Slave Narratives of American Slaves Essay

The European Slave Trade concentrated on selling Africans to different parts of the Western World. Once sold as slaves, they were subjected to inhumane and brutal treatment. In order to raise voice against slavery and to abolish it, several reformers such as Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, etc emerged in order to fights against slavery. This paper seeks to discuss Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs and their impact on slavery in the lights of broad and diverse academic resources.

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano is considered to be one of the most notable and popular Africans, who actively participated in the movement to abolish the slave trade. He authored his autobiography and gave detailed and comprehensive accounts of slavery. As a young man, he was enslaved. However, he successfully bought his rights and privileges and started working as a merchant and a traveler in several regions such as United Kingdom, Artic, American colonies, etc.

Struggles in Captivity

Olaudah Equiano was born in the year 1745 in Nigeria. At the age of eleven, he and his sister were abducted and sold as slaves within their local slaveholders. However, Equiano was later sold again but this time to white Europeans, who were involved in the slave trade. Beneath the deck of the ship, the slaves were placed in a confined room, where they could bare sit. The room was small, moist and very hot and it did not have any fresh air. Equiano was whipped and severely beaten for the first time in his life when refused to eat his meal. His hands were restricted by one white man and the other one whipped him severely (Equiano, 48).

After being sold to several different people, Equiano was moved to Virginia, where he was bought by Michael Pascal. His new owner decided to assign him a new name. It should be noted that assigning new names to slaves was a common and widespread. Throughout his life, he had been given several new names but this time he retaliated and informed his owner that he would like to be known as Jacob. Olaudah Equiano asserts that his rejection and refusal earned him a cuff and that he was brutally treated and ultimately had to accept and embrace his new name.

From his narrative, Equiano has given a clear picture and illustration of the brutal treatment of slaves during that time in Virginia. His narrative gives a clear picture that slaves were severely punished and “iron muzzle” was used in order to ensure that they do not voice their opinion or eat (Equiano, 50). In such a hostile environment, he experienced fear and horror. Living in such a hostile environment, he believed that a clock was documenting his each and every move and that portraits could easily locate him.

As a slave of British Naval officer, he was trained as a seaman and he had the privilege to travel with his master (Equiano, 53). He was also an active member in the Seven Year’s War. He enjoyed being his master’s favorite and therefore he went to Britain in order to attend school. Although Equiano was given special attention, he was not awarded for his services, which he had provided in War. His owner had assured and gave him his word that he would free him. However, Equiano was not freed.

Equiano’s Freedom

Equiano was bought by Robert King, who was engaged in trade and commerce. He came from Philadelphia. In the year 1765, King made a promise to Equiano that he would free for a price of forty pounds. Furthermore, he also taught Equiano to read and write. He also assisted Equiano in religious teachings and also gave him the permission to engage himself in trade. This assisted Equiano to buy his sovereignty and freedom (Equiano, 69).

Contribution in Freeing American Slaves

After earning his freedom, Equiano went back to London for two caused. First of all, he became politically and legally active in order to illegalize slavery and the trade associated with it. In the year 1773, his friend John Annis, who was a former slave, was abducted by his previous holder. In order to tackle this issue, he went to Granville Sharp in order to save Annis. However, their attempts were unsuccessful. Although he was unsuccessful in order to save Annis, he came in contact with one of the most prominent British figures, who raised his voice against slavery (Marren, 250). In the year 1775, he went to the Caribbean coast of Central America in order to buy slaves, who worked in the plantation and “Equiano is clearly involved in this at a high level, although he is at some pains to point out that he did every thing I could to comfort the poor creatures, and render their condition easy (Marren, 265).” Along with Granville Sharp, Equiano ensured that the colony, which was to be established in the region of Sierra Leone.

It was ensured that slavery had no place. He wrote his book in order to ensure that slavery and slave trade is abolished. His book was different as compared to his contemporaries and he traveled extensively to place such as England, Wales, Ireland, etc in order to promote his book and his campaign to abolish slavery. Throughout the 1790s, he was active in campaigning against slavery (Marren, 269).

Fredrick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born in the year 1818 and is considered to be one of the most prominent personalities, who have played a major role in bringing the cruelties of white slave owners in the lime light. At the same time, he has also made attempts to justify that African Americans are not intellectually inferior to Caucasians (Douglass, Frederick, 43).

Struggles in Captivity

Frederick Douglass was separated from his mother, Harriet Bailey at birth. At the age of seven, his mother had died. His owner was Aaron Anthony, who brought him to the Wye House plantation. When his owner died, Lucretia Auld became his owner (Douglass, Frederick, 49). She treated him kindly and also taught him how to read and write. When Lucretia’s husband came to know about, he immediately expressed his disapproval and asserted that a learned slave would demand his freedom. When Douglass started working for William Freeland, he started teaching at a Sunday school on weekly basis. For a period of six months, the slaves comfortably learnt to read the New Testament. However, after some time, some plantation owners assembled and disperse the congregation of slaves permanently by means of force. At the age of sixteen, Douglass’s new owner was Edward Covey, who regularly whipped him. Under Covey’s ownership, Douglass was psychologically broken down (Douglass, Frederick, 52).


Douglass had made several attempts to run away from his slave owners. His first unsuccessful attempt was when he tried to run away from Freeland. He also tried to run away from Covey but his attempts were futile. In the year 1838, he was successful in running away, dressed as a sailor and had identification papers. He went to New York. After his narrative was published, he became very popular. In order to protect him from his owner, Douglass was sent to United Kingdom. He was an active lecturer and gave several lectures at different churches. During this trip, he became free. His British supporters bought his freedom from his owner (Lampe, 105).

Contribution in Freeing American Slaves

Once freed, Douglass frequently went to abolitionist meetings, where he was asked to speak. He narrated his story and became a lecturer of anti-slavery. He also participated in the American Anti-Slavery Society’s Hundred Convention project. He wrote his own narrative, which was published in 1845 in order to bring the prejudice and cruelty against the slaves. After returning from United Kingdom, Douglass was responsible for producing several abolitionist newspapers in attempts to wage war against slavery. He was believed that education was the only way to improve the conditions of African Americans. He also met the President Abraham Lincoln in the year 1863 (Simon, 148). He had met Lincoln in order to discuss on the issue of treatment towards African American soldiers. He also played a major role in the American civil war and argued that the war concentrated on abolishing slavery. In the year 1863, all slaves were declared to be free in all the territories, which were held by the Confederate.

Harriet Jacob

In the year 1813, Harriet Ann Jacobs was born. She is known as a orator, reformer, an American writer and an escape slave. She is the author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which was printed in the year 1861. She wrote the book under an alias and it was one of the first autobiographies, which concentrated on giving detail and in depth accounts of struggles of female slaves.

Struggles in Captivity

As a child, Harriet Jacobs lived with her mother, Delilah Horniblow. After her mother’s death, she lived with Margaret Horniblow, who was her mother’s mistress. In the year 1825, Margaret Horniblow died and Harriet was given to her niece, who was only five years old. However, Harriet came under the ownership of Dr James Norcom, the girl’s father(Shockley, 125). From here, Harriet’s problem started. Norcom was responsible for sexually assaulting and harassing Harriet and he imposed several restrictions on her. He ensured that she did not marry anyone. In order to avert Norcom’s attention, she became involved with Samuel Sawyer with whom she had two children. Norcom blackmailed Jacobs that he would sell her children if she averted his advances (Yellin, 89). In the year 1835, life became difficult from her and she escaped. In order to ensure that her children are safe, she hid herself in the home of a slave-owner. She went to Philadelphia in the year 1842, where she met the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee. In the year 1945, she went to New York.


In New York, she was united with her family. She worked as nursemaid and started a new beginning in New York. However, she still had the status of fugitive slave. In the year 1952, the husband of her legal mistress came to New York. Cornelia Grinnell Willis helped Jacobs in order to protect her. Unknown to Jacobs, Grinnell had paid about three hundreds dollars to Daniel Messamore, the husband of Harriet’s legal mistress, in order to buy her rights. She set her free in order to end the danger that surrounded Jacobs (Shockley, 159).

Contribution in Freeing American Slaves

Jacobs wrote the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in order to demonstrate the fact that slave women were subjected to extreme sexual harassment and abuse. The book concentrated on targeting the white Christian women(Shockley, 205). She openly criticized the Southern part of United States and openly declared that money was more valuable than religion. The aim of this book was to abolish slavery and declare it illegal. In the year 1862, Harriet Jacobs joined forced with the Female Anti-Slavery society and went to Philadelphia in order to support her cause. She also traveled to Washington D.C in order to assist, manage, nourish and give shelter to fugitive slaves. She also made attempts to help and bring orphan children from Virginia to Boston (Yellin, 205). She concentrated on educating freed slaves and established schools, churches, homes and hospitals for African Americans, who were freed recently. She concentrated on providing education to African Americans in order to improve their conditions.


This paper has discussed the struggles of Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. At the same time, it has also discussed their attempts and contribution in abolishing slavery.

Work Cited:

Equiano, Olaudah (2005). The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Gutenberg Project

Marren, Susan M. “Between Slavery and Freedom: The Transgressive Self in Olaudah Equiano's Autobiography”, PMLA 108 (2003)

Douglass, Frederick. The life and times of Frederick Douglass: his early life as a slave, his escape from bondage, and his complete history. Dover Value Editions, Courier Dover Publications, 2003

Lampe, Gregory P. Frederick Douglass: Freedom's Voice,. Rhetoric and Public Affairs Series. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.

Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution, New York: HarperCollins, 2006 Pbk, pp. 415-421

Shockley, Ann Allen. Afro-American Women Writers 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide, New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books, 2003. I

Yellin, Jean Fagan. Harriet Jacobs: A Life. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Basic Civitas Books, 2004.