November 20, 2011
Comparisons between Henry Brown and Harriet Wilson
Henry Brown and Harriet Wilson are two of the earliest known published black writers in this country’s history. Their tales are from a rather unfortunate and frankly, ugly era in American history. While they each are from different areas and even backgrounds, (Henry Brown was born into slavery in Virginia, while Harriet Wilson was born free in New Hampshire, but later abandoned into indentured servitude as a child), many of the occurrences and events in their lives are uniquely different yet, some are very similar at the same time.
According to “Narrative of the life of Henry Box Brown”, Henry brown was born into slavery in Richmond, Virginia in 1815 (Brown, p. 15). As a baby, he had no choice as to what type of life he could live. His life was already chosen for him by his parent’s owners. He describes the day of his birth as such: “…tyrants (slave owners)… stood by the couch of my mother and as I entered into the world, before I had done anything to forfeit my right to liberty, and while my soul was yet undefiled by the commission of actual sin, stretched forth their bloody arms and branded me with the mark of bondage, and by such means I became their own property.” (Brown, pp. 15-16). In contrast, according to “Our Nig-Sketches from the Life of a Free Black”, Harriet Wilson was born into somewhat of a circumstance not of her choosing, but not nearly as unfortunate as Henry’s circumstance. All the names of significant characters in the autobiographical novel were changed. Harriet Wilson, or Frado, was one of “two pretty mulattos” (Our Nig, p. 14) born to Mag Smith, a white woman, and Jim, a black man. Aside from the obvious social distaste for interracial relationships and the children those relationships bore, Frado wasn’t completely misfortunate, at least, until her father passed away. Mag devises an unfathomable plan with her new husband, Seth Shipley, to...