A história de Mary Prince
HISTORY OF MARY PRINCE,
A W E S T I N D I A N S L A V E.
RELATED BY HERSELF.
A história de Mary Prince foi publicada em Inglaterra em 1831, e teve três edições logo no mesmo ano. É considerado o primeiro livro de memórias escrito por uma escrava de raça preta, embora se discuta ainda o que realmente é obra dela e o que deve ser atribuído aos seus editores.
A primeira coisa que se põe em dúvida é o próprio nome, já que, segundo parece, a autora era conhecida por Molly, um derivado depreciativo de Mary. Diz-se que o pai tinha o sobrenome Prince, mas o pai não tinha importância na ascendência dos escravos, apenas a mãe. O mais correcto seria ela chamar-se Mary James, pois este era o sobrenome do marido. Seja como for, o nome literário que adoptou, ou alguém por ela, foi o de Mary Prince.
Como veremos, os contornos da sua história, tal como a lemos hoje, têm as interferências da pessoa a quem ela a ditou, Susanna Strickland (1803-1885), mais tarde a escritora Susanna Moodie, pelo casamento, e sobretudo, de Thomas Pringle (1789-1834), o seu editor entusiasta.
Segundo Sandra Paquet, um argumento a favor de fiabilidade da transcrição de Susanna Strickland, é que esta transcreveu também em casa de Pringle, The Narrative of Ashton Warner, A Native of St. Vincent’s e este tem uma escrita e um estilo completamente diferentes dos do livro de Mary Prince.
Mary Prince nasceu em 1788 numa quinta em Brackisch Pond, na Ilha Bermuda. A sua mãe era uma escrava doméstica em casa de Charles Myners; o seu pai era um lenhador, também escravo. O dono de sua mãe faleceu ainda em 1788, e Mary, sua mãe e seus irmãos foram vendidos ao Capitão Darrell, que deu Mary a sua neta, Betsy Williams. Mary diz que os anos passados com Betsy foram os mais felizes da sua vida. Quando Mary tinha 10 anos, a mãe de Batsy, Sarah, faleceu e o seu marido, o Capitão Williams vendeu a pequena Mary e seus irmãos em Spanish Point.
O Capitão John e Mary Spencer Ingham, referidos na História como Capitão e Mrs. I---- , compraram Mary por vinte libras das Bermudas. Os seus irmãos foram vendidos a outros donos. Como refere o livro, o coração de Mary ficou despedaçado com a separação de Betsy e dos seus irmãos. O Capitão Ingham batia-lhe com o chicote frequentes vezes, pendurando-a despida, pelos pulsos. Ao mesmo tempo abusava dela. Depois, era espancada por Mrs. Ingham, exasperada de ciúmes.
Com horror, viu uma escrava de nome Hetty ser espancada até à morte. Depois de ser espancada várias vezes sem razão nenhuma, Mary fugiu para junto de sua mãe, que era ainda escrava do Capitão Darrell. O Capitão Ingham foi buscá-la e não lhe bateu nos primeiros dias.
Foi sol de pouca dura. Mary padeceu chicotadas muitas vezes durante os cinco anos que ali permaneceu, até ser vendida em 1805 a Mr. D---- da ilha Turks, quando tinha 17 anos. Não se pôde despedir de sua mãe e de seus irmãos. Foi metida num barco para fazer a longa viagem de 200 milhas para norte.
Mr. D---- colocava os seus escravos a trabalhar nas salinas, com uma pá e um barril para apanhar o sal. Trabalho duro de muitas horas por dia, com as pernas metidas na água salgada. O Capitão D--- era ainda mais selvagem que os seus anteriores donos. Ali passou mais cinco anos de tormento, até 1810. Nessa altura, o Capitão D---- levou-a com ele de regresso à Ilha Bermuda e deu o negócio do sal a seu filho.
Em 1815, Mary convenceu o seu dono a vendê-la a John Adams Wood, que se ia estabelecer na Ilha Antigua. Começou a trabalhar para Mr. e Mrs. Wood, mas ficou doente com reumatismo em 1816. Nessa altura, tinha ela algum dinheiro que conseguira ganhar e quis comprar a sua liberdade. Mr. Wood não queria ouvir falar em tal.
Em 1826, quando tinha 38 anos, casou com um preto homem livre, chamado Daniel James, na Igreja Morávia. Este casamento, sem autorização dos seus donos, enfureceu Mr. e Mrs. Wood. Pouco depois, estes foram para Inglaterra e obrigaram Mary a ir com eles. Ingenuamente, ela ficou contente com a partida, pensando que o clima seria bom para o seu reumatismo. O marido ficou nas Antilhas.
Nessa altura, Mary estava semi-inválida com o reumatismo. Nos termos da Lei inglesa, era já mulher livre, mas, se regressasse às Antilhas, seria de novo escrava dos Wood. Em Inglaterra, poderia sair de casa deles, mas não tinha para onde ir.
Finalmente, em 1828, saiu de casa de Mr. Wood, depois de trabalhar para ele 13 anos. Procurou ajuda na Igreja Morávia. Contactou depois a Sociedade contra a Escravatura, de que era secretário o poeta e escritor Mr. Thomas Pringle e foi contratada por este como doméstica.
Foi então que Mr. Pringle lhe pediu para ditar as memórias dela a Susanna Strickland, tinha esta 28 anos.
Mr. Pringle fez com que a narrativa omitisse todas as referências de ordem sexual. Ele queria que o livrinho fosse (como na realidade foi) uma bandeira contra a escravatura, e por isso, a sua heroína teria de ser pura, para ser aceite na puritana Inglaterra. Foi assim omitido o facto de Mary ter sido amante durante vários anos de um certo Capitão Abbot e de um preto chamado Oyskman, um escravo libertado que lhe havia prometido a faria livre.
O livro levantou acesa polémica. Os leitores não queriam acreditar que os ingleses emigrantes no Novo Mundo fossem tão brutais como o livro os descrevia. Em seguida, apareceram no jornal Blackwood’s Magazine, artigos que Pringle considerou insultuosos. Por isso, pôs uma acção pedindo indemnização por danos morais contra o editor, Thomas Cadell. Ganhou a acção, mas a indemnização foi apenas simbólica. O julgamento teve lugar a 21 de Fevereiro de 1833.
Mr. John Woods, do seu lado, intentou uma acção contra Thomas Pringle, alegando ser falso que alguma vez tivesse maltratado Mary e que o livro continha calúnias contra ele. Pringle não conseguiu arranjar testemunhas convincentes que tivessem estado em Antigua e perdeu a acção. Embora se provasse que Mary tinha sido várias vezes chicoteada, esta era uma punição que legalmente se podia aplicar aos escravos. O julgamento deu-se em 1 de Março de 1833.
Mary Prince depôs em ambos os julgamentos e são estas as últimas notícias que temos da vida dela. Os processos desapareceram, mas ficaram-nos as extensas narrativas das audiências no TIMES, reproduzidas na edição da "História", levada a cabo por Moira Ferguson (pag. 136 e ss.).
Thomas Pringle faleceu em 5 de Dezembro de 1834.
TEXTO DO LIVRO
The University of North Carolina
University of Maryland
The New York Public Library
Wikipedia - Mary Prince
Wikipedia - Thomas Pringle (1789 – 1834)
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Universidade de Maryland - Introdução ao livro
Review - African American Review, Summer 1996, by Alice Deck
An Interview With Mary Prince
The history of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave Related by Herself, edited with an Introduction by Moira Ferguson, revised edition, 173 pag., 1997, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbour, ISBN 0-472-08410-0
The Colonial Empire of Great Britain, Letter to Earl Grey, First Lord of the Treasury, etc., etc. From James Macqueen, Esq., Glasgow, 10th October, 1831, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, November, 2.nd semester, 1831, pag. 744-765
Sandra Pouchet Paquet, The Heartbeat of a West Indian
Slave: The History of Mary Prince, in African American Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, Women Writers Issue (Spring,
1992), pp. 131-146
Brenda F. Berrian, Claiming an Identity: Caribbean
Women Writers in English, in Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Dec., 1994), pp. 200-216
Hilary McD. Beckles, Capitalism, Slavery and
Caribbean Modernity, in Callaloo, Vol. 20, No. 4, Eric Williams and the Postcolonial Caribbean: A
Special Issue (Autumn, 1997), pp. 777-789
Barbara Baumgartner, The Body as Evidence: Resistance, Collaboration, and Appropriation in "The History of Mary Prince", in Callaloo, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Winter, 2001), pp. 253-275
Gillian Whitlock, Merry Christmas, Mary Prince, in Biography - Volume 26, Number 3, Summer 2003, pp. 440-442
Stephan Meyer, Gillian Whitlock. The Intimate Empire: Reading Women's Autobiography. London: Cassell, 2000. 256 pp. ISBN 0-304-70600-0, (review), in Biography - Volume 24, Number 3, Summer 2001, pp. 639-644
Sue Thomas, Pringle v. Cadell and Wood v. Pringle: The Libel Cases over The History of Mary Prince, in Journal of Commonweal Literature, 2005, VOL 40; NUMB 1, pages 113-136, Great Britain, ISSN 0021-9894
A. M. Rauwerda, Queen’s University, Naming, Agency, and "A tissue of falsehoods" in the History of Mary Pierce, Victorian Literature and Culture (2001), 29: 397-411 Cambridge University Press
'They bought me as a butcher would a calf or a lamb'
Mary Prince, a slave, was the first black woman to publish an account of her life in Britain - an account so brutal that few believed it. Now she is finally being celebrated, writes Sara Wajid
Friday October 19, 2007
Mary Prince may have been the only Caribbean woman ever to come to Britain hopeful about the weather. It was 1828, and a myth was circling the empire that the English air could heal rheumatism. Luckily, her other hope, that she be free from slavery here, had some basis in reality.
This year is, of course, the bicentenary of the act that sought to abolish the transatlantic slave trade, and the anniversary has marked a renewed interest in Prince, the abolitionist and first black woman to publish an account of her life in Britain - The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, 1831. This month a Mary Prince commemorative plaque is being mounted in Bloomsbury (where she once lived) and a new slavery gallery, opening at the Museum in Docklands, recognises her as an author who "played a crucial role in the abolition campaign". A fictionalised Prince also appears as the love interest in Bridgetower, a new jazz opera about the 18th-century black musician George Bridgetower.
Born in Brackish Pond, Bermuda, in 1788, Prince and her siblings were raised by her adoring mother until she was 12. Her mother worked as a household slave to a family called Williams, and Mary wrote that she "was made quite a pet of by Miss Betsey [the Williams's child, who] used to lead me about by the hand, and call me her little nigger". When the Williamses fortunes changed, Mary's devastated mother took her to the market to be sold. Mary "was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or a lamb he was about to purchase".
For the next 15 years, Mary was passed between brutal owners ("from one butcher to another") across the Caribbean Islands. Then, in 1815, she was bought by the sadistic John Wood, a white Caribbean man. He and his family took her to Antigua and, in 1826, through her Moravian Church, she met and married Daniel James, a free carpenter.
She had not asked permission to marry and was horsewhipped for this insurrection. The Woods abused her in other ways too: locking her in a cage and beating her, and leaving her to die in an outhouse when her rheumatism prevented her from working for some months. She was saved by a neighbour. Despite essentially condemning her to death, the Woods refused Prince's requests to buy her freedom. They didn't want to lose someone who, when well, was such a phenomenally hard worker.
And so, in 1828, Prince accompanied them to London, hopeful that the air might improve her rheumatism and that she might be able to return to her husband a free woman. Prince's limbs quickly seized up in the new climate and she was unable to wash laundry, enraging Mrs Wood, who threatened to throw her on to the streets. Prince wrote that she "stood a long time before I could answer, for I knew that I was free in England, but did not know where to go, or how to get my living". She escaped from the Woods in the same year she arrived in the UK, making it to the Moravian missionary church in Hatton Garden and then to the Anti-Slavery society in Aldermanbury, east London. There she learned that, although free in London, if she returned to her beloved husband in Antigua, it would have to be as the Woods' property.
A petition to parliament for her to return to the "West Indies not as a slave" failed, as did all attempts by the abolitionists who took up her cause to convince the Woods to sell Mary her freedom. The History was published in 1831 by her new abolitionist employer, Mr Pringle, so that, in Prince's words, "good people in England might hear from a slave what a slave had felt and suffered". It ran to three editions and almost immediately provoked two court cases. First, in February 1833, Pringle successfully sued the publisher of a magazine that ran an article damning the book. A month later, though, Wood himself brought a libel case against Pringle, which he won.
At the time, readers found the account of the relentless violence against Prince too extreme to be believable. So much so that Mrs Pringle wrote to one doubting women's group (the Birmingham Society for Relief of Negro Slaves) confirming that she had inspected Mary and the "whole of the back part of her body is distinctively scarred . . . chequered with the vestiges of severe floggings".
For Gretchen Gerzina, author of Black London, Prince represents "the tip of the iceberg". Shocking though the details are, Gerzina says it is the record, rather than the story it contains, that is unusual. "As far as slave narratives go," she notes, "it is a familiar story." The History is a particularly important document because there were far fewer black women than men in Britain at this time.
Jak Beula, founder of Nubian Jak, the organisation behind the Mary Prince plaque, says Prince has always been overlooked because she is an awkward heroine. "History has a problem with her as a genuine heroine because she wasn't educated and was very obviously reliant on the anti-slavery movement to represent her - unlike someone such as Mary Seacole, who was a self-made woman. She may not have been a poster girl for women's independence, but," he insists passionately, "she's an extraordinary symbol of tenacity and resilience."
In fact, research by Sarah Salih, editor of the most recent edition of Prince's book, suggests that Mary was not the passive victim that she sometimes seems in her account. Prince's ghost writer, Susanna Strickland, subtly tailored the book to suit the abolitionist cause. At the libel court case brought by Mr Wood, in March 1833, though, Prince appeared as a witness and talked in detail about her seven-year sexual relationship with a Captain Abbot and "Oyskman - a freedman".
Strickland had omitted these passages because, according to Salih's introduction, "it was important for the anti-slavery society to present Prince as sexually pure". Salih points to examples throughout the account of Prince's resistance (marrying without permission and repeatedly defending herself and others, physically and verbally). She concludes: "Far from passively accepting the punishments meted out to her, Mary Prince protested against her treatment at every available opportunity. Her History is a culmination of this protest"
Sara Wajid is editor of Untold London.
October 2007, 26
Slave girl's bravery remembered
By Caroline Mallan
The true account of a young slave girl's life of torture and degradation galvanized Britain's abolitionist movement when it was first published in 1831.
Now, more than 200 years after she was born into a Bermudian slave family, Mary Prince's unique contribution to ending slavery is being recognised with a plaque in her honour.
The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, her autobiographical story of savage beatings, servitude and being left for dead, created a sensation when it was released.
Unrelenting in its brutality, it was the first published account of slavery by a black woman.
"To strip me naked, to hang me up by the wrists and lay my flesh open with the cow skin, was an ordinary punishment for even a slight offence," she wrote of her routine whippings at the age of 12 by her mistress in Bermuda.
"And there was scarcely any punishment more dreadful than the blows received on my face and head from her hard heavy fist," she said.
The beatings left her entire body scarred.
After being bought and sold by a string of increasingly vicious owners, Mary - born in 1788 - was moved around the Caribbean and then brought to London in 1828 where she soon fled her owners with the help of a local church.
She went on to find shelter and work in the home of abolitionist writer Thomas Pringle.
To a friend of the writer - who transcribed and edited the memoir - she relayed her story of pain, endurance and hope.
It soon became a cause celebre in London society.
The book details how, in Antigua, she became too crippled with arthritis to work and her owners locked her in a cage and left her to die.
A neighbour's slave took pity on her and secretly fed and nursed her, restoring not just her health but her remarkable faith in others.
In her 40s, and with only minimal literacy, her straight-forward record painted a stark, often gruesome picture of slave owners that reinvigorated the lobby for full abolition.
Many details were so shocking they caused some to doubt their veracity even though it is believed her ghost writer toned down some of the worst aspects of the sexual abuse she faced.
While the lucrative trans-Atlantic British slave trade was banned in 1807, slavery across the British Empire was not abolished until 1833.
In England, common law prohibiting the ownership of slaves was first established in 1772.
Labour MP Diane Abbott said that, as a black woman in those times, Mary took a tremendous gamble in speaking out.
"She put herself at risk by telling her story and it's very important that we remember the slaves who took part in the struggle to abolish the slave trade," said Ms Abbott, who will attend the ceremony to dedicate the plaque in Mary's memory.
The location of the plaque - at University of London's Senate House - is the site of the house where she lived in 1829.
The Nubian Jak Community Trust, the group behind recent plaques dedicated to reggae singer Bob Marley and slave turned writer Ignatius Sancho, is responsible for the plaque.
The trust's Jak Buela conducted extensive research into the story of Mary Prince.
"Mary Prince was an unsung hero of the movement to abolish slavery," Mr Buela said.
Nothing is known of Mary's life after 1833.
It is thought she may have returned to Antigua to rejoin her husband Daniel James, a slave who had bought his freedom.
Marking the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade