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Prince-Warner slave story is a bestseller

  • Sold out: Two Slave Narratives

The latest edition of the story of former Bermudian slave Mary Prince, whose classic account was a bestseller of the abolition era, has proved a hot book once again.

Staff at the Bookmart said the new edition, which includes a long-forgotten companion piece from fellow ex-slave Ashton Warner, has sold out its first run of 30 copies.

A fresh shipment of copies is on the way to the bookstore, part of the Brown & Co store on Hamilton’s Front Street.

Ms Prince’s chronicle overturned the myth that slavery on the island was benign compared with elsewhere.

Mr Warner died of pneumonia as his story went to print as a pamphlet in 1831 — and his story remained unpublished until the latest edition from The Tecumseh Press in Ottawa, Canada.

• From The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave

On arrival at the Spanish Point home of Captain Ingham, her enslaver: “The house was large, and built at the bottom of a very high hill; but I could not see much of it that night. I saw too much of it afterwards. The stones and the timber were the best things in it; they were not so hard as the hearts of the owners.”

Prince after Hetty, a pregnant fellow slave, died after a heavy flogging: “All the slaves said that death was a good thing for poor Hetty; but I cried very much for her death. The manner of it filled me with horror ... After Hetty died all her labours fell upon me, in addition to my own.”

Prince was sold several times, and in 1815 went to the home of John Adams Wood in Antigua. She joined the Moravian Church — and, in 1826, she married Daniel James, a former slave: “When Mr Wood heard of my marriage, he flew into a great rage, and sent for Daniel, who was helping to build a house for his old mistress. Mr Wood asked him who gave him a right to marry a slave of his?

“My husband said: ‘Sir, I am a free man, and thought I had a right to choose a wife; but if I had known Mary was not allowed to have a husband, I should not have asked her to marry me’.

“Mrs Wood was more vexed about my marriage than her husband. She could not forgive me for getting married, but stirred up Mr Wood to flog me dreadfully with the horsewhip.

“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.”

• From The Narrative of Ashton Warner

Warner said he decided to publish his account after he heard the experiences of other slaves: “To their simple and affecting narratives I could not listen unmoved. The voice of truth and nature prevailed over my former prejudices. I beheld slavery unfolded in all its revolting details; and, having been thus irresistibly led to peruse the authentic accounts of the real character and effects of the system, I resolved no longer to be an accomplice in its criminality, though it were only by keeping silence regarding it.”

Warner grew up in the belief he was a free black in Kingston, the capital of St Vincent — but he was seized into slavery at the age of 10 by James Wilson, a plantation owner who disputed the terms of his manumission: “Mr Wilson insisted that I was a slave, and his slave, and he would have it so, in spite of my mother’s tears and my aunt’s entreaties. My poor mother was greatly distressed, and cried very bitterly. She entreated Mr Wilson, if he thought he had a just claim to me, to put me in jail till the question as to my freedom could be fairly settled; but he refused to do this, and when she continued her entreaties he grew angry, and ordered her not to stop in the yard, but to go away directly.”

Warner also outlined the brutality of the plantation: “I have seen people who were so sick that they could scarcely stand, stagged out of the sick-house, and tied up to a tree, and flogged in a shocking manner; then driven with the whip to the work. I have seen slaves in this state crawl away, and lie down among the wet trash to get a little ease, though they knew that it would most likely cause their death.”

On slavery: “It is not from what I have suffered in my own body as a slave, that I wish to publish this narrative, for I was better off than thousands of my poor countrymen ­— but I wished to relate not only my own case, but also all that I knew of slavery ... in the hope that it may help to make known the conditions of the poor Negroes to the English people, and stir them up to do away with slavery altogether.”