Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Virginia Slave Narratives": a notebook of interviews with former slaves taken in the 1930's, sold at Bacon's Castle

Last Sunday I bought an unusual workbook at Bacon’s Castle, a historical attraction in southern Virginia described on my Issues Blog, Dec. 16.

The booklet is “Virginia Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in Virginia from Interviews with Former Slaves”, from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938 (now sponsored by the Library of Congress), published by Applewood Books in Bedford, MA.  The ISBN is 1-55705-025-4.

The book comprises photocopies of typewritten (and sometimes cursive) manuscripts of interviews with former slaves (called “informants”).  There are 55 numbered pages, and then 29 pages of appendix, including a glossary of slang terms.

The earliest excerpt describes a little of Nat Turner’s Slave Revolt at Jerusalem (now Courtland), in which slaves actually killed white owners (see the same blog posting).
The postings described the drudgery of slave life, in almost unintelligible English, with no hope of change.  One slave describes an owner who was kindler, and allowed Sundays off and sometimes dinner in the mansion.  Slaves describe having to ask for permission to marry.   

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