Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> First-Person Narratives, The North Carolina Experience , North American Slave Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

Moses Roper, b. 1815
Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery. With an Appendix, Containing a List of Places Visited by the Author in Great Britain and Ireland and the British Isles; and Other Matter
Berwick-upon-Tweed: Published for the author and printed at the Warder Office, 1848.


Born in 1815 in Caswell County, North Carolina, Moses Roper was the son of a white planter, Henry H. Roper, and Nancy, his slave. When Roper was about six years old, he was sold away from his family, possibly because of his light skin tone and resemblance to his father. Finally bought by Mr. Register—a Marianna, Florida, planter known for his cruel treatment of slaves—Roper ran away yet again, beginning what would ultimately be a successful escape. After walking over 350 miles from Marianna to Savannah, Georgia, Roper gained employment as a steward on the Fox, a schooner that sailed North in August 1834. Once there, Roper traveled through New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, working various jobs. During his time in Boston, he met local abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, and became a signatory to the constitution of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In November 1835, he sailed on The Napoleon for Liverpool, England.

Upon arriving in England, where slavery had been abolished a year earlier, Roper connected with prominent British abolitionists, who paid for him to be formally educated and employed him on the anti-slavery lecture circuit. Roper's Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery was first published in London in 1837; a U.S. edition appeared the next year. In 1839, Roper married Ann Stephen Price, an Englishwoman who helped him with his copious anti-slavery workHe eventually purchased a farm in western Canada and moved there with his wife and their child. Most details concerning the rest of Roper's life, including the date and place of his death, remain unknown.

Extremely popular with abolitionist audiences in both England and America, Moses Roper's Narrative was published in ten different editions between 1837 and 1856, and was even translated into Celtic. The 1848 edition of Roper's text—the version summarized here—is the longest version of the Narrative; it includes Roper's preface as well as an appendix. This appendix features a short note (dated March 1846) updating readers on Roper's life after slavery, poems written by Roper's admirers, correspondence from readers of his Narrative, and lists of the towns in England he visited and the denominations of the groups to which he lectured.

One unique feature of Roper's Narrative is its frank discussion of how this light skin tone sometimes enables him to "pass"—to be identified as a white/Native American man rather than an enslaved black man—in order to avoid capture and re-enslavement. Roper's Narrative also features unflinching descriptions of the violence he endures in slaveryRoper says that his motivation to write his Narrative did "not arise from any desire to make [himself] conspicuous," but rather from a desire to expose "the cruel system of slavery" (p. iii). Roper's success as an author and a lecturer in his own lifetime proves that he succeeded. Today critics see Roper's Narrative as an important early example of the fugitive slave narrative, a genre which, as scholar Kristina Bobo points out, Fredrick Douglass and William Wells Brown would eventually help make "one of the most widely read forms of autobiography in mid-nineteenth-century America" (p. 91).

Works Consulted: Bobo, Kristina, "Moses Roper," in The North Carolina Roots of African American Literature: An Anthology, edited by William L. Andrews, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006; Finseth, Ian Fredrick, introduction to A Narrative of the Adventures & Escape of Moses Roper, in North Carolina Slave Narratives: The Lives of Moses Roper, Lunsford Lane, Moses Grandy & Thomas H. Jones, edited by William L. Andrews, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003; Gross, Izhak, "The Abolition of Negro Slavery and British Parliamentary Politics," The Historical Journal, 23.1 (1980): 63-85; Huddle, Mark Andrew, "Roper, Moses," in African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, 727-729, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004; "Moses Roper, b. 1815," in The Black Abolitionist Papers, Vol. I: The British Isles, 1830-1865, edited by C. Peter Ripley, et al., Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Harry Thomas

Document menu