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Slavery Illustrated, in the Histories of Zangara and Maquama, Two Negroes Stolen From Africa and Sold Into Slavery. Related by Themselves
Manchester: Wm. Irwin, London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., 1849.

Summary

Slavery Illustrated, in the Histories of Zangara and Maquama, Two Negroes Stolen From Africa and Sold Into Slavery is a 36-page abolitionist tract published in England in 1849. It is divided into four sections: "Introductory Remarks," "Zangara, the Negro Slave," "Maquama, The Discarded Negro Slave," and "Concluding Remarks." An author identified only as "W.A."—presumably a British abolitionist—is credited with writing the "Introductory Remarks" in Leeds, England. The identity of the author(s) of the other sections is unknown.

Zangara is the first of two African men whose life stories are told in the text. Due to a lack of corroborating sources, however, the biographical details provided in Zangara's narrative are difficult to verify. According to Slavery Illustrated, Zangara was born in an unspecified year in a small African village called "Tamata," located near the Niger River (p. 1). Around the age of sixteen, he married a woman named Quahama. After at least six years of marriage, during which Zangara and Quahama had at least three children together, their village was attacked by slave traders. Two of their children were killed during the raid, and Zangara was sold into slavery along with Quahama and their oldest daughter, Mene. After enduring the horrors of the Middle Passage, Zangara reached America and was sold into slavery in an unspecified location. Amazingly, his wife and daughter also survived and all three were bought by the same slave owner. Quahama and Mene eventually died after suffering brutal abuse, but Zangara made his escape by walking to the sea and swimming out to a British ship. After rescuing the child of a white passenger from drowning, Zangara earned the gratitude of a wealthy British family, who taught him to read and bought his freedom when the ship docked in Liverpool. The date and circumstances of his death are unknown.

Like Zangara, most of what is known about Maquama comes from Slavery Illustrated itself, and the biographical details provided in his narrative are difficult to corroborate. According to the narrative, Maquama was born in an African region called "Temaka." (p. 27). No birth date is specified. Like Zangara, Maquama was married with three children when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. After his capture, he was taken to the British West Indies. As he grew older, his eyesight failed him, leading his master to abandon Maquama to provide for himself. Soon afterwards, the "discarded" Maquama was shot and injured by two white men who fired their pistols at him for sport (p. 29). Near death, Maquama was taken in and nursed back to health by white Christian missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall. The Marshalls paid to secure Maquama's freedom and also instructed him in Christianity. When his eyesight returned, they taught him to read the Bible. Eventually, he participated in missionary work with the Marshalls. The date and circumstances of his death are unknown.

The "Introductory Remarks" establish Slavery Illustrated as an abolitionist tract. W.A. explicitly states that the document is intended to inspire readers to activism: "The purpose of the following pages is to expose some of the evils attendant upon Negro Slavery, in the hope of . . . promot[ing] the early and total abolition of . . . the most gigantic system of oppression and iniquity which has ever disgraced our fallen world" (p. iii). Thus the author presents the narratives of Zangara and Maquama as a means of revealing "but a small portion of the evils of Negro Slavery," in order to "unlock the springs of sensibility which lie concealed" in the hearts of readers who are free but not yet committed to the abolitionist cause (p. iv).

"Zangara, the Negro Slave" is the longer of Slavery Illustrated's two slave narratives. It begins with Zangara's explanation that he is "unable to give a particular account of my early life" because he was "stolen away from my dear parents and relations when very young," but his story actually does include many details about his life in Africa, which prior to contact with whites is one of "pure and almost unalloyed happiness" (pp. 1, 3). Zangara's narrative also contains so many amazing adventures, unlikely coincidences, and melodramatic plot twists that it often reads more like a novel than a memoir. For example, at the age of fourteen Zangara kills a man-eating tiger with a knife and a spear, and he first meets Quahama when he rescues her from an alligator, though neither of these species is native to Africa. During the attack on his village, Zangara's youngest child is picked up by a slave-catcher; when Zangara attempts to stab the man, he misses him and accidentally kills his own child. In the chaos of the attack, Zangara believes that the rest of his family is killed. Later, during the nightmarish Middle Passage, he comes to believe that Quahama and Mene have perished from a disease onboard the slave ship. But moments after he is sold on the auction block, Zangara discovers that his wife and daughter have both survived: "I heard my name called--it was by a poor emaciated creature. She called again--I knew her voice,--it was Quahama! The child was with her" (p. 12). Despite his inability to speak English, Zangara is then able to persuade his new master to purchase both Quahama and Mene so that his family can remain together. Zangara's narrative takes another unlikely twist when he is "appointed, with several others of the stouter Negroes, to attend a party of whites to take or destroy a number of runaway Negroes, who had formed [a] considerable village in the mountains" (p. 15). Zangara participates reluctantly in the destruction of the village and its occupants and afterwards his party sights "a poor old Negro man, who fell on his knees, holding up his hands in supplication" but who is nevertheless shot by the white men (p. 16). Filled with sympathy, Zangara sneaks away from his party and returns to the old man, who is still alive. Zangara is then shocked to discover that "It was my father!" (p. 16). He stays to nurse his father's wounds for three days before the old man dies. Upon his return to the plantation, Zangara is flogged severely for sneaking away, and Quahama and Mene both die in short order. After losing his father, wife, and daughter, Zangara's "thoughts were principally occupied in pondering on the subject of escape" (p. 20). The account of his escape, his rescue of the drowning white child, and his subsequent manumission in England are all related in a similarly melodramatic tone.

"Maquama, The Discarded Negro Slave" is related by an unnamed narrator, a white British abolitionist who reports "being present at a meeting at Kendal on the subject of Slavery" and hearing Maquama tell the story of his life there (p. 25). The narrator claims that he committed the story to paper the next day. Like Zangara, Maquama begins his tale with a word about how idyllic life in Africa was prior to contact with white men: "You cannot conceive what happy beings Negroes are in such a country, where they are out of the reach of Slave-makers" (p. 27). Maquama's narrative also ends on a melodramatic note. After Mr. Marshall, one of Maquama's benefactors, hears that his wife has died in a shipwreck, he dies of a broken heart, leaving their young son orphaned. Maquama assumes care of the boy, and, following Mr. Marshall's instructions, he leaves Jamaica to take the boy to England. Later, Maquama receives a letter informing him that Mrs. Marshall had not, in fact, died in the shipwreck but "escaped with her life in an almost miraculous manner" (p. 32). As Maquama is telling this part of his story, a veiled "lady in deep mourning" enters the room where the abolitionist meeting is being held (p. 32). As Maquama finishes speaking, the woman faints and she is later revealed to be none other than Mrs. Marshall. Maquama's narrative ends as she is tearfully reunited with her son.

Slavery Illustrated's "Concluding Remarks" remind readers that "the Negro is not destitute of the finer feelings of our nature" and thus white abolitionists should "learn to regard him as a man to be instructed, as a fellow-citizen to be protected, and as a brother to be beloved" (p. 34).

Because of the logical inconsistencies, melodramatic plot twists and strange similarities between Zangara and Maquama's narratives, readers may find them unlikely or even fantastic. But even if the narratives contained within the text are not strictly factual, they do show a familiarity with the details of enslaved life reported in other, authenticated slave narratives. For example, in his introduction, W.A. refers to Frederick Douglass and several other slave narrative authors (p. iii). The author(s) of Zangara and Maquama's narratives included real details from the lives of enslaved people—the cruel treatment, close quarters and rampant disease of the Middle Passage; the agony of potential separation from family members; the violence of white overseers—and presented them in a melodramatic style in order to create a literary work designed to entertain readers and inspire them to abolitionist activism.

Harry Thomas

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