A Slave Narrative is a written history of the life of a slave. Emerging in the late 18th century, men and women freed from their bonds of slavery wrote out the accounts of their lives. Given that a limited number of freed slaves could actually write, many told his or her story to another person who would document his or her life as a slave. While some Slave Narratives were published as a singular piece, others were combined in collections of narratives.
Slave Narratives became very popular reading. The first Slave Narrative to gain international renown (became a best seller) was published in 1789. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or, Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himselftells of all of the trials and tribulations that Olaudah faced. His tale contained horrific memories of muzzling slaves and Olaudah even trying to change the color of his skin.
Other popular narratives were written by Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs.
The term in African American history simply refers to the written stories of freed slaves and their lives before, during, and after slavery.