The University of Wisconsin Press

Biography / Autobiography / African American Studies / American History

The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb
An American Slave
Henry Bibb
With a new introduction by Charles J. Heglar

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

"Invaluable to students and scholars of the slave narrative tradition and of the broader African American literary tradition."—Christopher De Santis, author of Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender

"I was brought up in [Kentucky]. Or, more correctly speaking, I was flogged up; for where I should have received moral, mental, and religious instruction I received stripes without number, the object of which was to degrade and keep me in subordination. I have been dragged down to the lowest depths of human degradation and wretchedness, by Slaveholders."—Henry Bibb

First published in 1849 and largely unavailable for many years, The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb is among the most remarkable slave narratives. Born on a Kentucky plantation in 1815, Bibb first attempted to escape from bondage at the age of ten. He was recaptured and escaped several more times before he eventually settled in Detroit, Michigan, and joined the antislavery movement as a lecturer.

Bibb's story is different in many ways from the widely read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. He was owned by a Native American; he is one of the few ex-slave autobiographers who had labored in the Deep South (Louisiana); and he writes about folkways of the slaves, especially how he used conjure to avoid punishment and to win the hearts of women. Most significant, he is unique in exploring the importance of marriage and family to him, recounting his several trips to free his wife and child. This new edition includes an introduction by literary scholar Charles Heglar and a selection of letters and editorials by Bibb.

"Bibb's compelling narrative of escape and recapture, of love and renunciation, is virtually unique in the annals of the slave narrative. Bibb offers a striking self-portrait of a man caught between two worlds, a slave past that he could not cast off or forget, and a future in freedom to which he urgently desired to commit himself. Bibb's dilemmas touch our sympathies in ways that Frederick Douglass, who seemed to assimilate and succeed in the North without so much as a longing look backward, does not move us." —William L. Andrews, coeditor of the Library of America anthology Slave Narratives.

Charles Heglar is assistant professor of English at the University of South Florida.

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December 2000
240 pp.   5 1/2 x 8 1/2
21 b/w drawings

The cloth edition ISBN 978-0-299-16890-2 is currently out of print.

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"This new edition will be invaluable to students and scholars of the slave narrative tradition and of the broader African American literary tradition. Demonstrating sound scholarship and an eye for detail, Heglar's introduction shows how Bibb's story diverges from other slave narratives in its emphasis on the importance of the slave family."
—Christopher De Santis, author of Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender

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