“The first lick from Mr. Peterkin laid my back open. I writhed, I wrestled; but blow after blow descended, each harder than the preceding one. I shrieked, I screamed, I pleaded, I prayed, but here no mercy shown me. Mr. Peterkin having fully gratified and quenched his spleen, turned to Mr. Jones and said 'Now is yer turn; you can beat her as much as you please, only jist leave a bit o'life in her, is all I cares for.”
Autobiography of a Female Slave (1857) is a historically influential anti-slavery narrative by Martha Griffith Brown that was first published anonymously. It only includes the author’s name after her death in 1906. Despite its title, it is only a fictional autobiography and not drawn from an actual slave’s life. In fact, the author was a white slave owner who supported the abolition movement. Griffith, born in Kentucky but later moved to Philadelphia, inherited six slaves and wrote this book to help finance her effort to emancipate and help them settle in a free territory. Her awareness of the daily lives of the slaves and her first-hand experiences with them helped her create a fictional story based on well-known facts. In this book, she purposely poses as a black slave to bring attention to the subject of slavery as well as the injustices and cruelty that the slaves are exposed to.
Written in a first-person narrative, Ann, who is a former servant woman, recalls events of her life from being taken into the home of her first mistress to being sold to other slave owners and experiencing different conditions of slavery. Her first owner was a kind-hearted woman who invested time to educate her, but although her mistress professed to love her dearly, she condemned any suggestions of freeing her. After her owner’s death, Ann was sold to a cruel plantation owner, Mr. Peterkin. Ann became the servant of one of Mr. Peterkin’s daughters, Jane. At her new household, she was treated inhumanely and often subjected to brutal punishments. Following Mr. Peterkin’s death, Miss Jane brought Ann with her to the city where she first experienced real friendship and fell in love with another slave, Henry, who at the time was working to buy out his freedom. Tragically, Henry committed suicide after being cheated out of his self-purchase, unable to bear the pain of deceit he exclaimed, “I am sold; but I shall be a slave no more” (p. 389). Ann was finally emancipated by an elderly woman who bought her and she finishes her story as she sails north spending the rest of her free life teaching black children.
This special edition includes notes and comments, an art from the 1957 publication, a photograph of author Martha Griffith Browne and background of her life, an overview of the history of slavery in the United States (Appendix A), and a detailed chronology of slavery in the United States and how Martha Griffith Browne helped shape that history (Appendix B). The book also comes with a complete index and table of contents which is missing from earlier publications. This is the only one now in print of the number of pseudo-slave narratives that appeared over the course of the abolitionist movement.