Marrant depicts himself as a fascinating character. He is a young, almost picaresque person who abandons his errant ways after being converted to Christianity. Much of Marrant’s narrative, however, suffers from a lack of believability. His zealous religious spirit makes him give everything a providential character. The biblically significant period of three days figures in everything that happens to him. He goes unharmed when he walks by the beasts in the forest, and he immediately knows how to speak to the Indians in their language. His prayers heal the king’s daughter, and he is able to convert the Cherokee king and his daughter with little trouble.
The narrative also shows a lack of artistic design. The closing part of the account is especially weak. Marrant quickly runs through the latter facts of his life and abruptly ends his story. He says almost nothing about his impressment in the British navy, where he was a virtual slave for over six years, and he never mentions any of the prejudice that he must have encountered as an African American, despite his freeman status. Nevertheless, the story of his early adventures in the South, the absorbing picture of George Whitefield, who captures the youth’s spirit for the Christian faith, and Marrant’s marvelous experiences with the Indians in the wilderness make the narrative an appealing piece of prose.
What is also interesting about Marrant’s work is that it is both an Indian captivity narrative and a spiritual autobiography. The spiritual pattern of sin, conversion, and rebirth appears alongside the Indian captivity’s structural components of separation, transformation, and freedom....
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Marrant’s autobiography appeared in London in 1785, and despite a derisive review, the work went through six editions in a short period of time. It was published in the United States in 1789 and became one of the three most celebrated Indian captivity narratives published in America (the others were a 1757 work by Peter Williamson and the narrative of Mary Jemison in 1824). Marrant’s popular account was translated into several European languages and published in countries on both sides of the Atlantic; there was even a Welsh version printed in 1818. Editions of the narrative continued to appear well into the nineteenth century.
Many early African American writers knew Marrant’s spiritual autobiography and were influenced by its themes and form. Strong evidence exists that Marrant’s work was well known by Olaudah Equiano, who is credited with writing the first major slave autobiography, the prototype for the numerous nineteenth century fugitive-slave narratives. Equiano’s two-volume work, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vasa, the African, appeared in 1789 and included references to other works that mention Marrant’s story.
Marrant continued relating the story of his life after 1785 in the journal he kept of his missionary experiences in Canada and in New England. In 1790, Marrant’s journal was published in London and was marked by the same spiritual tone and purpose as his earlier work.
Although Marrant’s autobiographical accounts say little about matters concerning black men and women, the sermons he wrote and delivered as a minister include strong comments about racial prejudice and injustice. His sermons also stress the need for African Americans to learn about the contributions of great Africans in history and to feel proud of their African heritage.