Only by Experience: An Anthology of Slave Narratives
  • Publication Date: July 4, 2023
  • ISBN: 9781554816415 / 1554816416
  • 690 pages; 6" x 9"

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Only by Experience: An Anthology of Slave Narratives

  • Publication Date: July 4, 2023
  • ISBN: 9781554816415 / 1554816416
  • 690 pages; 6" x 9"

Only by Experience: An Anthology of Slave Narratives collects, in whole or in part, sixteen of the most significant and influential slave narratives in English. Based on material from the acclaimed Broadview Anthology of American Literature, the anthology includes works from the British Empire as well as the United States and puts classic examples of the slave narrative genre in conversation with works that raise questions about how the genre is defined. The anthology also features thorough headnotes and annotations for each work, along with detailed contextual materials for many of the works included.


“With thoughtfully researched headnotes and annotations, and illuminating context provided by newspaper accounts, photographs, letters, a timeline of global events and literary milestones, and other documents, Only By Experience will attract new and curious audiences to the familiar slave narrative genre. The recently recovered and well-known works reprinted here in full pay attention to the uncertainties of freedom, the privileges of citizenship, the dreams of the disenfranchised, and the risks and rewards of speaking truth to power. These themes are as relevant to readers as they were when the genre once produced cinematic and daring best-sellers for the English-speaking world. Only By Experience promises to become the go-to text for classroom instruction on the literature and culture of slavery, fugitivity, and abolition. Read it cover to cover, too, and find herein timeless messages of love, community, peace, and personal power to vindicate those who struggle and redeem those who are lost.” —Barbara McCaskill, University of Georgia

Only by Experience: An Anthology of Slave Narratives, a collection based on the Broadview Anthology of American Literature, is an important and eminently useful achievement. The volume is deftly edited and promises to engage students in the transatlantic history, abolitionist context, and cultural complexity of the slave narrative genre.” — Audrey Fisch, New Jersey City University

“The strengths of this anthology are many: in particular, it does not subscribe to telling one story; rather, it orients readers to the twists and turns, the knowns and unknowns of each of the slave narratives’ historical and literary significance, complex publication history, and global influence on the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery. Surely by the anthology’s end—due to its impeccable breadth, accessible prose, and valuable supplementary texts—readers should come away with a deeper understanding of the critical conversations, literary history, and political and social impact of the slave narrative.” — Delia Steverson, University of Florida

“This is a much-needed volume that centers the voices of those who experienced slavery across the spaces of the Black Atlantic in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The timeline of transatlantic history at the front shows the confluences of events, and makes a vital teaching tool. The collection crosses disciplines, periods, and geographies to foreground the connections of Black diasporic narratives, spanning the Americas, Britain, and the Caribbean within transatlantic systems of enslavement. The result is a resounding account of Black networks of print in community with each other to overthrow chattel slavery and its legacies. ” — Kerry Sinanan, University of Texas at San Antonio

Only by Experience openly invites students to engage with scholarly conversations surrounding the chaotic and violent nature of institutional slavery … Whether learning about each text’s reception history or the complexity of enslaved peoples’ experiences …, readers will gain insight into some of the experiences that shaped the [slave narrative] genre.” — Tabitha Lowery, Coastal Carolina University

Only By Experience, Broadview Press’s new and comprehensive anthology of writings by enslaved and free Africans and people of African descent testifying to how their lives were caught up in the brutal Transatlantic trade in persons, brings together the foundational texts of what has become known as the slave narrative genre. Complete narratives by Briton Hammon, Venture Smith, Mary Prince, David George, and other less-well-known writers join the more familiar writings of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass to give students a more complete history of how many voices testified to the horrors of this commerce. Students who read only one narrative in the course of their lives might be led to believe that one story ‘represents’ the others. But as William Wells Brown succinctly put it, ‘Slavery has never been represented; Slavery never can be represented.’ But these narratives together provide the best available accounting.” — Hollis Robbins, University of Utah

Comments on The Broadview Anthology of American Literature

“The expansion, diversification, and revitalization of the texts and terms of American literary history in recent years is made marvelously accessible in the … new Broadview Anthology of American Literature.” — Hester Blum, Penn State University

The Broadview Anthology of American Literature is, quite simply, a breakthrough. … Meticulously researched and expertly assembled, this anthology should be the new gold standard for scholars and teachers alike.” — Michael D’Alessandro, Duke University

“So much thought has been put into every aspect of the Broadview Anthology of American Literature, from the selection of texts to their organization to their presentation on the page; it will be a gift to classrooms for years to come.” — Lara Langer Cohen, Swarthmore College

“The multiplicity of early American locations, languages, and genres is here on wondrous display.” — Jordan Alexander Stein, Fordham University

“Above all, this is a volume for the 21st century. … Its capaciousness and ample resource materials make for a text that is always evolving and meeting its readers in new ways.” — Russ Castronovo, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“a rich collection that reflects the diversity of American literatures…. [and] that never forgets its most important audience: students. There is a wealth of material here that will help them imagine and reimagine what American literature could be.” — Michael C. Cohen, UCLA

Readings listed in green are included on the anthology’s companion website.


Slavery and America, Beginnings to 1820 (

Race, Slavery, and America, 1820–1860 (

Timeline: Transatlantic Slavery and Black Writing in English, 1444–1865

James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw

  • A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, as Related by Himself

Briton Hammon

  • A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man

Boyrereau Brinch

  • from The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace

Venture Smith

  • A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, A Native of Africa

Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa

  • from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself
  • In Context
    • Equiano’s Narrative as a Philadelphia Abolitionist Pamphlet
    • Reactions to Olaudah Equiano’s Work
      • from The Analytic Review
      • from The Monthly Review
      • from “Descriptive Catalogue of Anti-Slavery Works for Sale by Isaac Knaap, at the Depository, No. 25, Cornhill,” The Liberator

Mary Prince

  • The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself
  • In Context
    • Mary Prince and Slavery
    • Mary Prince’s Petition Presented to Parliament
    • from Thomas Pringle, Supplement to The History of Mary Prince
    • from The Narrative of Ashton Warner

David George

  • An Account of the Life of Mr. David George, from Sierra Leone in Africa

Josiah Henson (

  • The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself

Solomon Northup

  • from Twelve Years a Slave
  • In Context
    • Roaring River [sheet music]
    • Solomon Northup in the Popular Press
      • from The Morning Express, Buffalo, New York [reprinted from The New York Times]
      • from The Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, New York
      • from The Daily Delta, New Orleans
      • from The Daily Picayune, New Orleans

Sojourner Truth

  • from The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave
  • In Context
    • Speech at the Akron, Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, 1851
    • Sojourner Truth’s Cartes de Visite

Harriet Jacobs

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself
  • In Context
    • Fugitive Slave Advertisement for Harriet Jacobs
    • The “Peculiar Circumstances” of Slavery
    • from Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, with Harriet Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, “The Affectionate and Christian Address of Many Thousands of Women of Great Britain and Ireland to Their Sisters the Women of the United States of America”
    • from Julia Tyler, “To the Duchess of Sutherland and the Ladies of England,” Southern Literary Messenger
    • from Harriet Jacobs, “Letter from a Fugitive Slave,” New York Daily Tribune

from The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada

  • William Johnson
  • Harriet Tubman
  • John W. Lindsey
  • from William Grose
  • from William A. Hall

William Wells Brown

  • from The Narrative of the Life and Escape of William Wells Brown

Frederick Douglass

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself
  • from My Bondage and My Freedom
  • from Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
  • In Context
    • Responses to Frederick Douglass’s Narrative
      • Margaret Fuller, Review of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, from The New York Tribune
      • A.C.C. Thompson, “TO THE PUBLIC. FALSEHOOD REFUTED,” from The Delaware Republican, reprinted in The Liberator
      • Frederick Douglass, “Reply to Mr. A.C.C. Thompson,” The Liberator
    • from To My Old Master
    • Photographs of Frederick Douglass

William and Ellen Craft

  • from Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom