Form and Content
Solomon Bayley, a former slave, is one of the earliest antebellum African American spiritual writers. His somewhat disjointed, two-part narrative begins with a preface by Robert Hurnard, a Quaker and abolitionist from Essex, England, who met Bayley in Delaware in 1820. Having heard Bayley’s account of his escape from slavery, Hurnard persuaded him to write his life story. The publication of this narrative was intended in part to generate income for the aged and by then childless Bayley and his wife, but the narrative was also designed to place slavery in a poor light.
Bayley came from a family with deep American roots. His grandmother had been transported from West Africa to Virginia at the age of eleven and sold to a brutal family. She gave birth to fifteen children, some of whom were transported to Delaware. Bayley grew to adulthood before being brought to Virginia. In his autobiographical narrative, he does not mention that his father, brother, and sister were subsequently taken to the Caribbean. His mother ultimately ran away with Bayley’s infant brother and escaped to freedom in New Jersey.
Bayley begins his tale with a tribute to the power and goodness of God. Born in Kent County, Delaware, Bayley is moved against his will along with his parents and siblings—but without his wife and children—when his master takes the group to Alexandria, Virginia. Under Delaware law, slaveholders taking slaves out of the state were not permitted to put them up for immediate sale, but the Bayley family is sold soon after they arrive. Bayley brings suit to gain emancipation, but, two days before the hearing is to take place, he is shipped to Richmond, Virginia, put in irons, and thrown in jail. After a short stay that tests his faith in God,...
(The entire section is 719 words.)