The Bondwoman’s Narrative was discovered by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., after he acquired the manuscript through an auction. It is believed to be the earliest novel written by an African American woman. As such, the work is of immense historical significance, quite apart from its literary value. Victorian in style, some scholars argue that the novel is indeed an autobiographical account of Hannah Crafts, a slave who passed for white after escaping from North Carolina to freedom in the North.
Before its publication in 2002, Professor Gates went to great lengths to authenticate the manuscript and to determine that it was written in the mid-1850’s. The 2002 edition includes an detailed scholarly introduction by Gates, in which he details his discovery of the novel and the subsequent steps he took to authenticate it, including commissioning a scientific investigation of the manuscript’s ink, binding, and paper. The edition concludes with several appendixes that provide evidence to back up Gates’s evaluation.