/Digital After-life of Moses Grandy’s Narrative of Enslavement

The first time I read Moses Grandy’s narrative of enslavement I cried for ten minutes. I wept for the loved ones he lost and the suffering he endured. At that moment I knew that my scholarly focus would center on expanding his legacy of struggle within the public mind. Such a visceral interaction with a text is not altogether uncommon for many readers and I could not help but feel fortunate in having access to such a rare book because of the technological advances of digitization. The memory of Moses Grandy’s life is part of the richness of the American Slave Narrative genre.

In the recent past slave narratives were difficult to locate due to their isolation in scattered library special collections, in used book stores at high prices or on difficult to read microfilm. In this the project of digitization is an act of recovery in itself that makes available and amplifies the voices of African American memories in slavery that were historically cast aside as falsehoods of abolitionist propaganda. Enslaved people’s narratives reveal a cultural inheritance that the enterprise of digitization has made accessible to anyone capable of connecting to the World Wide Web. Jerome McGann reminds us that humanist scholars “are the long-recognized monitors of cultural memory” and exposing the richness of American slave narratives is “precisely the office of the scholar.” [2]

This essay will highlight the recovery work stimulated through accessing the traces of enslaved experience in reading Grandy’s digital text. I begin my approach to illuminating recovery efforts by briefly sketching the development of the North American Slave Narratives digital collection. I then shift my focus to the critical reception of American Slave Narratives as a historical source while tracing the contours of their re-emergence thus capturing the attendant evolving interpretative frameworks of their influence in the twentieth century.[3]This exploration is necessary in order to highlight the challenges in bringing American Slave Narratives to the forefront as an important field of scholarship. Having established the foundational scholarly engagements with American Slave Narratives broadly, I then turn my attention to the Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America discussing how authors and readers have consulted Grandy’s narrative in print as well as in digital format. Drawing on the recovery efforts that have emerged from readings of Grandy’s digital text, I then emphasize the need for interested readers to involve themselves in community engagement practices beyond the confines of the academy in order to amplify and recover enslaved people’s lives illuminated within them. These practices stem from “cultural heritage rooted in the social, political and economic elements” of American Slave Narratives.[4]These engagements “evoke powerful emotive associations about the past and present as well as progress and decay.” From this scholars and cultural workers alike may develop a “complex mosaic of artifacts, images, monuments and customs demanding our attention while giving meaning to them. Ultimately this essay argues that the digitization of North American Slave narratives has promoted expanded reading engagements with rare texts in ways that enrich scholarly inquiry and cultural recovery.

The Narrative of Moses Grandy is part of the North American Slave Narratives digital collection within the Documenting the American South electronic publishing program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Library. North American Slave Narratives “holds the individual and collective story of African Americans struggling for freedom and human rights in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.” Also comprised within this collection are autobiographical narratives of fugitive and former slaves published as broadsides, pamphlets, or books in English up to 1920. The collection represents the best of possibilities in textual scholarship, institutional collaboration, and funding possibilities within a digitization enterprise.

Slave narratives formerly accessible only through a scattering of repositories are now reachable via the digital realm and as a result, readers interested in slave narratives may analyze, collect, and visualize these texts at a scale previously unseen. The recovery, sharing, and witnessing generated through close readings of slave narratives digitized within North American Slave Narratives promotes a remarkable extension from digital space for further discovery in African American history.

Such engagements are part of a living culture created and sustained via digitization efforts. In working with Moses Grandy’s narrative I have encountered ample opportunity to observe the breadth and range of recovery activity stemming from these engaged practices of reading his digital narrative of enslavement.

In close reading Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, scholars and cultural workers have created promising alliances in an effort to expand understanding of his life and deepest motivations. These efforts have provided new vistas into Grandy’s legacy as well as the slavery regime itself. From self-published works to digital spatial narratives and experimental film, Moses Grandy’s narrative has inspired a breadth of recovery work that highlights the importance of preserving the history of cultural memory through digitizing rare and forgotten texts.

The digitization project that produced North American Slave Narratives collection began in 1991 when several librarians wrote the vision statement for Documenting the American South. Driven by a concern for the complex and contested construction of identity within the southern region the librarians felt that a digital collection with a broad range of research materials would “describe the diversity of the American South.”[5] As the project team acquired materials for the collection, they quickly realized the central role of African Americans in shaping the construction of southern historical identity and began working on compiling American Slave Narratives to include within Documenting the American South. Several questions arose in these early stages of acquisition: Should every slave narrative be collected or just the ones in local holdings? If a slave narrative was located at a repository outside of the UNC system, how could delivery and scanning take place without damaging an already fragile rare book? Lastly, how could such a large scale digitization project be publicized effectively?[6]

Initially the team sought to digitize the slave narratives based on locally held texts with relatively high circulation rates within UNC holdings. Such a decision was rooted in a utilitarian mode of operations planning. The team began to see the drawbacks in such an approach as some of their editions of their titles creating a problem of authenticity for the final digitized version. The team also began to understand the importance of acquiring slave narratives that were lesser known. These obstacles forced the team to revisit their approach to gathering slave narratives for DAS. A more systematic, global approach was needed to identify the range of North American Slave Narratives. While the UNC library team indicates that they had not found a “standard bibliography” of American slave narratives to guide their search, the work of literary historian Marion Wilson Starling and that of Charles Nichols provide an extensive list of American slave narratives.[7] In spite of this oversight, the arrival of noted historian of African American Literature William Andrews in 1992 helped to guide the team in their search for an exhaustive list of American Slave Narratives. Andrews, who joined the faculty of UNC as the E. Maynard Adams Professor of English, had been locating and editing slave narratives for over twenty years. Andrews quickly signed on with the DAS team to compile a bibliography of slave narratives and serve as editor for the digital collection of North American Slave Narratives.[8]

Andrews has written that “the most popular and lasting African American literary contributions to the movement for freedom were the autobiographical narratives of American slaves.”[9] This distinction is undoubtedly true as American Slave narratives served as rich firsthand sources of the realities of plantation life while establishing a literary genre that inflamed antislavery sentiment during their time of publication. In a nation “divided politically and geographically by the institution of slavery, narratives of enslavement possessed a unique rhetorical status as witness participants” for interested audiences.[10] In spite of this special authority, early historians of slavery and the Civil War ignored slave narratives as documentary sources. In Slave Community, historian John Blassingame tells us that the majority of historians refused to accept the slave narratives as true testimony because enslaved people were aided by abolitionist editors or amanuenses. Yet those historians who refused to acknowledge the veracity of the American Slave Narratives had never bothered to read them.[11]

Ulrich B. Phillips speaking in 1929 expressed the prevailing historiographical consensus regarding slave narratives by indicating that “ex-slave narratives in general…were issued with so much abolitionist editing that as a class their authenticity is doubtful.”[12] In Slavery a Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life Stanley Elkins wrote of Phillip’s influence in the early twentieth century as the “undisputed” special authority on studies of slavery- an “authority” whose work emphasized the “genial view of the institution.”[13] Phillips the son of a Georgia merchant was “reared in an atmosphere of reverence for the values and standards of the old planter class.”[14] To this end his interpretation of American slavery mirrored the tenets of the Lost Cause tradition-one where American slaves are painted as “happy darkies” that benefitted from the institution of slavery. Such an interpretation reduces black people to a racial stereotype devoid of agency and autonomy. Implicit in Phillips’ assertion that American Slave Narratives lacked authority was that enslaved people were incapable of truthfully authoring their experiences, even if dictated to an amanuensis. Phillips’ assertion can be seen as symptomatic of the prevailing racial beliefs of his day –one that was white supremacist to its very core.

In this light, we can then think of the digitization of American Slave Narratives as an act of recovery on a much deeper level-one where the expansion and promotion of access to once derided testimonies are made available and in so doing redresses the wrongs of early historians who rejected slave testimony.

The early efforts to collect American Slave Narratives began in the 1920’s alongside the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance through the tireless searches of historian Arturo Schomburg and early Civil Rights leader Arthur Spingarn.[15] Schomburg’s expansive collection of cultural materials resulted in the establishment of the Schomburg Center for Black Culture in New York City while Spingarn’s was purchased by Howard University to become the Moorland Spingarn Research Center. The collective achievements of Schomburg and Spingarn in amassing African Americana cannot be understated as bibliographies of early African American literature were “minuscule, scarce and the books, once identified and located, were generally non-circulating.”[16] Spingarn and Schomburg’s energies in collecting African American slave narratives and other important works of African American consciousness demonstrate the resolve these leaders had in preserving cultural memory. Schomburg speaking to a crowd in New York City proclaimed that, “[African Americans] need a collection or list of books written by our men and women. If they lack style let the children correct the omission of their sire. Let them build upon the crude work.”[17] It is evident here that Schomburg and others like him were determined to create a vast archive of African American contributions to literary culture.

Marion Wilson Starling would take up Schomburg’s challenge by writing her dissertation The Slave Narrative: Its Place in American Literary History in 1946. Starling’s research culminated in a bibliographic guide to the location of 6006 narrative records extended from 1703-1944. Starling discovered these narratives among judicial records, broadsides, private printings, church records and more. [18] Starlings work laid the foundation for an expansive bibliographic list of American Slave Narratives. In reading Starling’s pioneering work one is acquainted with a vast amount of raw historical material unearthed for generations of scholars to study as a guide. Starling’s dissertation was not published until 1981, nonetheless her work represents an invaluable contribution to historical and literary scholarship of the American Slave Narrative.

Charles Nichols follows in 1963 with the publication of Many Thousand Gone drawing on the testimony of seventy-seven published slave narratives. Sponsored by the American-Institute of the Free University of Berlin and published by a Netherlands printing house, and written during his time spent in Germany, Nichols work represented a global interest in attempting to understand how American slavery shaped African American intellectual life.[19] In using slave testimony Nichols was the first published author incorporating enslaved people’s experiences as documentary evidence in accessing historiographical issues of slavery. The book revealed for readers the connections between the history of American slavery, the lived experience of enslaved people as observed through their experienced outlined in the slave narratives, and the continued struggle for political and social equality from Jim Crow through the era of the book’s publication. Historian Kenneth Stamp in reviewing the work, wrote:

“Nichols is aware of the limitations of slave narratives as historical sources, especially of those that were written for illiterate fugitives by white abolitionists. Yet he does not always use the narratives as critically as he should.”

Here Stamp’s response to Nichols’ use of American Slave Narratives as a source of evidence reveals the lingering skepticism American historians had of their utility in interpreting slavery. This review was published in The American Historical Review in 1964 with Stamp ultimately concluding that Many Thousand Gone was “an unsatisfactory volume.” In spite of Stamp’s unfavorable assessment Nichols’ work pioneered the use of American Slave Narratives as documentary evidence in studies of slavery in the United States.

It was from this collective journey of archival excavations that John Blassingame was able to produce The Slave Community which helped change the course of American slavery historiography by highlighting the experiences of enslaved people to speak for the historical record on a critical level. Blassingame wrote:

“By concentrating solely on the planter, historians have in effect been listening to only one side of a complicated debate. The distorted view of the plantation which emerges from the planter records is that of an all-powerful, monolithic institution which strips the slave of any meaningful and distinctive culture…”[20]

Blassingame revolutionizes the historical canon by utilizing enslaved people’s testimony to understand the history of slavery. The book is as a path breaking study that provides a basis of understanding enslaved people’s response to plantation life. Blassingame consults a broad range of sources from American Slave Narratives to plantation journals to articles related to psychological theory. This pivotal study exemplified a triumph on Blassingame’s part as he undoubtedly “had to fight the pressure of a white historical establishment that interpreted slavery in a less than critical way” and was resistant to incorporating the testimony of black voices.[21]

Blassingame’s analysis of the slave family is particularly revealing and he uses the Narrative of Moses Grandy shed light on the hardships enslaved men faced when they attempted to maintain monogamous unions. Drawing on the testimony of several American Slave Narratives Blassingame helps the reader to understand why enslaved men preferred unions to slave women on other plantations. Because of the power dynamics of ownership inherent in the institution of slavery that allowed slaveholders to violate slave women on a routine basis, enslaved men shielded themselves from seeing these injustices by living “abroad” at another plantation. Though Blassingame indicates that some sources show a that certain slaveholders “encouraged stable monogamous families in order to make escape more unlikely” this practice was not the case for Moses Grandy

In Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America we observe how slaveholders often “paired” enslaved people together while instructing them to live partnered until the vagaries of the market or death of a slaveholder and eventual division of property meant severing this precarious bond. Moses Grandy spoke of how his wife cried out “I am gone!” as the slave traders marched her off to be sold away. “My God have you bought my wife?” Moses cried out- he was not even allowed to hug her upon departure. [22]

Consulting enslaved people’s testimony and embarking on reading practices that consider silences as well as acknowledge the epistemological violence on which slave regimes verified forms of information serves to illuminate multilayered perspectives previously hidden from the historical record. [23]

What scholars have found in exploring narratives of enslavement are the ways enslaved people fashioned themselves as they “wrote themselves into being”[24] The rhetorical gestures employed in enslaved people’s narratives highlight an affirmation of personhood while providing information to readers on modes of resistance as well as daily life on the plantation. Whether written by him or herself, or dictated to an amanuensis enslaved people’s “figuration of freedom” prevailed on the page.[25]

Historian Heather Andrea Williams has written on Narrative of Life of Moses Grandy Late a Slave in the United States of America informing us that the heart of Grandy’s narrative is the silences that persist in his humble self-portrayal. This humble self-fashioning was the result of a life filled with trials. Grandy’s narrative highlights a lived experience that is rife with innumerable trauma including witnessing torture, being cheated out of his purchased freedom twice, repeated physical abuse, disease, loss of family members, and more. Grandy at one point considered committing suicide, but decided against it.[26]

Williams also points out Grandy’s construction of personhood through attributes which signified his piety, his industriousness, and deep intentions to keep his family intact against all odds. These traits sought to confront proslavery characterizations of enslaved men as idle, treacherous and subhuman.

Comprised of episodic vignettes, Grandy’s narrative indicates no deliberate mode of special design.[27] The narrative begins with a heartwrenching memory- the details of how his older brother lost his life in the woods. It was this description of the swamp landscape that drew me to Moses Grandy’s narrative. The setting of the narrative takes place in the Great Dismal Swamp region of northeastern North Carolina and Grandy’s dynamic reminiscences provided a way for me to conceptualize space and place as I read the words of his narrative on the computer screen. I decided that a digital narrative that emphasized the spatial dimensions of landscapes of trauma within the Great Dismal Swamp would help readers of Moses Grandy’s narrative conceptualize the role of

[1] Venture Smith et al., Five Black Lives (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Univ. Pr., 1971).

[2] Jerome Mcgann, “A New Republic of Letters,” 2014, , doi:10.4159/9780674369245.

[3] P. Gabrielle Foreman and Cherene Sherrard-Johnson. “Racial Recovery, Racial Death: An Introduction in Four Parts.” Legacy 24, no. 2 (2007): 157-170. (accessed June 15, 2018).

[5] Patricia Buck Dominguez, and Joe A. Hewitt. “A Public Good: Documenting the American South and Slave Narratives.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 8, no. 2 (2007): 106-124

[7] The team indicated that there was not a standard bibliography of slave narratives at the time. Ibid 109-11.

[9] William L. Andrews, North Carolina Slave Narratives: The Lives of Moses Roper, Lunsford Lane, Moses Grandy, and Thomas H. Jones (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2005),1.

[10] Charles J. Heglar, Rethinking the Slave Narrative: Domestic Concerns in Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft (1996), 9.

[11] John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford, 1981), 234.

[12] Charles J. Heglar, Rethinking the Slave Narrative: Domestic Concerns in Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft (1996), 13.

[13] Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutionaland Intellectual Life. 2d Ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 9-15.

[15] Venture Smith et al., Five Black Lives (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Univ. Pr., 1971), ix.

[16] Frances Smith Foster, Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-bellum Slave Narratives (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979)

[17] Vanessa K. Valdes, Diasporic Blackness: The Life and times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (S.l.: STATE UNIV OF NEW YORK PR, 2018), 79.

[18] John Ernest, The Oxford Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 4.

[19] Prince E. Wilson “Slavery through the Eyes of Ex-Slaves.” Phylon (1960-), vol. 24, no. 4, 1963, pp. 401–402.

[20] John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford, 1981), i.

[21] Jessica Marie Johnson, “Black New Orleans: A Panel discussion on Blassingame’s Classic,” Youtube video, 1:50:28, April 2017,

[22] MOSES GRANDY, NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF MOSES GRANDY: formerly a slave in the united states of america (classic… reprint) (S.l.: FORGOTTEN BOOKS, 2015)

[23] Aisha K. Finch, Rethinking slave rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the insurgencies of 1841-1844 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 10-12.

[24] William Loren Katz, Flight from the Devil: Six Slave Narratives (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1996), xvii.

[25] Saidiya V. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth-century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 11.

[26] After purchasing his freedom Moses Grandy traveled back to Virginia to arrange to purchase his enslaved son. The slaveholder refused to take Grandy’s payment demanding a larger sum. Because Grandy and other enslaved people freed in southern states were considered “spoiled” from freedom and that there were laws against freed slaves reentering Virginia he could only remain in the Commonwealth for less than ten days. As the deadline approached for him to leave Virginia Grandy sees a party of white men and fears they will commandeer him back into slavery: “I thought they were officers coming to take me and such was my horror of slavery, that I twice ran to the ship’s waist, to jump overboard into the strong ebb-tide then running, to drown myself, but a strong impression on my mind restrained me each time.” 45

[27] Heather Andrea Williams in North Carolina Slave Narratives: The Lives of Moses Roper, Lunsford Lane, Moses Grandy, and Thomas H. Jones (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2005), 138.

Osnaburg Fabric: Garment for the Enslaved

It was the osnaburg nightshirt that failed to keep Moses Grandy’s enslaved brother warm when he died of exposure while trying to find a yoke of steers that had wandered into woods of the Great Dismal Swamp during the winter of 1795. That coarse, yet thin fabric had not been enough to keep the enslaved child warm- the elements of winter’s cold air and his steadily weakening body from the previous floggings committed on him by slaver Mr. Kemp assured that death would soon remove the lad from slavery’s grip.[1]

Osnaburg fabric was part of the imposed uniform for the enslaved. It was cheap, relatively durable, and unremarkable enough to fit the status of unfreedom deployed onto enslaved people. As each day dragged on usually working fourteen hours per day in warmer months, enslaved people donned the drab fabric, however on Sunday- an enslaved person’s one day of rest, they would transform the fabric into a Sabbath Day ensemble that they could be proud of. Enslaved people combined their talents at improvisation with precious little into an aesthetic of what middling classes and planter elites would find objectionable.

The forced migration of enslaved captives placed them in alien locales across the Americas where they had to conform to European garb from the very beginning. The articles of enslaved dress are often outlined in the descriptions of runaway slave ads in order to increase the livelihood that the enslaved person could be identified by their clothing- “a strong Oznabrig shirt” or “linsey-woolsey” dress were often worn as enslaved people attempted their flight to freedom.[2]

Osnaburg is part of a family of poor quality textiles- made from coarse inexpensive linen with the main object being durability a sturdiness appropriate for the unending toil comprised from the forced agricultural, pastoral, and manual labor performed by enslaved people. While working enslaved women wore osnaburg dresses “reefed up” with a cord drawn tightly around the body, along the hips in order that their work would get done unencumbered from long dress hems. Booker T. Washington, a former enslaved person himself, recalled his experience wearing the fabric, describing osnaburg as feeling like “a hundred pin points in contact with the flesh” His older brother eased Booker’s discomfort by “breaking in” the shirt for some days before transferring the garment to him.[3]

Because enslaved people were responsible for making their own clothing, they knew which root, tree bark, leaf and berry that made red, blue, green and other colors. It was this knowledge that allowed enslaved women to use the dyed cloth to enhance the drab appearance of osnaburg in order to have something nice to wear on Sundays to church.[4]

Travelers and commentators of the nineteenth century complained about the propensity of enslaved people to dress “above themselves” to engage in elaborate finery clearly inappropriate to their lowly station in life. Nevertheless osnaburg fabric exists still today as a cultural remnant and reminder of the fabric relegated to the class of people also known as chattel.

Grandy, Moses, “Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, “Late a Slave in the United States of America” .London: Gilpin, 1843

White, Shane and Graham, “Slave Clothing and African-American Culture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, Past and Present No. 148. Oxford, 1995

[1] Moses Grandy, Narrative in the Life of Moses Grandy: Late a Slave in the United States of America (London: C. Gilpin, 1843), 9

[2] Shane and Graham White, “Slave Clothing and African-American Culture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, Past and Present No. 148 (August 1995), 154.

[4] It should be mentioned that church attendance was mandatory on many plantations during the antebellum era for enslaved people. Pastors were often Euroamerican and sermons were carefully constructed to dissuade enslaved people from insurgent activity-church was a method of control for enslaved people. In many locales enslaved people had a separate clandestine church meeting for themselves in the outlying woods of the plantation. In these gatherings enslaved people practiced their faith in a manner of their choosing.

Latest History

The details of Grandy’s life and times are documented in an autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy Late a Slave in the United States of America,” published in London in 1843.

“He was an extraordinary person,” said Tommy L. Bogger, history professor and director of the Harrison B. Wilson Archives at Norfolk State University. His autobiography contradicted the racist view that blacks were simply “brutes,” Bogger said. Grandy and others like him defied such stereotypes by undeniably showing they were “conscious thinking beings who could establish a way for themselves,” Bogger said.

Grandy’s legacy today includes numerous descendants, many of whom still live in southeastern Virginia. And it includes a relatively new, 2½-mile, four-lane road in Chesapeake’s Deep Creek section that the city named in his honor in 2006.

Moses Grandy Trail runs from Dominion Boulevard west to within feet of the canal where he labored almost two centuries ago.

Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America

This title is not eligible for UNC Press promotional pricing.

A DocSouth Book, Distributed for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library

A DOCSOUTH BOOK. This collaboration between UNC Press and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library brings classic works from the digital library of Documenting the American South back into print. DocSouth Books uses the latest digital technologies to make these works available in paperback and e-book formats. Each book contains a short summary and is otherwise unaltered from the original publication. DocSouth Books provide affordable and easily accessible editions to a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers.

About the Author

Born into slavery in North Carolina around 1786, Grandy had to purchase his freedom three times due to dishonest masters.
For more information about Moses Grandy, visit the Author Page.

Sunspots | Learn how to trace your roots from former slave Moses Grandy’s descendant

Who was Moses Grandy? Who were the maroons? Can you trace your roots?

These questions and more will be answered at two Suffolk Public Library-sponsored events celebrating Black History Month.

On Feb. 16, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Eric Sheppard, a former program manager with the Department of Defense and currently president of Diversity Restoration Solutions Inc., will present the program, "Dismal Roots: A Genealogical Success Story" at the Morgan Memorial Library, 443 W. Washington St.

The program will be part history and part genealogical showcase.

The evening will begin with an overview of the Morgan Library's genealogical tools and resources, then Sheppard will present his findings and experiences.

After years of research, Sheppard found he was a descendant of Moses Grandy, former slave, waterman, abolitionist and author who, along with thousands of other in-bondage workers, built the Dismal Swamp Canal.

After two attempts of being cheated by former masters, Grandy was finally able to buy his freedom and that of his wife and child. He went on to become a celebrated abolitionist and author, famous for his internationally acclaimed work, "Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America."

Sheppard will discuss his experiences researching his own family history and will also touch on the maroon colony that lived in the marshlands of the Great Dismal Swamp.

And who were these "maroons?" They were freed and/or escaped slaves who lived in the swamp to avoid detection by slave hunters and masters. Thousands lived in hardship between 1700 and the 1860s.

Find out about these intrepid individuals at North Suffolk Library's "Dismal History: Screening and Talk" from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Feb. 18.

The morning will feature a screening of the documentary, "Dismal History," along with comments and insights from co-producer Imtiaz Habib, Ph.D., with Old Dominion University.

Afterward, naturalist Penny Lazauskas will discuss the swamp's history and unique environs and eco-systems and the hardships endured by the maroons.

Both events are free and open to the public. For more details, call 514-7323 or visit

Don't throw out Uncle Cosmo's old oil painting or that ornate antique clock left to you by Aunt Agatha. They, and other items stored in your garage, attic or basement may be worth something.

Find out how to recognize their worth by attending "What's It Worth? Researching Your Collection" at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16, at Lake Prince Woods, 100 Anna Goode Way.

This free event is open to all and sponsored by the Suffolk Art League.

Emilia Penney – Speaker On the Arts for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, professional appraiser and estate specialist – will focus on the measures, criteria and resources used to evaluate items and collections. She will present ways to identify genuine heirlooms and how to use online research tools to investigate possible family treasures.

Penney will also relate her own experiences and anecdotes visiting homes, assessing collections and objects.

So, don't wait for a chance to guest on "Antiques Roadshow." Have a session with an expert right here in Suffolk.

African-American History and the Dismal Swamp

Thomas Moran, Slave Hunt, Dismal Swamp, Virginia, 1862, oil on canvas.

The Dismal Swamp was a known route and destination for freedom seekers. This route was the most rugged and treacherous route where insects, snakes, and wild animals were abundant. It was to this inhospitable place many runaways came.

While some runaways were able to blend in with free blacks, many chose to seek refuge among a colony of runaways (called maroons) in the Great Dismal Swamp. The nature of the swamp made it possible for large colonies to establish permanent refuge. It was difficult to capture a freedom seeker once they reached the swamp, although occasional trips were made to recapture runaways with specially trained dogs. Colonies were established on high ground in the swamp, where crude huts were constructed. Abundant animal life provided food and clothing. Some earned money by working for free black shingle makers, who hired maroons to cut logs.

The Dismal Swamp Canal, hand dug by hired enslaved labor, opened to navigation in 1805 after twelve years of backbreaking work under highly unfavorable conditions. This 22 mile long canal allowed trade between the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. African Americans made up thirty percent of the waterman in Camden County in the 1790s and were common sights on local waterways.

Learn more about the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom through the following brochures and visiting:

Moses Grandy

Moses Grandy was born into slavery in Camden County in 1786 and as a youth became interested in maritime occupations. As a result of his skills as a river ferryman, canal boatman, schooner deck man, and lighter captain, he became known as Captain Grandy. William Grandy, a prominent slave owner in Camden County was Moses’s first slave master. Moses was hired out to Enoch Sawyer and George Furley to tend ferry along the Pasquotank River and haul lumber in the Dismal Swamp.

A successful waterman, Moses attempted to purchase his freedom three times, but twice was cheated out of his earnings and release. Finally in 1827, Captain Edward Minner, purchased Moses and allowed him to live as a free man. Grandy repaid Captain Minner and eventually settled in Boston, where he did a variety of jobs, but was soon at sea again.

Title Page Image- North Carolina Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

In 1842 Moses sailed to London and met with abolitionist George Thompson, who penned Grandy’s life story. Proceeds from, Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy Late a Slave in the United States were used to help liberate Grandy’s enslaved relatives. Grandy’s story and other slave narratives were used by anti-slavery movements in the United States and Britain to demonstrate the cruelty of slavery. Grandy recounted his story throughout his travels and addressed the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London on June 17, 1843.

Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America

Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves.

2715 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21218

©2020 Project MUSE. Produced by Johns Hopkins University Press in collaboration with The Sheridan Libraries.

Now and Always,
The Trusted Content Your Research Requires

Now and Always, The Trusted Content Your Research Requires

Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus

Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus

©2021 Project MUSE. Produced by Johns Hopkins University Press in collaboration with The Sheridan Libraries.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.


In the late 1700s, [nb 1] Moses Grandy was born in Camden County, North Carolina, into slavery. [4] He was owned by Billy Grandy and raised with his children. [2] When he was about eight years old, Moes was inherited by James Grandy his playmate of the same age, who was his deceased master's son. [3]

His family was separated when his siblings and father were sold. His mother hid some of her children at times to prevent them from being sold. Among the people that Grandy witnessed being beaten where his mother, a pregnant women, and a 12-year-old boy, who was beaten until he died. He was subject to beatings, and not having enough to eat, he was also half-starved. [5]

1619 commemoration effort focuses on where slavery occurred, creating connections to Africa

Eric Sheppard will lead a group Saturday to the Great Dismal Swamp, where one of his enslaved ancestors piloted boats on the canal.

He’ll then take the group to James City County and an area near where the first Africans were sold into bondage.

His goal is to show people where slavery was carried out, highlighting the painful history that unfolded from the arrival of the first Africans in English North America 400 years ago and honoring, remembering and recognizing all those subjected to the practice.

The commemoration of 1619 has spurred discussions, education and commemorations big and small on the Peninsula this year, with many centered at Fort Monroe, an arrival site of the Africans brought to continent.

The 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving in English North America is on the horizon and members of a Hampton group planning local commemorative events say they’re ready.

While there are differing perspectives on where Africans first disembarked in English North America, for members.

Sheppard’s trips to the swamp in Suffolk and then to James City are a smaller-scale effort, but one he believes will make an impact.

He is seeking to turn an eye to the past on sites that are not as widely known to have a legacy in slavery while also looking at the future and deepening local connections between enslaved people who were bound to the area and their descendants here today.

Local lore has long told of escaped slaves finding refuge in the swamp and settling there permanently, forming so-called “maroon colonies,” according to Daily Press archives — in recent decades, researchers have found more and more evidence confirming the legends.

The swamp also played a role in escaped slaves fleeing to safety, leading the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge to be designated an “important landmark” on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, according to the refuge’s website.

Sheppard has a personal connection to the swamp as well. He traces his lineage to the family of Moses Grandy, a slave who helped build the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. A trail in Chesapeake bears his name.

As the settlement containing the wealthy landowners who would engage in slavery, Jamestown’s connection to the first Africans goes back nearly as far as Fort Monroe’s. Sheppard plans to bring the group to Smith Farm along the shore of the James River in the county.

This is the first time he’s organized the visits, and he hopes to make them an annual event. Eventually, he wants to expand the scope to include trips to African countries, bringing the descendants of slaves to the places from which their ancestors were taken.

For years, Sheppard and his company, Diversity Restoration Solutions, have created connections between the region and Africa — in culture and in business.

Visitors from Ghana took a civic tour of Newport News, meeting with various government officials and local businesses to learn about the city and opportunities in the agriculture, tourism and education sectors, according to the city’s newsletter.

The delegation, which visited in April, consisted.

Earlier this year, he welcomed a contingent from the Greater Accra region of Ghana to learn about civic processes and education in Newport News, including visits with city and school officials. He said the visitors were interested in career and technical education and how the city approaches economic development

Saturday, following the visits to the Great Dismal Swamp and the Smith Farm in James City, Ngosa Simbyakula, the Zambian ambassador to the United States, will speak at an expo organized by Sheppard.

The Africa Homecoming Community Expo at the Hampton Roads Convention Center will feature several vendors, storytelling, a fashion show and various family activities, according to the event website. Sheppard hopes to foster relationships through the expo that may lead to import and export opportunities between Virginia and African countries.

From his visits, Sheppard said he sees plenty of interest from small businesses in Ghana and Zambia in engaging in trade with Americans and the desire to make that happen.

He doesn’t feel the obstacle is not always resources — these are rapidly developing regions, after all — it’s often a lack of economic development relationships to make trade happen.

The expo will be 1-6 p.m. at the convention center, 1610 Coliseum Drive. Admission is $5 for attendees 13 and older. Children 12 and younger can attend for free.

Sediment core samples from Lake Matoaka on the campus of William & Mary are being studied for the types and concentrations of pollution that have affected the area for over 300 years. The lake was formed when a swampy creek area was dammed off for a grist-mill in 1700.

Sediment core samples from Lake Matoaka on the campus of William & Mary are being studied for the types and concentrations of pollution that have affected the area for over 300 years. The lake was formed when a swampy creek area was dammed off for a grist-mill in 1700.

Sediment core samples from Lake Matoaka on the campus of William & Mary are being studied for the types and concentrations of pollution that have affected the area for over 300 years. The lake was formed when a swampy creek area was dammed off for a grist-mill in 1700.

Sediment core samples from Lake Matoaka on the campus of William & Mary are being studied for the types and concentrations of pollution that have affected the area for over 300 years. The lake was formed when a swampy creek area was dammed off for a grist-mill in 1700.

The Victorious Community Day event was held in the Peninsula Town Center Saturday August 17, 2019 as a way to reach out to victims of violent crime over the past year.

The Victorious Community Day event was held in the Peninsula Town Center Saturday August 17, 2019 as a way to reach out to victims of violent crime over the past year.

Chugging water is the wrong way to hydrate. Dehydration can affect mood, concentration and overall health. But new research suggests that chugging huge amounts of water may not be the best way to hydrate. It's better to drink water while eating so that the water doesn't just pass through immediately.

Chugging water is the wrong way to hydrate. Dehydration can affect mood, concentration and overall health. But new research suggests that chugging huge amounts of water may not be the best way to hydrate. It's better to drink water while eating so that the water doesn't just pass through immediately.

CBS and Viacom agree to merge after years of discussion. After years of back-and-forth discussions, media giants CBS and Viacom will merge. The new company, ViacomCBS, will be headed by Viacom CEO Bob Bakish. Current CBS CEO Joe Ianiello will act as chairman for CBS as well as maintaining control of its assets.

CBS and Viacom agree to merge after years of discussion. After years of back-and-forth discussions, media giants CBS and Viacom will merge. The new company, ViacomCBS, will be headed by Viacom CEO Bob Bakish. Current CBS CEO Joe Ianiello will act as chairman for CBS as well as maintaining control of its assets.

Watch the video: Christy Hyman - Reconstructing Moses Grandys World: The Interplay of GIS With Enslaved Narratives