Stolen Words: The Legacy of Mary Prince’s Writings

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Thomas Pringle

While I have presented some critical analysis over the question of authorship in The History of Mary Prince, there has been little connection to its effect in a broader historical sense. Focusing on the aspect of authenticity, let’s assume that Mary Prince’s voice suffered some sense of loss in translation. Does this negatively affect Prince’s role as a “spokeswoman for Black people in Britain and the Caribbean?” [1] Many historians don’t think so.  Critical analysis from Sandra Paquet views the influence of white abolitionists as, “heteroglot voices that compete with but do not dominate Mary Prince’s fully integrated sense of self.” [2] Paquet’s analysis (which I agree with for the most part) concedes that there was an obvious and inevitable influence on Mary Prince’s memoir because it was transcribed and then edited by someone who was not Prince herself.

It is also important to understand that Thomas Pringle made clear distinctions when he was presenting his own thoughts/feelings, and when he was presenting those of Mary Prince. Most of his additions to the book are separated by their own chapter. [3] The entirety of her narrative is followed by a, “supplement to the History of Mary Prince by the editor,” which essentially a quick descriptive analysis regarding the legality and altruistic issues of Mary Prince’s “freedom.” [4] Pringle is not hijacking Princes voice, simply articulating her thoughts and conclusions in a way that can be better understood by its intended audience. Which at the time was those who were literate (mostly white upper-middle class English citizens). Although many have questioned whether Prince’s voice was manipulated to popularize an anti-colonialist/anti-slave writing, I do not believe that Prince’s personal sentiments would have been much different than those presented in the book by Thomas Pringle. In primary accounts, “Prince portrays herself as extraordinarily hard working, resourceful and progressively resistant.” (5) She was not a naive bystander to the interests of the anti-slavery movement, rather an active participant.

~WDL

 

References

  1. Prince, Mary, and Thomas Pringle. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. London: F. Westley and A.H. Davis, 1831. Print.
  2. Paquet, Sandra. “The Heartbeat of a West Indian Slave: The History of Mary Prince.” African American Review 26.1 (1992): 134. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web.
  3. The History of Mary Prince. P. 142
  4. Logsdon, Joseph, and Frances Smith Foster. “Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-bellum Slave Narratives.” The Journal of Southern History1 (1980): 117. Web.
  5. The Heartbeat of a West Indian Slave. P. 134
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