Manuscript of Slave Autobiography to Be Published in Digital Form

Fields Cook was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation in 1817. His “A Scetch of My Own Life by Fields Cook” is one of the few, if only, surviving manuscripts written before the Civil War by a slave still in bondage. It was written in 1847. By focusing on the personal rather than the political, Cook offers readers a rare glimpse into the private lives of enslaved people.

The historic document recently was re-discovered by Katherine Bassard, senior vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of African American literature in the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Professor Bassard made the discovery in a box at the Library of Congress labeled “African American miscellaneous.”

Dr. Bassard and her colleagues are turning the manuscript into a digitized, searchable, and freely downloadable file in its original form. “It’s the first enslaved writer of an autobiography, the first slave narrative with manuscript provenance, and the first African American writer writing primarily for an audience other than White northerners,” Dr. Bassard said.

Cook was able to purchase freedom for himself and his two sons in the early 1850s. Cook went on to become a successful Virginia entrepreneur working as a barber, leech doctor, real estate owner, bath house proprietor, and pastor. He even ran for Congress as an independent candidate in 1869.

Professor Bassard also may produce a print edition of the manuscript that would include biographical information on Cook and some primary documents from his life after slavery. Dr. Bassard is a graduate of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She holds a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Related Articles

1 COMMENT

  1. I eagerly await e-publication of this document. I’m enjoying trying to put myself in Dr. Brassard’s shoes when she found this bit of ‘miscellani.’ What a thrill1

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Five Black Leaders Appointed to Administrative Positions

Here is this week’s roundup of African American who have been appointed to new administrative positions at colleges and universities throughout the United States. If you have news for our appointments section, please email the information to contact@JBHE.com.

North Carolina A&T University Establishes Research Partnership with Collins Aerospace

“There are direct relations to the research we do in the College of Engineering and the mission purpose of Collins Aerospace,” said Stephanie Luster-Teasley, interim dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina A&T State University. “Being able to partner with Collins really gives our students the opportunities for hands-on research at each level – undergraduate and graduate.”

Andre Johnson Honored for Distinguished Service in Africana Communication

“I am indeed honored to receive this prestigious award named for a person who meant so much to the study of Communication," said Dr. Johnson. “My aim is to continue to serve and work in ways that not only highlight and center Africana communication but also to continue to build on the legacy of Dr. Orlando Taylor.”

Jackson State University Chosen to Participate in Battery Workforce Challenge Program

The Battery Workforce Competition Program will provide students the opportunity to design and build their own electric vehicle battery. Jackson State University was the only historically Black school chosen to participate in the program.

Featured Jobs