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Harriet Adams Wilson (1825-1900)

On September 5, 1859, Harriet E. Wilson, (1825-1900) published, “Our Nig” making her the first African American woman to publish a novel in the United States. Wilson was born in Milford, New Hampshire. Her father was African American and her mother was white. When her father died, her mother abandoned her; leaving her at the home of a family where she worked as an indentured servant. She would remain with the family until the 1840’s. Wilson was married in 1851 and had a son named George. After being abandoned by her husband, she left her son in the care of foster parents and left to seek work in Boston. George died at the age of 7.

 

Wilson is said to have gone by the name, “Dr. Hattie E. Wilson” and worked as clairvoyant and psychic healer. She traveled across the U.S. making speeches on the spirit world and race relations. Wilson’s novel, “Our Nig” was a fictional story about her experience as an indentured servant, as well as her experiences with racism and prejudice. The book remained largely unknown until it was rediscovered by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Gates discovered an original copy of the book in a Manhattan bookstore in 1981. Gates republished the book in 1983. There are some who contest that Wilson’s book may not been the first book published in the United States by an African American woman. Because books may have been published under pseudonyms and loss of written manuscripts and records, it is possible that there may be other undiscovered works by African American authors, yet to be discovered.

Sources:

Harriet E. Wilson, 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 (Boston: George C. Rand and Avery), digitized in Wright American Fiction 1851-1875, http://www.letrs.indiana.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=wright2;sid=eb2855493efb7e9c95915cc472a1339c;cc=wright2;node=Wright2-2767%3A1;idno=Wright2-2767;seq=0002; Harriet E. Wilson with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., 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 (New York: Vintage Books, 1983); R. J. Ellis, Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig: A Cultural Biography of a “Two-story” African American Novel (New York: Rodopi, 2003); Gail Underwood Parker, More Than Petticoats: Remarkable New Hampshire Women (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2009). http://www.blackpast.org/aah/wilson-harriet-e-adams-c-1828http://www.blackpast.org/aah/wilson-harriet-e-adams-c-1828 Sources:

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