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PHOTO ESSAY

Slave Narratives

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"A Fugitive Slave"  by Henry Watson.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

This 1848 narrative written by the fugitive slave Henry Watson was one of about seventy slave narratives published before the Civil War. During and after the Civil War, slave narratives became extremely popular and nearly one hundred were published before the turn of the century. Abolitionists often used the narratives as primary source material documenting why slavery should be abolished as many narratives gave frank and disturbing details about torture, slave auctions, and abhorrent living conditions. Narratives by fugitive slaves were especially popular, although there were different opinions on whether or not they should detail how to escape. Frederick Douglass, the most famous ex-slave author, was a vocal proponent against fugitive slaves detailing their escapes in writing. As soon as an escape technique became public knowledge, it ceased to be a viable option.

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