John Marrant Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Marrant was born a freeman on June 15, 1755, in the colony of New York; however, his youth was spent in Florida and Georgia, where he received his early schooling. He was noted for playing the violin and the French horn at festive occasions, and by his own later admission he was also known for drinking and having a good time. However, at the age of thirteen and living in Charleston, South Carolina, Marrant’s waywardness came to an abrupt end during a mischievous attempt to disrupt a church service, when he accidentally heard a sermon preached by the Reverend George Whitefield, the great English Evangelical minister. The sermon visibly affected the youth, and he became physically and spiritually ill. Subsequently restored to health by Whitefield himself, who visited him at home and prayed with him until he recovered from his state of despair, Marrant repented and began reading the Scriptures.

Everyone around him, notably most of the members of his family, thought he was crazy, so he decided to leave civilization and wander in the southern wilderness. There Marrant was captured by Cherokee Indians, who threatened his life, but he succeeded in saving both himself and his newly acquired Christian faith. In fact, he found that his trust in God increased and his commitment to a religious life deepened during his captivity. Subsequently, the Cherokees allowed Marrant to travel at will with them.

Living with the Cherokees, Marrant served as a missionary to the various tribal nations in the forest. He adopted Indian styles of dress and became fluent in their languages. He met with little success in his efforts to convert American Indians, however, and thus he decided to return to colonial society. When he arrived back in Charleston, he was unrecognized by everyone except his eleven-year-old sister. Taking up residence with his family, Marrant continued to devote himself to religious activities until the outbreak of the American Revolution.

During the Revolutionary War Marrant was captured by the British, who forced him to serve as a musician aboard their ships. His impressment in the British naval service lasted for nearly seven years, during which time he faced many dangers. At one time he almost drowned, being washed overboard three times during a storm at sea; in 1781 Marrant was wounded...

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John Marrant Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Andrews, William L. To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. Discusses Marrant’s first book as a forerunner of the slave-narrative genre in American literature.

Costanzo, Angelo. Surprizing Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. Offers a detailed examination of Marrant’s narrative, with a special emphasis on the portrayal of his character as a biblical type.

Kaplan, Sidney. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, 1770-1800. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. Describes Marrant’s narrative and parts of his journal. Kaplan also deals with the rousing content of the sermon Marrant preached in Boston in 1789, in which he attacked racism and summoned black men and women to develop pride in their African heritage.

Williams, Kenny J. They Also Spoke: An Essay on Negro Literature in America, 1787-1930. Nashville: Townsend Press, 1970. Includes a brief discussion of Marrant’s first book.