Throughout the course of history most scholars have not touched upon the thoughts, behavior and actions of the enslaved black woman. They have been inclined to concentrate on the opposite gender. There could be many reasons for this phenomenon such as this field of study traditionally being dominated by men or simply because male accounts were infused with more active resistance, such as physical struggle, which is much more dramatic than refuting despicable circumstances by passivity or silence. The ironic thing is a black female slave most certainly endured more emotional hardship than their male counterparts and in The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Related by Herself this situation, which is often been overlooked, is clearly and definitively depicted by Prince’s continued struggle for freedom so she can enjoy familial ties just like her white captors.
Until she was 12 years old Prince did not fathom the true ramifications of her situation because she was the “pet” of her owner, the young girl Miss Betsey Williams, but when Mr. Williams decided to sell his slaves to finance his second marriage, Prince was jolted into reality by being torn from her entire family. It was at that moment the young girl comprehended that she was only property and was not considered to possess emotions because of the color of her skin. “slavery hardens white people’s hearts towards the blacks.”
This conclusion was hammered home when Prince witnessed her mother’s anguish at the loss of her children and compounded by her own devastation at losing her loved ones. She describes her mother’s outpouring of emotion after having to “carry my little chickens to market” and her own thoughts after assessing what was transpiring at the scene. That is when the young girl ascertained all of the white spectators gave not a second thought to “…the pain that wrought the heart of the Negro woman and her young ones.” Clearly there would be no aid or empathy for the destruction of Prince’s family as “the great God above alone knows the thoughts of the poor slave’s heart and the bitter pains which follow such separations as these.”
Obviously Prince suffers through beatings, degradation on a vast scale and intense humiliation, but she never responds to her domination physically or verbally although her main goal in life is to obtain her freedom. An example of this is her illicit marriage to Daniel James after being expressly forbidden to ever enter into the bonds of matrimony for she was no longer concerned with “the power which the white people’s law” controlled her. This shows how important the bonds of home and hearth were to black slave women and that Prince was dead set on making choices for her own personal happiness despite her lot. She would persist in deciding important matters for herself no matter what rules were laid out for her or the consequences should her marriage be discovered.
Even after she gained in freedom while in England, Prince refused to return to her homeland or her husband because she would remain a slave under their jurisdiction. No matter how badly she wanted to reunite with the man she loved, Prince realized she could only do so as a free woman in the eyes of the law because her children would be born into the institution and she could not bear the thought of that. Especially after her own experience, so again, she sacrificed and silently rebelled against slavery so that she would not contribute to its contributed existence through bearing her own progeny in that scenario. “I have been a slave-I have felt what a slave feels and I know what a slave knows” “hear from a slave what a slave had felt and suffered” “…till all the poor blacks be given free and slavery done up for evermore.”
The annals of history have overlooked the voice of the enslaved black female, but Prince’s narrative evocatively and succinctly illustrates women struggled just as much as men for their freedom. In fact, their battle, although passive, carried more weight, was wrought with emotion and more determination than if they engaged in physical means for they were the cornerstone of home and hearth so their form of resistance was one of much greater import and possibly effectiveness.
- The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave. F. Westley and A.H. Davis (eds). 1831.