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Mary prince first edition frontpage

Cover for the first edition of her book

Mary Prince (17881833?) was a Bermudian woman, born into slavery in Brackish Pond. Her parents were both slaves: her father was a sawyer owned by David Trimmingham, and her mother a house-servant of Charles Myners.

When Myners died in 1788, Prince and her mother were sold as household servants to Captain Darrell, who gave Prince to his granddaughter, Betsey Williams. When she was 12, Prince was sold again to Captain John Ingham, of Spanish Point, but never took easily to the indignities of her enslavement and she was often flogged. As a punishment, Prince was sold to another Bermudian, probably Robert Darrell, who sent her in 1806 to Grand Turks, which Bermudians had used seasonally for a century for the extraction of salt from the ocean. Salt was a pillar of the Bermudian economy, but could not easily be produced in Bermuda, where the only natural resource were the Bermuda cedars used for building ships. The industry was a cruel one, however, with the salt rakers forced to endure exposure not only to the sun and heat, but also to the salt in the pans, which ate away at their uncovered legs.

Mary returned to Bermuda in 1810, but was sold to John Wood in 1818, and sent to Antigua to be a domestic slave. She joined the Moravian church and, in December 1826, she married Daniel James, a former slave who had bought his freedom and worked as a carpenter and cooper. For this impudence, she was severely beaten by her master.

In 1828, Wood took her as a servant to London. Although slavery was illegal in Britain, she had no means to support herself, and could not have returned to her husband without being re-enslaved. She remained with Wood until they threw her out. She took shelter with the Moravian church in Hatton Garden. Within a few weeks, she had taken employment with Thomas Pringle, an abolitionist writer, and Secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society. Pringle arranged for her narrative to be copied down by Susanna Strickland and it was published in 1831 as the "The History of Mary Prince", the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in England. The book had a galvanizing effect on the anti-slavery movement. Scandalised by its account, John Wood sued the publishers for libel, but his case failed. Subsequent attempts were made to tarnish Mary Prince's reputation, particularly by James MacQueen and James Curtin, both supporters of slavery. In turn, she and her publisher sued for libel, which suit they won.

Prince remained in England until about 1833.

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