19th century abolitionist and slave narrative literature in the Maine Women Writers Collection

Nineteenth Century Maine claims a proud tradition of the expression of abolitionist beliefs. The Maine Women Writers Collection features published and unpublished works of Maine women of the 19th century. One of the most famous of these writers, of course, is Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe's travels prior to living in Maine gave her first-hand insight into the U.S. slave trade and the operation of the underground railway.

Harriet Beecher Stowe not only wrote about those beliefs but took action to see that the injustices of slavery were brought out into the public light by the support and promotion of literature other than her own. She used her considerable influence after the worldwide success of Uncle Tom's Cabin to do so.

Her work inspired people such as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who lived in Brunswick, Maine. As a young man, he listened to her read chapters aloud from her book. Chamberlain went on to become Maine's famed Civil War General who successfully defended Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg, upholding these important beliefs.

It is of note that, during the same moment in history when women were only beginning to enjoy the freedom and the rewards of unfettered publication of their own writing, that Stowe should use those rewards to free others from slavery. She did this with grace and deference.

Stowe's introduction to this narrative of the life of Sojourner Truth begins :

"It is the history of a mind of no common energy and power, whose struggles with the darkness and inorance of slavery have a peculiar interest. The truths of Christianity seem to have come to her almost by a separate revelation, and to verify the beautiful words of Scripture, --'I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things strait.' "

Follow this link to go to a digitized version of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, courtesy of the University of Virginia's "Crossroads" Hypertext Project.

Josiah Henson

Title page of Truth Stranger Than Fiction,
Henson's narrative
The Autobiography of Josiah Henson

The introduction to this earlier autobiography states:

"The numerous friends of the author of this little work will need no greater recommendation than his name to make it welcome. Among all the singular and interesting records to which the institution of American Slavery has given rise, we know of none more striking, more characteristic and instructive, than that of JOSIAH HENSON.

Born a slave -- a slave in effect in a heathen land -- and under a heathen master, he grew up without Christian light or knowledge, and like the Gentiles spoken of by St. Paul, "without the law did by nature the things that are written in the law." ...

To the great Christian doctrine of forgiveness of enemies and the returning of good for evil, he was by God's grace made a faithful witness, under circumstances that try men's souls and make us all who read it say, "lead us not into such temptation." We earnestly commend this portion of his narrative to those who, under much smaller temptations, think themselves entitled to render evil for evil."

Follow this link for an excerpt of Henson's narrative about slave life, "Uncle Tom's Story of His Life": An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (London, 1877).

Follow this link to go to a page for Harriet Beecher Stowe and a digitized version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly.

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Copyright 2000, University of New England

last revised: November 08, 2000