Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Books Unlocked October 2017 - Black History Month Mary Prince

Who was 

Mary Prince – the first Black woman to write an autobiography, entitled “The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave”.  Prince also became the first woman to present an Anti-Slavery petition to parliament!

Her book, published during the Abolition movement in February 1831, brought to the attention of otherwise unknowing British readers, the horrors and misery of slave life on a plantation.  Her story echoed that of hundreds of thousands of slaves who had been subject to incomprehensible abuse and hardship at the hands of cruel slave masters.  At the time, readers found Prince’s account of the relentless violence too extreme to be believable.
Her harrowing description contributed to the emancipation of British slaves after the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.
Prince chillingly recalls one of the many beatings she received from a brutal and sadistic Mr Wood - this time for marrying without permission: “She [Mrs Woods] could not forgive me for getting married, but stirred up Mr. Wood to flog me dreadfully with the horsewhip.  I thought it very hard to be whipped at my time of life for getting a husband…
Prince explains how she suffered with rheumatism, and when unable to work, was subject to the most unimaginable torture, locked in a cage and left to die.  On several occasions, Prince begged for another to buy her freedom, but Wood would not grant her this wish, as he knew, when healthy, Prince worked tirelessly.    
Around 1828, Prince was taken to London but continued to suffer ill-health - unfortunately, the belief that British air would appease her aching limbs proved only to be a myth!  However, London would eventually enable liberty as the British legal system ceased to support slavery.  Prince was able to escape ownership and persistent persecution!
She absconded to a church in Hatton Garden, finally taking refuge at the Anti-Slave Society, based in East London.
Prince ensured her freedom and used it to campaign against slavery.
Her narrative is truly distressing but a must-read to encourage appreciation of the struggle faced by Black people during the slave trade.

In October 2007 a commemorative plaque was mounted near Bloomsbury in London.

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