Mapping The History of Mary Prince

Working with The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself (1831), I am continuously struck by the extent Prince travels in the narrative, even before she arrives in London. Beginning in Bermuda, moving to the Turks and Caricos Island, back to Bermuda, then Antigua, and finally England, the text covers a wide swath of the Atlantic World. This a distance of approximately 11,035 kilometers (6,856.83 miles). To give some perspective, traveling due East from New York City, United States across the Atlantic Ocean and Europe to Tokyo, Japan is 10,849 kilometers (6,741 miles). Her ability to maintain and create new social networks covering such a large geographic space fascinates me, leading to the question of how best to represent this feature in my writing.

       (Composite Map of) A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements adjacent thereto. by Henry Popple. 1746 via David Rumsey Historical Maps


(Composite Map of) A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements adjacent thereto. by Henry Popple. 1746 via David Rumsey Historical Maps

Historical maps (though the one above is a century too early). This, too, holds its challenges, since Bermuda is latitudinally closer to the Carolinas than to the Caribbean. As a result, I come across several maps where Bermuda is included through an aside, erasing a sense of the actual distance. I haven't really found the right historical map yet (although at a recent conference, someone had a wonderful Atlantic map, that I think will work including Britain without making the scale to large.)  Another option is to use the line drawing option on maps through Neatline in Omeka, but I'm wary of how well this will work in a large scale map. 

Google was useful for figuring out distances, and as I am working out locations within islands, planting markers as estimates of locations is useful. I also worked on trying to estimate where she traveled in Bermuda. I am also experimenting with warping historical maps onto Google.  Here's an screenshot from Google Earth.

But what I also wanted to map was her relationships between spaces of family, owner households, and other social connections. In other parts of this project, I am working on tracing the network of The History as a non-human object, as well as visualizing the print history of its first three editions. But I am also fascinating with how Prince, like Olaudah Equiano [link], possesses a history very unlike the experience of most Atlantic World slaves, whom she is meant to represent to her abolitionist readers. Ironically, while she is presented as a model of a universal experience, the biographical details reveals in The History are singular and align with why she is one of the few enslaved women from her era—-and arguably any other—-to have her individual history published. As Moira Ferguson points out in her edition of The History, “most slaves had only one or two owners in a lifetime, whereas Mary Prince had five before she freed herself” (7). More extraordinarily, she frequently negotiated her own sale to new owners, pointing to the value of her labor, both in terms of the multiple jobs she could perform for an owner, as well as their ability to rent out her labor to others for a profit. In each new household she enters, she consistently forms new networks that often extend beyond her position as a chattel slave. She is born into a familial group that transcend owner households. Her mother is owned by a Mr. Charles Myners in Brackish-Pond Bermuda and her father by a shipbuilder, Mr. Trimmingham, for whom he works as a sawyer. That Mary Prince carries her father’s name, not her owners’ is significant, as is the relationship she maintains with her father throughout her time on Bermuda. When Myners dies, she, her mother, and sisters are sold to Captian Darrel Williams who gifts Prince to his granddaughter Betsey. Although Prince bonds with her young owner as a child, the experience illustrates how an enslaved woman cannot rely on her owners household for protection and support, even when there are affective bonds between owner and slave. When Betsey’s father sells her, he usurps the “rights” of his daughter from his first familial network to pay for the wedding to create a new one, disregarding old familial connections in order to forge new ones. As difficult as I find it to sympathize with The History’s portrayal of  Betsy’s “rights” over another person, this scene emphasizes the multiple disruptions her father’s marriage creates. Mary’s family is split up and sold. Her sisters are not heard of again in the narrative, though she is able to stay in contact with her parents.

The slave market scene, with the tragic separation of mothers from young children, the editor Pringle points out, echoes similar stories from other sales around the Atlantic. Certainly British abolitionist readers would have recognized this scene from those they read and collected in their albums.  But what happens after her sale to Captain I. differs from those narratives filled with images of passive victims looking to heavens for help to arrive, perhaps from a good middle-class woman from a Birmingham anti-slavery society. Her future is certainly shaped by the particular social relationships she formed with the Williams. She bonded with her biological family, as well as the women of the Williams family, but more importantly, she had experience using her labor to create relationships outside of the household. Rented out to work for a Mrs. Pruden, Prince must have learned to work with those outside of her immediate circles, by moving five miles away (think of how far this is to walk) in the next parish. When she is sold to the Ingrahms at Spanish Point, she understands her new owners’ cruelty through their treatment of the old French slave Hetty and two young boys. When Hetty’s death leads to Prince taking up the abused woman’s work, she describes less the physical violence she experiences, but her expectation of it through her knowledge of Hetty’s experiences. To escape this, she fleas back to her parents, where her mother hides her in a cavern until her father returns her to her owners. Note here that Prince’s familial network is still accessible to her, but ultimately provides no permanent protection.

When we look at Bermuda human actors by status, there are clear separations (Network 1). 

The next network looks a kinship networks, which again is disconnected.

But when we look at household (owners, children, enslaved), the network becomes more centered on Mary Prince, with her father disconnected from her network nodes.


Her next sale breaks the limited effectiveness of those familial connections when she is sold to Mr. D who takes her to Turks Island (approximately 1371.85kilometers, 852.43 miles away, roughly the distance from New York to Birmingham; to give a bit of perspective, later in the century Harriet Tubman would bring people from slavery in her home state of Maryland roughly only 500 miles north to her head quarters in St. Catherine’s Canada as a means of feeling safe from the Fugitive slaves act).

Even when she does see her mother on the island (76), her mother with a new daughter in hand, temporally “lost her senses” as she “had never been on the sea before.” On Turk’s Island, Prince lacks a network, in part it seems to the hard labor she is put through, as well as to the lack of a population there with which to create a network. In these scenes she turns to the English reader as a new network for these spaces (74). (This will be expanded upon in another post).

Within the narrative this foreshadows how her religious networks will allow her to leave the Woods when they travel to London, and reflects back onto the network that produced the pamphlet. To their surprise, despite severing her from a community she knows through personal interactions, she is still able to access her Antigua networks through the Moravian church. This allows her to leave their service, with The History acting as both the first abolitionist slave narrative in English dictated by an Black colonial woman as well as a sign of her voice in a new network: the Anti-Slavery Society.

What I am playing with now is a spatial and human network. I'm including places such as Turk's Island, but also the cavern on Bermuda where Mary Prince meets with her parents after running away. In this rough draft, countries are not their own nodes, and are listed more often than needed. I'm also including organizations, such as abolitionist and religious organizations. In csv for UCInet, I'm working on how to mark the different actor categories. 


Prince’s ability to create new networks is a unique skill that sets her apart, even from her family members. Pringle points out in a footnote that unlike Prince’s ability to keep in contact with her father when with the Ingrahms, her father “had been long dead and buried before any of his children in Bermuda knew of it.” Her mother died shortly after her last sale to the Woods in Antigua, and of her “seven brothers and three sisters, she knows nothing further than this - that the eldest sister, who had several children to her master, was taken to him to Trinidad; and that the youngest, Rebecca [whom she met when her mother went to Turk’s Island], is still alive [as of 1831], and still in slavery in Bermuda” (76). Yet, some contact was still kept.

When we think of her past with networks, her ability to move into new communities and find allies, and her record of turning her enslaved labor into a tradable skill, is it so hard to imagine that she also used this in London. Her authorial authority may not fit the conventional models, relying instead on a transcriber and editor to find a public voice in print. Yet, this ability to negotiate a network here ensures her independence from the Woods, her ability to stay in London (albeit away from her husband), and though the reports of her physical deterioration in the second and third editions are presented as pitiable, they are also serving a means to raise funds to support her (an option not available to her in the West Indies). As with her laundry, her agency with The History is not one of the free liberal subject found in Enlightenment philosophies of individual sovereignty. This model, though, was able to sustain the systems of power that continued slave systems and other forms of institutional oppression. The model of subaltern agency offered by Sharp better fits the history of Mary Prince and The History bearing her name. 

Although she was meant to represent all slaves, and indeed frequently points to her observations on many islands of many slaves in her appeal to English audiences to end slavery in the colonies, her ability to navigate multiple networks leading to her self-manumission makes her singular. Yet, in other ways, The History illuminates a colonial archive that goes beyond the stories of West Indian slavery or English abolitionist groups. It demonstrates the global networks of an abolitionist movement that went beyond a binary of enslave black colonial and white English abolitionist. For Strickland and Pringle are better described as British than English, representing the complicated way that the rest of the British Isles and wider empire worked to agitate for political change in the governmental center, came into conflict in their shared endeavors, and also fit a wider sense of empire. This is not one empire, with a clear hierarchy offering clear roles and ranks to its subjects. Instead, as The History and its history shows, it is a set of interlocking international networks, in which actors play many—-sometimes contradictory— roles, and where empire could at times unite people in a central cause or set different networks of the ruling class in opposition to one another.  

NB: Notes to be posted later

Imagined Empires in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

There has much debate over the role of plantation slavery in Mansfield Park. It is perhaps the Austen novel that most explicitly points to how agriculture labor in England and Antigua supported the lifestyles of wealthy families like the Bertrams. It also arguably has the most vocal servants, whether it is the groomsman shaming Fanny with his praise of Mary Crawford’s ability to handle a horse or the whispered laughter of maids mocking Fanny’s meager belongings when she first arrives or Lady Bertram's repeated mentions of how sending her Chapman to dress Fanny for the ball resulted in Henry Crawford’s proposal.

When Mary Crawford complains of her harp's arrival being delayed by carts and horses being needed for the harvest, the narrator's critique is clear. But what do we make of the novel's allusions to slave labor in Antiguan fields in the novel? Edward Said famously said that it was an approval of empire, an idealization of the landed gentry. Susan Fraiman responded by pointing to the moral decay in the heart of the titular estate, and countered that the book should be seen as aligning women’s rights with those of slavery. Many, and not exclusively Austen scholars either, have pointed to the problems of conflating the limited property and other legal rights of women possessing a privileged racial, class, and economic status with enslaved men and women in the Atlantic. Kerfoot offers a nuanced description of property ownership through print in her work. Moretti’s famous mapping of the novel argued that the Antigua sections were of little importance, and Austen pointed to a shrinking geographic mindset for the English novel.

I am currently working on an article and eventual chapter for my next book that draws on all four of these scholars, but in particular on the other two. Kerfoot’s careful analysis of Fanny’s relationship to books reminds us of how print networks bound geographically distant people, and though I disagree with Moretti’s argument, his methodology is foundational to my own argument. I believe that Antigua is important within the novel’s construction of a moral empire. It is key to remember that this is a time when Britain is policing the Atlantic Trade. These movements I believe parallel the Mediterranean exploits of Fanny’s brother, William  in Nelson’s navy. Similarly when we look to what Fanny reads, she is interested in British excursions into China. This paper uses network analysis to graph the objects--human and non-human--in Fanny’s white attic, a.k.a. the school room or East Room. In terms of her encounters with people, the scenes that occur her are key moments where Fanny must articulate her ethical and moral beliefs. The non-human connections here bring her into a British empire active in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and East Asia. Interloper figures--such as Mary Crawford or a translation of a German play-- are marked as separate from what she chooses to put into that room.

Here's a rough draft of the networks I'm working on through Google Fusion. The final versions will be analyzed through UCINet and then prettified (yes, that is a technical term), through Pajek. Admittedly, I'll be a bit sad to give up the jiggle of Fusion.

I've organized the above network to move from a place or object in the room to people and locations associated with them. Through  we see Fanny's affective world is filled with imperial markers: a ship in the Mediterranean and the first British embassy to China mix with Geraniums and Wordsworthian images of Romantic landscapes.

Just as in Portsmouth Fanny becomes a “selector and chooser of books” through the circulating library, her curation of connections in her white attic mark Fanny, and I would argue the novel’s, stance on empire. It is a pivotal moment in representations of empire in Austen’s published novels as they shift from the good gentry managing land in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, to a more questionable hierarchy in Mansfield Park, Emma (with its explicit connections of slavery with middle class female labor), and Persuasion.

Related to this is the question of property as identity. One which the title points to: Mansfield and his decisions regarding slavery are well known. What is key to this is how his rulings were never explicitly abolitionist but fully concerned with the legal, moral, and ethical boundaries of property ownership (Ellen Moody recently provided a wonderful overview of scholarship on Lord Mansfield's life and career in her film review of Belle).

Currently, I've organized the article to first connect Fanny and her room to a wider empire; then connect this to discussions of morality in relation to the plot, slavery, and empire; and finally move this to discussion of property as personhood. What I am working on integrating into this is the Mary Crawford and her naval connections.

Contrasting Fanny's more interiorized, abstract imperial world is the external one. This structurally mirrors the way the space of the White Attic contains multiple global networks in that the action of the novel, I argue, centers around the doppelgänger relationship between Fanny and Mary Crawford. Both lack control over their movement due to the lack of financial and familial security. Fanny has limited movements, true, but Mary’s ramblings are dependent on the placement of her family. Both arrive at Mansfield Park because they lack a better alternative. Mary, though, performs better than Fanny. She is the outsider that is instantly accepted, who learns genteel skills with an alacrity Fanny found impossible in the years prior to her double's arrival. There is also the strange, ghostly doubling of Mary with the dead Mary Price, who was Fanny's favorite sister. (Fanny's journey to accepting her sister Susan, who I contend has a few Mary Crawford-ish traits, is a subject for a different post). 

Fanny and Mary mirror each other in other ways, too. The lack of movement for women and the potential meritocracy of the Navy serve as both a critique of a domestic empire of consumption and praise of a global empire of moral reform (i.e., rule). (This is expanded upon in Persuasion, where Admiral Croft and his wife are dual mobile, moral, and in their childless state, free of domestic taint.)Both are related to different levels of the navy (the first through her brother and father, the second through her uncle), but with different views of it. Mary disdains the moral corruption of her Admiral-Uncle’s home. Fanny, despite her drunken, disabled, ex-seaman father, forms a different view through a new generation of the navy: her brother William. William is with a very different Admiral's fleet, Nelson’s in the Mediterranean. Whereas Mary’s uncle and his comrades (with their “rears and vices”) seems stationary, stagnant in London (mirroring Fanny’s low ranked father), William’s is a generation of action. One that cannot be helped by his baronet uncle at Mansfield Park, but by the inspired patriotism of Henry Crawford’s wealth and navel connections.

NB: Proper citations, footnotes, and bibliography coming soon!