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Legh Richmond, 1772-1827
The Negro Servant in "Annals of the Poor. Containing The Dairyman's Daughter, (with considerable additions) The Negro Servant, and the Young Cottager."
New Haven: Whiting and Tiffany, Sign of Franklin's Head, Corner of College Green, 1815.


Other than the information provided by author Legh Richmond (1772-1827), little is known about William, whose conversion is recounted in The Negro Servant. It is one of the narratives recorded in Richmond's Annals of the Poor (1814).

Legh Richmond (1772-1827) was an Englishman and Anglican priest whose depictions of piety brought him worldwide fame. Richmond spent eight years as a priest on the Isle of Wight, where he met William and the protagonists of the other narratives found in Annals of the Poor. Richmond left the Isle of Wight in 1805 and in 1809 began publishing accounts of his ministry there in the Christian Guardian. The Religious Tract Society combined The Negro Servant with The Dairyman's Daughter and The Young Cottager into one volume in 1814, and Annals of the Poor became an international bestseller almost immediately. Richmond's Annals was quickly translated into French, Italian, German, Danish and Swedish, and when Richmond died of consumption in 1827, more than two million copies of his Annals had already been published.

In The Negro Servant, Richmond presents William's conversion as proof that God will one day convert the inhabitants of Africa to Christianity. Richmond believes that the enslavement of Africans is a fulfillment of the biblical curse "originally pronounced on the descendants of Ham." It states that "A servant of servants shall he be" (p. 140). Richmond nonetheless "calls aloud for the ardent prayers and active exertions of Christians in their behalf" and anticipates that before the second coming of Christ, "the poor benighted Negro will look down from the ends of the earth unto Jesus and be saved." He offers William as proof that "though some men are white and some are black, true Christianity is all of one colour" (pp. 140, 182).

Richmond is introduced to William by his current employer, a humane ship captain who seeks out Richmond to gratify William's "great desire to be baptized" (pp. 141-42). In conversations with Richmond, William explains that he was kidnapped from a beach while collecting seashells with his family and that he worked as a slave in Jamaica until William bought him and "gave me my liberty, and made me free, and me live with him ever since" (p. 144).

On his first voyage with the captain, William visits the United States, where he hears a preacher proclaim that "de wicked must be turned into hell-fire" and grows afraid because "me felt dat me was very wicked sinner, and dat make me cry" (p. 145). William laments that "my soul more black dan my body," and Richmond seeks to shift his reader's attention from slave bodies to slave souls: "Too often have we been obliged to hear what is the price which sordid unfeeling avarice has affixed to the body of a poor negro slave; let us now attempt, while we pursue the foregoing narrative, to mediate on the value which infinite Mercy has attached to his soul." (pp. 178, 151).

William's conviction of his own sinfulness makes him desire to know God and to read the Bible. William explains that "God give me desire to read, and dat make reading easy. Massa give me Bible, and one sailor show me de letters; and so me learned to read by myself, with God's goot help" (p. 147). William thanks God for his time as a slave because it brought him "from de land of darkness and bring me to de land of light." His Christian conversion forces William to regard his original home in Africa as a place of spiritual darkness, while "the West India Islands . . . be de land of providence" and "America be de land of light to me, for dere me first hear goot minister preach" (p. 178).

From the United States, William sails to England, where the captain introduces him to Richmond. The Negro Servant catalogs three visits between William and Richmond. In each, Richmond instructs "my negro disciple," in the catechetical method, asking a series of question with prescribed answers such as, "What was your state by nature?" and "Who redeemed you?" repeating the process until William could answer each question correctly (p. 151, 177-78). In their third meeting, Richmond examines William before a group of cottagers that meet weekly to discuss religious matters, presenting him as one of "the truly religious poor" and casting William's poverty and humility as the defining characteristics of his identity rather than his race. William is baptized shortly after this meeting and subsequently leaves England without seeing Richmond again.

Richmond ends The Negro Servant with an original poem entitled "The Negro's Prayer," in which he assumes William's identity as "a helpless Negro boy" kidnapped on the beach (p. 185). In his poem, as well as in his narrative of William's conversion, Richmond documents the transformative power of God's grace, which changes degenerate sinners into glorious saints:

Mine was a wretched state, expos'd
To men and angels' view;
A slave to man, a slave to sin,
A slave to Satan too.

But if thy Son hath made me free,
Then am I free indeed;
From powers of darkness, sin, and hell,
Thy love my soul has freed. (p. 186)

Works Consulted: Borgstrom, Michael and Barbara Ryan, "Contextualizing Stowe's Dandy," PMLA 119.2 (2004): 345-46; Munby, G. F. W. "Richmond, Legh (1772–1827)," rev. Clare L. Taylor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004; Saillant, John, "The Black Body Erotic and the Republican Body Politic, 1790- 1820," Sentimental Men: Masculinity and the Politics of Affect in American Culture, Ed. Mary Chapman and Glenn Hendler, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Zachary Hutchins

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