1858 Memoir by Black Inmate Found at Estate Sale

Yale acquires it, says it's the earliest such book on record

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 12, 2013 7:06 PM CST

(Newser) – Someone poking around an estate sale in Rochester, NY, stumbled across an 1858 manuscript that has turned out to own a small niche in history—it's the earliest known prison memoir written by an African-American, reports the AP. Yale has acquired the 304-page memoir, titled The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, and shed some light on its origins, reports the New York Times. The author is Austin Reed—though he wrote the book as Robert Reed—who was thought to have been born a free man around Rochester. He spent a stretch from the 1830s to the 1850s in prison in nearby Auburn.

"Finding any new text by an African-American author of the 19th century is significant, but this memoir has so much to say about captivity, freedom, and human rights," says a Yale professor getting it ready for publication. "It is a truly remarkable discovery." Here's a taste, in which Reed talks about a brutal punishment doled out to him: (The text has some spelling errors.)

  • "Stripping off my shirt the tyrantical curse bounded my hands fast in front of me and ordered me to stand around. Turning my back towards him he threw sixty seven lashes on me according to the orders of Esq. Cook. I was then to stand over the dreain while one of the inmates was my back in a pail of salt brine."

This photo released by Yale University shows the title page and opening chapter of "The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict."   (AP Photo/Yale University)
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