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AFRICA
Book Excerpt: The Blind African Slave Or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace
As Told to Benjamin F. Prentiss, Esq.
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The Blind African Slave or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace, As Told to Benjamin F. Prentiss, Esq.

2004, Edited and with an introduction by Kari J. Winter. University of Wisconsin Press


Introduction

In 1810 in St. Albans, Vermont, a small town near the Canadian border, a narrative of slavery was published by an obscure printer. Entitled The Blind African Slave or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace, it was greeted with no fanfare, and it has remained for nearly two hundred years a faint spectre in our cultural memory.

Born in West Africa around 1742, Jeffrey Brace was captured by slave traders at sixteen and shipped to Barbados, where he was sold. After fighting as an enslaved sailor in the Seven Years War, Brace was taken to Connecticut and sold again. Brace later enlisted in the Continental Army in hopes of winning his manumission. After military service, he was honorably discharged and was freed from slavery. In 1784, he moved to Vermont, the first state to make slavery illegal. There he married, bought a farm, and raised a family. Although literate, he was blind when he narrated his life story to an antislavery lawyer, Benjamin Prentiss. Brace died in 1827, a well-respected abolitionist.

Boyrereau Brinch/Jeffrey Brace was captured around 1758 during a festive afternoon when he and thirteen of his friends went swimming in a river. When they got out of the water, they were surrounded by white men with dogs who succeeded in capturing eleven of them. One moment he and his friends were engaged in a "delightful sport;" moments later they were bound, gagged, and "fastened down in the boat," surrounded by "a horrid stench."


Excerpt: The Blind African Slave

"In the year 1758 Whryn Brinch was summoned to attend the King on a tour to the city of Morrocco to visit the Emperor, as was the custom to be performed or a duty imposed upon them each year, this being the first year that Whryn Brinch commanded the King's life guards on a tour to the western or Atlantic ocean; of course had little or no knowledge of such a being as a white Man; and had as imperfect an idea of a ship or vessel as he would have of any thing that was in existence.

"In this tour the Father of the narrator purchased a pair of pistols and piece of purple silk, and on his return, while enjoying the pleasure of the society of his growing family, all rejoicing at his return from so long and arduous a journey, and their curiosity not a little excited by the articles of European and India manufacture which he had presented them with. While my Father and Mother had some gentle dispute about the quality of the silk (for here the writer takes the language of the narrator)

"I was busy snapping and observing the beauties of the pistol. As soon as an opportunity offered I asked my father where the pistols came from, and where he had obtained them, he said, they came from the white people, who lived on the waters, and came to our shores and landed at Morocco, where he purchased them. White people! said I, what kind of beings are they? How do they get to Morocco, from the great waters? Why, said my father, they have every appearance of men, like our people only they are as pale as the moon, and are covered with cloathes from head to foot, with large platforms upon their heads; and they float along on high shells like the Slough Barrow, only one shell contains hundreds of them, and it has wings like the Ethelry.

"Much more was said, but my attention was so taken up with the pistols, that I have forgotten the remainder, the conversation soon turned upon the feast dedicated to the sun, (which is performed something in imitation of the feast of the Passover we read of) which was fast approaching, and is always celebrated at this season of the year. And here I will observe the king always performs his journey to the Emperor''s castle during the rainy season, as in any other season of the year, it is dangerous to pass the great deserts of sand which lie between Deau-Yah and Morocco; and the feast commences immediately on the king''s return.

"While domestic joy gladdened the heart of each individual of our artless and innocent family, and the public mind of the whole nation was occupied with preparations, and the anticipated felicity which would gladden the hearts of every individual of the community; little did I think of my approaching fate. No favorite genius whispered to me impending destruction, or years of ignominious slavery; little did I foresee that when I should be raised to the zenith of all earthly enjoyment, that in a moment I should become a slave.

"The feast approached, and the preparations were complete on the part of my father, who was to be mounted upon an elegant African horse, cloathed in a beautiful scarlet net, which he had procured at Morocco, he to be clothed in a purple silk dress, according to the style of the moors, with his pistols hanging by his sides, fastened to a leather girdle of scarlet; with a cap laced with gold, with two globes of solid gold on each side, large enough to fasten in twelve plumes, by way of ornament. Thus prepared, in the morning my father assembled his whole family, before the rising of the sun, to invoke his blessing. After the usual ceremonies of invocation, homage and adoration, the whole family sat down to breakfast, a frugal repast of milk and fruit, with hearts alive to filial and fraternal affection. Reciprocal pleasure crowned the board with the purest domestic delight.

"The king''s trumpet sounded; the escort appeared; my father mounted his steed and was away, to obey the commands of the king, and enjoy the pleasure of the feast--which is performed in the following manner.--At sunrise the king and his nobles assemble upon a large plain, the king, queen, and some of the noble ladies of honor are with the high priests, ushered into the centre, while the remaining nobility and gentry form a large circle with the king''s life guard, between him and the rising sun; then a circle of light-horse is formed, next the armies of the nation, which is completed with the indiscriminate multitude of every sex and age.

"As soon as bright Sol makes his appearance in the east, the trumpets are sounded from one end of the plain to the other. A solemn dirge is chaunted, in the style of a requeum of an old catholic abby, by the females of honor, together with the priestesses, who hold a conspicuous rank among the nobility. There are certain ceremonies performed in the mean time, by the royal and divine personages, such as offering up sacrifices according to the custom of the jews. Lambs, kids, gold-fishes, mandrakes and scarlet grapes, are offered up as sacrifices to their God, the Sun, whom they worship as devoutly as christians worship the trinity. After this solemn devotion ends, the king, with his life-guards in front, forms a procession; the oldest and highest in rank of his nobility form in next to him, with the divines in front of them, who always hold a conspicuous rank among the favorites of the government, on account of their divinity.

"Next, the young men of noble birth and titles form. When the armies of the nations are formed in a manner peculiar to this tribe, or kingdom, the light dragoons form in front of the armed forces; then the infantry, or footmen, are formed in ranks according to their grades in the field. To close the procession, the multitude of every sex and age are formed on, according to their seigniority. The whole procession is abundantly supplied with the best of instrumental music, such as trumpets, drums, fifes, flutes, tamberins, violins and many other instruments peculiar to the country, the african names of which I have forgotten.

"They march, as formed, in circles, in imitation of the sun, who, in their opinion, passes around them to examine their actions, during which ceremony, they play, sing, dance and shout from one end of the procession to the other, which induces me to believe that this people descended from the children of Israel, as when Josiah kept the feast of the passover, for the dedication of the temple, he caused the chief priests and disciples or principals, to form in circles around him, and the multitude formed a large circle arond the temple, which in this manner with certain ceremonies was dedicated to the God of Israel ..."

"... At the close of the feast the Boys of the partakers there of, as is the custom, were allowed to put on some conspicuous ornament of their fathers and go to such amusements as they thought most pleasing to their propensities, bathing in the Neboah or Niger, being considered a usefull as well as pleasing amusement. On the close of the feast, myself with thirteen of my comrades, went down to the great Neboah to bathe--this was in the 16 year of my age; my father and mother delighted in my vivacity and agillty; on this occasion, every exertion on their part seemed to be made use of, to gratify, what they called, their youthful Boy.

"As it was almost a league and an half, every thing was done for my outset, whether at the time I was conviced, or whether by infatuation, I have convinced myself from events, that there was something portentous in my parting from my parents, I am unable to say. But it appears to me now that their whole souls were extacy in thus gratifying their darling boy, all was hilarity, anxiety, and delight; my mother pressed me to her breast, and warned me of the dangers of the waters, for she knew no other. My brothers and sisters all assisted to ornament me and give me advice, and wish me much delight. My father with the Austerity of a Judge, tenderly took me by the hand, and said, my son conduct yourself worthy of me, and here you shall wear my cap; he then put it upon my head, and said, My dear Boyrereau, do not get drowned, but return before the setting of our great father the sun.

"My comrades were waiting at the porch of our front door, I flew to the door, with a heart lighter than a feather; My brothers and sisters followed my father and mother, standing behind them to observe my departure and agility, O! God that my limbs had refused their office on that fatal day, or I had been laid a corpse on the clay of my native land, before I had been suffered to move from the threshold of my father''s dwelling. O! the day that I passed the church for the last time, a whole family following with anxious looks my steps and motion, the well known sportive rivulet, I passed the arch of clay. I, before I descended the hill which shut me from the sight of home forever cast behind me one last and longing look to see if I could catch one pleasing glance of a fond mother; but alas! I could discover no trace of home, only the pleasing and conspicuous views of my native town. When I turned round, I found my companions before me. The anticipated sport, caused my heart to leap with joy, I ran down the declivity of the hill, we reached the Neboah; about 10 o''clock in the morning, we went down upon a point or rather elbow of the river, just above the junction of the small river before mentioned with the Niger.

"There was a small shade of grape vines under which there was a smooth flat of green grass, we quickly and hastily undressed ourselves and prepared for the consummation of our wishes; kings upon their thrones might envy our felicity. As we could anticipate no greater pleasure, and knew no care. A perfect union prevailed; all had a noble emulation to excell in the delightful sport before us; we plunged into the stream, dove, swam, sported and played in the current; all striving to excell in feats of activity, until wearied with the sport, we returned to the shore, put on some of our clothing, began to think about returning to our homes, as fatigue and hunger invited.

"When we ascended the bank, to our astonishment we discovered six or seven animals fastening a boat, and immediately made towards us. Consternation sat fixed upon every brow, and fear shook every frame; each member refused its office. However, home invited so urgently, that nature began to do her duty, we flew to the wood with precipitation. But Lo! when we had passed the borders and entered the body thereof, to our utter astonishment and dismay, instead of pursuers we found ourselves waylayed by thirty or forty more of the same pale race of white Vultures, whom to pass was impossible, we attempted without deliberation to force their ranks. But alas! we were unsuccessful, eleven out of fourteen were made captives, bound instantly, and notwithstaning our unintelligible intreaties, cries & lamentations, were hurried to their boat, and within five minutes were on board, gagged, and carried down the stream like a sluice; fastened down in the boat with cramped jaws, added to a horrid stench occasioned by filth and stinking fish; while all were groaning, crying and praying, but poor creatures to no effect. I after a siege of the most agonizing pains describable, fell into a kind of torpid state of insensibility which continued for some hours. Towards evening I awoke only to horrid consternation, deep wrought misery and woe, which defies language to depict. I was pressed almost to death by the weight of bodies that lay upon me; night approached and for the first time in my life, I was accompanied with gloom and horror.

"Thus in the 16th year of my age, I was borne away from native innocence ease, and luxury, into captivity, by a christian people, who preach humility, charity, and benevolence. "Father! forgive them for they know not what they do."

"I remained in this situation about four days, the cords had cut the flesh, I was much bruised in many parts of my body, being most of the time gagged, and having no food only such as those brutes thought was necessary for my existence. Sometimes I courted death, but home would force upon me with all its delights and hope, that soother of all afflictions taught me to bear with patience my present sufferings ..."

You may read the entire text at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill''s exhibit Documenting the American South.

You may purchase your own copy of The Blind African Slave from the University of Wisconsin Press.

Please note: The USF Africana Heritage Project does not benefit, financially or otherwise, from featuring works that are available commercially. Rather, we seek to keep you informed of timely and interesting reading that will enhance your research.

Many thanks to the University of Wisconsin Press for providing this excerpt for our readers!
About the Book
The Blind African Slave Or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace as Told to Benjamin F. Prentiss, Esq.

Edited and with an introduction by Kari J. Winter

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography, William L. Andrews, General Editor

"It is my anxious wish that this simple narrative may be the means of opening the hearts of those who hold slaves and move them to consent to give them the freedom which . . . all mankind have an equal right to possess."Jeffrey Brace, from The Blind African Slave

Born in West Africa around 1742, Jeffrey Brace was captured by slave traders at sixteen and shipped to Barbados, where he was sold. After fighting as an enslaved sailor in the Seven Years War, Brace was taken to Connecticut and sold again. Brace later enlisted in the Continental Army in hopes of winning his manumission. After military service, he was honorably discharged and was freed from slavery. In 1784, he moved to Vermont, the first state to make slavery illegal. There he married, bought a farm, and raised a family. Although literate, he was blind when he narrated his life story to an antislavery lawyer, Benjamin Prentiss. Brace died in 1827, a well-respected abolitionist.

In this first new edition since 1810, Kari J. Winter supplements our knowledge of Brace''s life and times with original documents and new material.

Kari J. Winter is associate professor of American studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is the author of Subjects of Slavery, Agents of Change.

For more information contact Benson Gardner, our publicity manager, phone: (608) 263-0734, email: publicity@uwpress.wisc.edu

You may read the entire text at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill's exhibit Documenting the American South.

You may purchase your own copy of The Blind African Slave from the University of Wisconsin Press.

Please note: The USF Africana Heritage Project does not benefit, financially or otherwise, from featuring works that are available commercially. Rather, we seek to keep you informed of timely and interesting reading that will enhance your research.


Copyright 2004 The University of South Florida and The Africana Heritage Project. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. For more information, contact the Africana Heritage Project via e-mail.