The University of Virginia Library has an
African-American slave narrative, added to the University's Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
"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.
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."
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
"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.
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.
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
bookseller who had purchased it in the Syracuse area.
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.
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."
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