Award to Prof. William Gleason supports purchase of A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery (London, 1837)

Figures • Upper: Title and price stamped in gilt on front cover. Middle: Title page with verses from William Cowper’s “The Task,” book II, lines 40-45, first published in 1785.
Bottom: Illustrated pages (19 and 51). Click on thumbnail for full-size view.

Call number for the book: (Ex) 2007-1634N

The Library has recently purchased the rare first edition of an important American slave narrative with funds provided by the President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching, At Commencement 2006, Prof. William Gleason of the Department of English received the award, which included a portion for Library purchases. He directed the book portion go toward acquiring Moses Roper’s Narrative, first published in London in 1837. Graphic and poignant, the text went through several editions before the Civil War, then was not reprinted again until 1969 when it appeared in the Rhistoric Publications (Philadelphia) Afro-American History series. The text remains in print today.

A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery (1837) gave the antislavery movement in England and America exactly what it wanted—a hard-hitting tour of slavery as a visitation of hell on earth, conducted by someone who had seen and suffered it all but who had survived to tell his story in a manner likely to evoke both credence and sympathy. The British clergyman who wrote the preface to Roper’s narrative solicited curious and prurient readers by promising them a kind of pious pornography: “There is no vice too loathsome—no passion too cruel or remorseless, to be engendered by this horrid system [of slavery]. It brutalizes all who administer it, and seeks to efface the likeness of God, stamped on the brow of its victims. It makes the former class demons, and reduces the latter to the level of brutes.” The twenty-two-year-old author of the Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper delivered what his white antislavery sponsors desired. The first scene of Roper’s Narrative details in a shocking but deadpan manner how the author, born in Caswell County, North Carolina, the son of his master and one of his master’s slaves, barely escaped death at the hands of his master’s enraged wife. Light-skinned and cooperative as a boy, Moses was trained for the comparatively mild duties of a domestic slave. But when he was sold to a South Carolina cotton planter whom Roper identifies only as Mr. Gooch, teenaged Moses was put to work in the fields, where he was subjected to floggings almost daily. Roper’s portrait of Gooch as an unmitigated sadist gave American antislavery literature the first example of what would become in Stowe’s horrendous creation Simon Legree a distillation of all that black America despised in the arrogant Anglo-Saxon: brutality, violence, hypocrisy, and tyranny.” — William L. Andrews, “General Introduction” to North Carolina Slave Narratives (Chapel Hill, 2003), p.5-7.