Winthrop University Scholar Discovers the Identity of an Early Black Woman Novelist

In 1948 Dorothy Porter Wesley, a librarian at Howard University, purchased an unpublished manuscript from a bookseller in New York. The manuscript was entitled, The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Fugitive Slave Recently Escaped From North Carolina. Its author was listed Hannah Crafts. In 2001, Wesley’s daughter found the manuscript among her mother’s belongings and placed it up for auction.

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Henry Louis Gates Jr., University Professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, purchased the manuscript for $10,000. The semi-autobiographical book was published for the first time in 2002 and is considered the earliest novel written by an African American woman. More information on the book is available here. Professor Gates donated the original manuscript to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

But one mystery remained. There was no historical evidence of a slave named Hannah Crafts. But now Gregg Hecimovich, chair of the English department at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, has identified the author as Hannah Bond, a slave on a North Carolina plantation owned by John Hill Wheeler. Professor Hecimovich states that he has identified the writer’s identity through wills, diaries, and other public records. His work will be published in a forthcoming book. Several scholars, including Professor Gates have seen the evidence and believe in its authenticity.

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