| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Harriet E. Wilson
For many decades, Our Nig; Or, Sketches From The Life of A Free
Black, In A Two-Story White House, North. Showing That Slavery’s Shadows Fall
Even There By “Our Nig.”, by Mrs. H. E. Wilson, was a book consigned to a
literary limbo. Known to researchers and bibliographers in African American
literature, it was generally thought to be the work of a white author, perhaps
even a male writer. The virtually complete lack of any contemporary reference
to its publication or its existence remains a continuing mystery.
probably a work of fiction, is certainly the thinly disguised autobiographical
account of a young girl of mixed race growing to womanhood as an indentured
servant in pre-Civil War New England. Her black father dead, Alfrado, called
Frado, is abandoned by her mother to the care of the large and well-to-do
Bellmont family. The Bellmonts are ruled by a brutal matriarch, Frado’s constant
antagonist, whose violent physical and emotional assaults against her young
charge succeed in breaking her body but not her spirit. The racist Mrs.
Bellmont is not Frado’s only problem, however; even the sympathetic and
occasionally anti-slavery characters are of little help to her.
Still, consoled and
nurtured by certain sympathetic members of the household, Frado at last serves
out her time and at age eighteen is thrown upon her own limited resources to
make her way in the larger world. An unfortunate marriage, the birth of a child
she must support essentially on her own, and early widowhood leave Frado as
narrator/protagonist to appeal to her readers to aid her cause by forwarding
the sale of her account.
An intriguing mix of certain nineteenth-century
literary modes and techniques, Our Nig incorporates aspects of
abolitionist protest writing, sentimental fiction, and introspective
autobiography. Most important, identified as the work of Harriet E. Adams
Wilson, it stands as the earliest known novel published in the United States by
a black writer; it has, since its reprinting, received the recognition and
scholarly attention it was due as a founding and powerful text of African
In the Heath Anthology
Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black
Chapter IV: "A Friend for Nig"
Chapter X: "Perplexities—Another Death"
Chapter XII: "The Winding Up of the Matter"
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Harriet Wilson's Our Nig
The complete hypertext edition of Wilson's book.
Perspectives in American Literature
A substantive bibliography of secondary materials.
Voices from the Gaps
A biography, criticism, a bibliography, links, and a scan of the first page of Wilson's Our Nig.
Wilson, Harriet E. Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black
Another complete etext, this one provides frontmatter scans.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "Introduction" to 1983 edition of Our Nig
Barbara A. White, "'Our Nig' and the She-Devil: New Information About Harriet Wilson and the 'Bellmont' Family," American Literature, 1993