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Emily Catharine Pierson
Jamie Parker, the Fugitive
Hartford: Brockett, Fuller and Co., 1851.

Summary

The biographical details of Emily Catharine Pierson's life that have survived are few, although some information about her identity can be gleaned by following the trajectory of her literary publications. Pierson may have been a white abolitionist writer from New England. In the preface to Jamie Parker, published in 1851, Pierson indicates that the "materials" for the novel were "gathered during a residence at the South," though she is now "cradled among New England hills" (p. iii). In the pre-Emancipation era, not only would it have been unlikely for an African American to travel freely through Southern slave states, but stylistic conventions within the pages of Jamie Parker—including Jamie's royal African heritage and the lack of autobiographical emphasis—imitate older, white-authored romances and slave narratives that date back as far as Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688). Pierson, whose novels combine the stylistic elements of slave narratives with popular nineteenth-century fiction, was committed to the abolitionist cause and sought to provoke her audience to feel a "deep sympathy for the slave" (p. iii). An 1853 press release in The National Era promotes the publication of a second novel, Cousin Frank's Household; Or, Scenes in the Old Dominion, by Pocahontas by "the same author." Yet Cousin Frank was published under the pseudonyms Pocahontas and Emily Clemens Pearson. As Pierson's first novel had attracted little commercial success, Robert S. Tilton theorizes that she may have released her second novel under new names, hoping to capitalize on new audience interest and link her book to the most popular contemporary novel in America, Uncle Tom's Cabin (p. 154). Although the public record lists multiple variations of her name, Pierson is thought to be the author of two additional texts, The Poor White, or, The Rebel Conscript (1864) and Prince Paul: The Freedman Soldier (1867). Pierson continued to write on abolitionist themes throughout her career, exploring the complexities of slaveholding society while still, as her reviewer suggests, "presenting, in a striking manner . . . the great evils of Slavery."

Pierson declares in the preface to Jamie Parker that her purpose is to "plead . . . for the hunted outcast, and for the three millions of our enslaved countrymen" (p. iii). Published a year after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, the novel may have been written as a protest and intended to increase public sentiment against the new law. An 1851 literary notice for Jamie Parker recognizes this theme and promotes the story as one in which "every generous heart, whether at the North or South, will sympathize in the happiness of the fugitive family, when . . . they meet around their own fireside, where fugitive slave laws are not recognized" ("Literary Notices"). Thus it is not a coincidence that the novel opens with an advertisement describing the escaped Jamie Parker—typical of fugitive slave notices posted during this time period—or that it closes in Canada, with the refugee at the beginning of a new life, like many autobiographical slave narratives.

In Jamie Parker, Pierson attempts to create a portrait of the complex relationships among enslaved African Americans and their white masters on the fictional Monmouth plantation while also narrating an adventure tale. The hero of Pierson's novel is Jamie Parker, a child "descended from an illustrious line, as his fathers were kings in Africa," but who was born into slavery in America (p. 10). While the main focus of the novel is Jamie's life, heroism, and escape from slavery, the story is complicated by smaller histories of secondary characters and side-plots that appear intended to provide a better-rounded portrayal of relationships among enslaved African Americans, their masters, and free whites. These depictions do more than merely prompt sympathy for oppressed slaves. Although abuses and mistreatments are not described lightly, they also portray white masters who demonstrate affection for their slaves, despite viewing them as property rather than as human beings. This myopia demonstrates that even kind slave-owners are complicit in the injustices of slavery, as well as the cruelties that can be inflicted by indifference or ignorance. For instance, when Jamie's mother begs leave to nurse a child that is deathly ill, Mrs. Chadwick does all she can to help but exclaims, "certainly! it is a pity to lose the boy, he'll be wanted in the field by and by" (p. 54).

Jamie's childhood is described as typical for most young slaves on a plantation where children are not considered eligible for field work until age eight. Left to themselves while their parents work in the fields, they are also forced to forage, as "no child should draw any allowance of food until old enough to work" (p. 10). At age six, Jamie is sent to live in his grandfather's cabin, and Old Scipio illegally teaches Jamie to read the Bible. This tutoring not only provides Jamie with important reading skills and religious instruction that aid him throughout the narrative, but it also creates conflict between Jamie and Mr. Brazen, the plantation overseer. As Jamie matures, his religious devotion causes Mrs. Chadwick, his mistress, to take a special interest in him, but it also antagonizes the overseer, who views Jamie as a threat to his authority. Consequently, he tricks Mr. Chadwick into selling Jamie and two of his brothers to a slave-trader.

Devastated by the separation from their family at Monmouth, the brothers resolve to escape before being sold again. They are subsequently separated and reunited through a series of events in which they escape, hide, find refuge, assist other fugitives, and are themselves assisted by Old Archy, "who had had a life experience of slavery and fully sympathized with them in their attempt to get free" (p. 109-110). Jamie is recaptured helping other fugitives, and after another brief stint in unbearable captivity, he escapes again and rejoins his brothers. They are then aided by Quakers in fighting off pursuers and eventually reach Canada.

In Canada, Jamie and his brothers are reunited with John, Rose, and Judy, a father and his two daughters who had also served on the Monmouth plantation and escaped during the course of the story. While their escapes are described in far less dramatic terms, Mrs. Chadwick reveals her utter bewilderment and helplessness when Rose and Judy abscond during a vacation to Canada, illustrating her lack of comprehension at their desire for freedom. Jamie and his brothers find Rose and Judy in a "peaceful cottage" with "a cheerful fire . . . burning on the well-swept hearth" (p. 189). Making a living as dressmakers, the girls are models of industry and familial harmony, having converted their domestic skills to trade skills: "Judy is sewing on a customer's hat, and Rose is toeing off a pair of nice lamb's wool stockings for her father," to whom "they are devotedly attached" (p. 189). Pierson thus closes the narrative of Jamie's eventful escape with a scene of domestic harmony, promoting a cultural ideal in which African Americans are free, have attained economic independence, and are no longer pursued as fugitives.

Works Consulted: "Literary Notice," in The National Era, February 10, 1853, in African American Newspapers: The 19th Century, available from Accessible Archives, online database (accessed December 4, 2007); "Literary Notices," in The National Era, March 27, 1851, in African American Newspapers: The 19th Century, available from Accessible Archives, online database (accessed December 4, 2007); Tilton, Robert S. Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Jenn Williamson

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