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Goings, Henry interview

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The University of Virginia Library has an African-American slave narrative, added to the University's Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections  Library.


excerpts:
"Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery," first published in  Stratford, Ontario in 1869 is a 72 page  autobiographical account relates the experiences of  Henry Goings, a Virginia-born slave who escaped to freedom in Canada.

 

The authenticity of Goings' account is supported by contemporary  accounts.

 

In 1855, Boston journalist Benjamin Drew traveled to Canada  where he interviewed dozens of fugitive slaves from the United States.
Among the interviews that he published the following year in "A North-Side  View of Slavery," is one given by a Henry Gowens of Galt (now Cambridge),  Ontario. Gowens mainly talks about his life as a slave in Lauderdale  County, Alabama, but adds "I shall give the particulars more in detail   when I publish the whole history of my life to the people of the United  States and Canada."

"Close correspondence between several details from Gowens' interview  and those in Goings' book make it almost certain that they were same the  man," Gaynor explained. Spellings of family and place names were fluid  during the period.

According to Goings' published narrative, he was the son of enslaved  parents, Abraham and Catharine Turner, born in Virginia on the estate of  James Walker, "within three miles of a place called Window Shades" -  possibly Windsor Shades Plantation in New Kent County. His birth name was  Elijah Turner. He was sold several times, married, and when it looked as  if  he were destined for Mississippi, he escaped. He assumed the name of Henry  Goings, a free man of color, whose "free paper" he had purchased for $15.
He then fled north, leaving his wife behind. As Henry Goings, he lived in  various places in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan, before settling in Canada.

"The commemoration of birthdays is a luxury unknown to expatriated  Africans; in fact, there is little cause for grateful recollection of the  day which added but another victim to a state of miserable servitude,"  Goings said in his book.

Goings says that he owned a one-acre homestead in Chatham, Ontario,  which he had to sell at one point to pay legal bills. The 16 December 1852  issue of the "Voice of the Fugitive," Canada's first black abolitionist  newspaper, advertises the sale of a farm belonging to Henry Goings, thus  corroborating Goings' narrative and supporting its authenticity.

It is not known whether Goings penned his own account or whether it was  dictated to an unidentified ghostwriter. The preface is dated 1864, but  the volume, "Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery," was not  published until 1869. It was printed by J. M. Robb, a newspaper publisher  in Stratford, Ontario, a city with links to the Underground Railroad  movement.

The back flyleaf of the volume contains a penciled inscription by  Nellie Mackyes of Onondaga, near Syracuse, N.Y. During the mid-19th  century, Syracuse was a major center of abolitionist activity that  supported anti-slavery societies in Canada. U.Va.'s special collections  library acquired the volume in August 2006 from a New Jersey
bookseller  who had purchased it in the Syracuse area.

Narratives published by fugitive and former slaves are a fundamental  resource for the study of 18th and 19th century American history and  literature. These narratives provide first-hand accounts of slave life and  relate the difficulties faced by African-Americans as they struggled  against racism and second-class citizenship in the North.

"The need for and the power of these narratives did not diminish with  the conclusion of the Civil War," Gaynor said. "Former slaves documented  their experiences of enslavement, both to remind Americans what had  precipitated the Civil War and to continue the struggle for full inclusion  in American society."

Christian Dupont, director of the Albert and Shirley Small Special  Collections Library, said the library will pursue the re-publication of  Goings' narrative in print and electronic form. Currently, the volume may  be consulted in the Small Library reading room.

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