The Hermit of Massachusetts and Other Selected Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922
The April release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes autobiographies by slaves as well as by an abolitionist, a detailed description of the Yoruba people of West Africa, and much more.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1816)
By Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano’s story includes his kidnapping in Africa, the horrors of a slave ship, and his wonderment at snow upon his arrival in England. He goes on to describe how he survived a naval battle, a shipwreck in the West Indies, and two earthquakes. Equiano’s autobiography is an adventure tale fit for Hollywood.
Life and Adventures of Robert, the Hermit of Massachusetts, Who Has Lived 14 Years in a Cave, Secluded from Human Society (1829)
By Robert Voorhis
The tale told by Robert Voorhis in his autobiography is as intriguing as Olaudah Equiano’s, and, if possible, more tragic. As a child, Voorhis was taken from his family and sold into slavery. As an adult, he was deceived by a man who offered to “purchase” him, while allowing him to make payments toward his freedom. However, several years and many payments later, Voorhis was again wrenched from his family, now his wife and children, and again sold as a slave.
The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa; Their Religion, Manners, Customs, Laws, Languages, etc. (1894)
By Alfred Burdon Ellis
This ethnographic examination of the West African Yoruba people provides extensive descriptions of their primary gods, minor gods, and various other superstitions. The author also describes the remarkable method of the Tshi-tribe to measure time: because the lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, each week is seven days and about nine hours long; thus, “each week commences at a different hour of the day.” Included in the appendix is an interesting comparison of the Tshi, Gã, Ewe, and Yoruba languages.
The Story of My Life, or, The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years (1897)
By Mary Ashton Rice Livermore
A suffragist, abolitionist, and Civil War nurse, Mary Ashton Rice Livermore initially lacked the courage to tell her own story, saying,
Every human soul has a secret chamber, which no one is allowed to invade. Our uncomforted sorrows, our tenderest and most exquisite loves, our remediless disappointments, our highest aspirations, our constantly baffled efforts for higher attainments, are known only to ourselves and God.
Only after realizing her life contained so many matters of wide interest, and that her death would likely inspire “unauthorized, unreliable, and shabby biographies,” did Livermore decide to write this improbable personal narrative.