Reclaiming Histories of Enslavement in the Maritime Atlantic and a Curriculum: The History of Mary Prince
I combined History, Geography, Gender Studies, Literature, and Education in the approach leading to my Interdisciplinary PhD. The title of my non-traditional dissertation is “Reclaiming Histories of Enslavement from the Maritime Atlantic and a Curriculum: The History of Mary Prince.”
Bermuda-born Mary Prince (1787/1788-after 1833) is the earliest known black woman to relate a slave narrative. Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself was published in 1831. Prince was named Bermudian National Hero in 2012.
Five successive Bermudian slave owners owned Mary Prince. Although Bermuda-born, Prince also lived in two West Indian colonies--Grand Turk Island and Antigua--and in London, England. In a self-emancipatory act when in London, in 1828, she walked out her fifth slave-owner's door and was a free woman. She then joined the ranks of London abolitionists, working with radical thinkers and activists of the day.
Prince is the storyteller of a collaborative storytelling, compiling and editing team that published The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself at the height of the Abolitionist movement. She told her story to Susanna Strickland (later Moodie), who wrote it down. Thomas Pringle, the secretary of London's Anti-Slavery Society, financed and edited the project.
Prince's The History of Mary Prince, and a companion slave narrative created by the same team, but with Ashton Warner as storyteller, worked together to attract English readers to Abolition. Warner's Negro Slavery Described by a Negro: Being the Narrative of Ashton Warner, a Native of St. Vincent's was published in March 1831, on the heels of Prince's The History of Mary Prince. I suggest that the two narratives operate as a duology and should be read together.
I decided to take up a study of Mary Prince in 2008, after visiting the rubble of a derelict slave dwelling on Grand Turk Island, British West Indies, where it is said Prince was locked up nightly with other slaves. It was then that I made a commitment to authenticate the historical dimensions of Prince's story of enslavement and emancipation, and to disseminate my findings to readers of all ages.
Since 2008, I have travelled to Bermuda, Antigua, and London (UK), where I checked archives and visited places associated with Prince. I have also been to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to view the Moravian Church Archives of the Eastern West Indies (Prince was an adherent of the Moravian doctrine).
Many structures related to Prince's story still stand. In some instances, the elders of the territories I visited knew about them. In others, they did not, but with their assistance I was able to find them. The key to success was collaboration.
Through my research, I have compiled a list of sites related to Mary Prince, and I have created a new timeline of her life's major events. I conclude that she did not die in London, during or after 1833, which is commonly thought to be the case. I suggest that she returned to Antigua during the autumn of 1833, after the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act had passed.
Although I make several contributions to the fields of History, Geography, and Literature as part of this project, I was previously a teacher, and my dissertation is also strongly rooted in Education. Based on my research, I created a curriculum about colonial slavery and Mary Prince for high-school-aged students. Related to this curriculum is a pedagogical theory about how to open historical consciousness.
The curriculum also focuses on creolization, and theorizes about how we might teach this important concept of identity. Creolization, which is about human complexity, rids us of notions of purity. To support this curriculum, I created a website, maryprince.org. The website includes over 50 resources, such as primary and secondary sources, suggested activities, and short explanatory pieces.