Moses Roper was born in northeastern North Carolina, the son of a white planter and a slave woman of mixed ancestry. He was very light-complexioned, and his very presence aroused jealousy on the part of his master's wife. Much of his life story under slavery consistis of his descriptions of the brutality of the institution, manifested both in physical abuse and the practice of selling slaves, which happened to him many times. After an escape attempt, he describes the brutal punishment he received:
Having reached Mr. Gooch's, he proceeded to punish me. This he did by first tying my wrists together, and placing them over the knees ; he then put a stick through, under my knees and over my arms, and having thus secured my arms, he proceeded to flog me, and gave me five hundred lashes on my bare back. This may appear incredible, but the marks which they left at present remain on my body, a standing testimony to the truth of this statement of his severity. He then chained me down in a log-pen with a 40 lb. chain, and made me lie on the damp earth all night.
Mr. Gooch is a particularly brutal master, and Roper attempted to escape from him many times, resulting in a series of horrific punishments. Roper would experience many more brutal owners. The narrative is in many ways a catalog of abuses, many of which Roper seems lucky to have survived. After numerous sales, escape attempts, and brutal beatings, Roper finally escaped from slavery permanently in 1834, and made his way to the North, using a passport forged by a benevolent family in the countryside to board a ship out of Savannah. Finding few opportunities in Northern seaports, he left for England, where slavery had been formally outlawed. He ends his book, published with the help of sympathetic Englishmen, with a prayer for the United States:
Whatever I may have experienced in America, at the hands of cruel task-masters, yet I am unwilling to speak in any but respectful terms of the land of my birth. It is far from my wish to attempt to degrade America in the eyes of Britons. I love her institutions in the free states,her zeal for Christ; I bear no enmity even to the slave-holders, but regret their delusions; many I am aware are deeply sensible of the fault, but some I regret to say are not, and I could wish to open their eyes to their sin; may the period come when God shall wipe off this deep stain from her constitution, and may America soon be indeed the land of the free.