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Frances H. Green (Frances Harriet), 1805-1878 and Elleanor Eldridge, 1784-1845?
Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge
Providence, R. I.: B.T. Albro, 1838.

Summary

Elleanor Eldridge (1784-ca. 1845) was born in March of 1784 in Warwick, Rhode Island. In her Memoirs (1838), she claims that it was her grandfather who was captured, along with his family, in Africa and transported to the U.S. At least one secondary source, however, alleges that it was Eldridge’s father, Robin Eldridge, who was captured in Africa. Her father fought in the American Revolution in exchange for his freedom, and her Native American mother, Hannah Prophet, died when Eldridge was only ten. After her mother’s death, Eldridge began working as a paid servant. She became adept at housework, spinning, weaving, and dairy work. She continued to expand her business ventures throughout her life and was generally quite successful. She began purchasing property and secured a private loan to expand her property ownership, but contention over this loan forced Eldridge to sue. Memoirs was published, in large part, “to help raise a sum of money which MUST BE PAID” in order to “clear her property” and regain the fruits of her labor (p. 7).

The author of Eldridge's memoir, Frances Harriet Whipple Green (1805-1878), was a white writer and activist who became involved in many sociopolitical causes. Born in 1805 in Rhode Island, Green married Charles C. Green in 1842, divorced him in 1847, and married William C. McDougall in 1861. She was a prolific writer, stressing the importance of self-sustaining labor in her two biographies of Elleanor Eldridge (Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge and Elleanor’s Second Book). She also published anti- slavery materials, including The Envoy: From Free Hearts to the Free and Shahmah in Pursuit of Freedom. She wrote books on self-improvement, defended women factory workers while editor of a Massachusetts journal, and fought to extend the vote to those without property. Green began writing Spiritualist tracts in the 1850s and eventually died in California in 1878.

Green opens Eldridge’s biography by articulating the book’s purpose, one that was consistent with Green’s interest in self-sustaining labor: “And while its direct object is to render some little assistance to one who has been the subject of peculiar adversity and wrong, it may subserve a very important purpose, in bringing forward, and setting before the colored population, an example of industry and untiring perseverance” (p. 3). In addition to emphasizing Eldridge’s hard work, Green devotes several pages to bolstering Eldridge’s standing by including “voluntary” statements from Eldridge’s former white employers in order to show “the entire worthiness of her character” and the “credibility of her statements.” Inclusion of character references was relatively common in slave narratives and writings about African Americans during this time. (p. 5).

Green then outlines Eldridge’s lineage and childhood, calling her the “inheritress of African blood, with all its heirship of wo and shame” and the “subject of wrong and banishment, by her Indian maternity” (p. 11). Green claims that Eldridge’s grandfather, Dick, along with his entire family, was brought aboard what he believed to be a trade ship. When Dick discovered that the ship was a slaver, it was too late—the family was enslaved. Green further maintains that Dick and his wife had four children, one of whom, Robin, was Eldridge’s father. Robin Eldridge fought, he writes, alongside his two brothers in the American Revolution and was promised “freedom, with the additional premium of 200 acres of land” (p. 17). At the close of the war, the brothers gained their freedom but were paid in useless Continental money and were thus unable to travel and claim their land.

Much of the narrative focuses on Eldridge’s industriousness. She begins working at the age of 10 and is known for her spinning, weaving, and “A PREMIUM” cheese (p. 31). She also functions, unofficially, as a nurse and caretaker for her siblings and their children over the years. Due to her industriousness and thrift, Eldridge is able to purchase a lot and build a home without needing any credit. Several years later, she expands the home, which allows her to live on the property and take on a tenant (p. 68). Wishing to purchase two nearby lots, Eldridge borrows money from a “gentleman of Warwick” at the rate of ten percent; she agrees to “pay the interest, and renew the note annually” (p. 68 -69).

Shortly thereafter, Eldridge contracts typhus fever while away from home and is rumored to have died. When she eventually returns home, she finds that her lender has died and his brother, the heir, has “laid an attachment on Ellen’s property” in order to regain the funds owed—$240. After learning that Eldridge is indeed alive, he promises not to distress her further for the funds. She agrees to continue paying the interest.

When Eldridge leaves town to aid a family sick with cholera, the lender, despite his promises, places an attachment on the property and sells it. Green attacks the lender for the sale, noting that the attachment was “entirely disproportioned to the debt,” that the sale was never advertised as required by law, and that the auctioneer sold the $4000 property to the first bidder for $1500 because the “owner was a laboring colored woman, who was then away” (p. 83). Green suggests that the seller is racist, sexist, and full of “wilful malignity” (p. 83). Eldridge sues the purchaser in the hopes of reversing the sale “on the ground of the illegal or non-advertisement of the sale” (p. 87). Although three men dispute his testimony under oath, the local sheriff alleges that he did advertise the property, and “it was found that the oaths of common men could not be taken against that of the High Sheriff” (p. 88). Eldridge hires men to discredit the sheriff and brings “an action against the sheriff, tending to destroy his testimony” (p. 89). The day before the case is to go to court again, the purchaser offers to return the property to Eldridge for $2100 and two years’ rent.

Eldridge secures the funds but the purchaser increases the amount each time she offers her payment, and Eldridge is finally forced to repurchase the property for $2700. The narrative concludes with messages from numerous sources supporting Eldridge, along with original poetry likely written by Green.

Works Consulted: Fisher, Vivian Njeri, "Eldridge, Elleanor," Black Women in America, ed. Darlene Clark Hine, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 11 September 2008; Murphy, Teresa Anne, “Green, Frances Harriet Whipple,” American National Biography Online, 25 September 2008

Meredith Malburne

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