(?–?), author of The Garies and Their Friends (1857) and two novelettes, “Two Wolves and a Lamb,” (1870) and “Marvin Hayle” (1870). The little that is known about Frank J. Webb's life comes from Harriet Beecher Stowe's brief preface to The Garies. According to Stowe, he was born in Philadelphia, probably in the late 1820s or early 1830s. After growing up there, he likely resided in England sometime prior to the London publication of The Garies and may have moved in wealthy European social circles. Drawing on these experiences, Webb's novelettes focus on the leisure-time activities of upper-class society in London, Paris, and Cannes. The Garies's prefaces by Stowe and Lord Brougham, both abolitionists, suggest he may have also played a role in the antislavery movement.
Webb's contribution to African American literature is to be found in the number of pioneering themes and subjects addressed in The Garies. Published four years after William Wells Brown's Clotel, The Garies is the second of four African American novels published prior to the Civil War. Its contrived plot follows the fortunes of three families with roots in the South: the dark-skinned Ellises, the interracial Garies, and the white Stevenses, headed by the villainous “slippery” George. Drawn together by circumstance in Philadelphia, these families allow Webb to explore the fortunes of the rising African American middle class and the virulence of northern racism, greed, and deceit found among both whites and blacks. The novel argues finally that wealth is the key to African American advancement. The Garies and Their Friends was the first novel to describe the lives of free African Americans in the North, to address interracial marriage and the problem of the color line, and the first to make passing a major theme.
Gregory L. Candela, “ Frank J. Webb, ” DLB, vol. 50, Afro-American Writers before the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Trudier Harris, 1986, pp. 242–244.Blyden Jackson, A History of Afro-American Literature, vol. 1, The Long Beginning, 1746–1895, 1989, pp. 323–348. The Garies and Their Friends, ed. Robert Reid-Pharr (1997).M. Giulia Fabi, “The Mark Without: Subversive Mulattas and Mulattos in the Fiction of William Wells Brown and Frank J. Webb” in Passing and the Rise of the African American Novel (2001), pp. 7–43.
Lawrence R. Rodgers