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James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw

(c. 1712—1777) freed slave and autobiographer


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(c. 1710-?), spiritual and slave autobiographer.

A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, An African Prince appeared in London in 1770, related by a former slave from America in need of financial support for his family. In the work, Gronniosaw mentions how the Puritan spiritual writers John Bunyan and Richard Baxter influenced him. Thus, he tells his life story in accordance with the spiritual autobiography's traditional pattern of sin, conversion, and subsequent rebirth.

The narrative deals with Gronniosaw's remembrance of Africa, where he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Transported to Barbados, he was resold to a young gentleman in New York and later to a minister who taught him about Christianity. A schoolmaster generously offered instructional services to the young slave, who gained freedom when his master died. Gronniosaw then worked aboard various ships until he settled in England. There he married “white Betty” and, some years later, took his family to live in a religious community. However, their lives were marred by poverty and misfortune due in large part to racial discrimination and prejudice.

A popular work that ran through many editions, Gronniosaw's narrative was known by other ex-slave writers. By using the spiritual autobiographical form to relate his life experience, he no doubt influenced the pattern of slave writing that emerged in England and America. Gronniosaw is mentioned by Olaudah Equiano in his 1789 two-volume autobiography, which became the model for the slave narrative genre that developed in the nineteenth century during the abolitionist era.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “James Gronniosaw and the Trope of the Talking Book,” Southern Review 22 (April 1986): 252–272.Angelo Costanzo, Surprizing Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography, 1987.William L. Andrews and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Slave Narratives, 2000.

— Angelo Costanzo

Subjects: Literature — United States History.


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