Female Slave Who Penned 1850s Novel Identified

Professor says Hannah Bond wrote 'The Bondwoman's Narrative'

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 19, 2013 11:23 AM CDT

(Newser) – A long-running literary mystery may have been solved: The Bondwoman's Narrative was published to much acclaim in 2002, but it was no modern work—the novel was believed to have been written in the 1850s by a female slave using the pseudonym Hannah Crafts. But who that author truly was, and how she managed to write a book that plucked passages from works like Jane Eyre, is a mystery that Gregg Hecimovich says has finally been solved. After a decade-long search, the South Carolina English professor this week announced that the author's name is Hannah Bond, reports the New York Times, which notes that his conclusion has been backed up by Henry Louis Gates Jr., who bought Bond's manuscript at auction in 2001.

Making use of wills, diaries, public records, and more, Hecimovich pieced together his answers: As with the book's narrator, Bond lived on a North Carolina plantation (in her case, that of John Wheeler, in Murfreesboro) where she served as a maid. She had access to the library there; further, she possibly listened as boarders from a neighboring girls school recited portions of works by Dickens. In the novel, the slave successfully flees to the North; Bond did the same, dressed as a boy, in 1857. Interestingly, Hecimovich's research indicates that a member of the Wheeler family may have given her a men's suit to assist in that escape.

Title page of 'The Bondwoman's Narrative'; it was signed by Hannah Crafts, which many believed was a pseudonym.
Title page of 'The Bondwoman's Narrative'; it was signed by Hannah Crafts, which many believed was a pseudonym.   (Wikimedia)
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