NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Yale University announced Thursday that research has determined an 1858 manuscript it acquired is the earliest known prison memoir written by an African-American.
The book-length manuscript, titled “The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict” and written under the name Robert Reed, describes the author’s experiences while incarcerated in New York from the 1830s through the 1850s. It was acquired by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 2009.
English and American studies professor Caleb Smith authenticated the manuscript and identified its author as Austin Reed, a free black man who was born in upstate New York, Yale said.
“Finding any new text by an African-American author of the 19th century is significant, but this memoir has so much to say about captivity, freedom and human rights,” said Smith, who’s preparing the manuscript for publication. “It is a truly remarkable discovery.”
The key piece of evidence in the authentication process was an 1895 handwritten letter, preserved in state files, from Austin Reed to the warden of a juvenile reformatory where he served earlier that recounts some of his story and inquires whether the institution has maintained any records of his time as an inmate, Yale said.
Reed’s account aimed to expose the brutal punishments at Auburn State Prison, including whippings and what were called shower baths, similar to water-boarding, a type of simulated drowning. He described what happened after he confronted a warden with a knife:
“Stripping off my shirt the tyrantical curse bounded my hands fast in front of me and ordered me to stand around,” he wrote. “Turning my back towards him he threw sixty seven lashes on me according to the orders of Esq. Cook. I was then to stand over the dreain while one of the inmates was my back in a pail of salt brine.”
Yale American history professor David Blight called the Reed prison narrative manuscript “a revelation.”
“Nothing quite like it exists,” said Blight, director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. “Reed is a crafty and manipulative storyteller, and perhaps above all he left an insider’s look at the American world of crime, prisons and the brutal state of race relations in the middle of the 19th century.”
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/7-10/14)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Nite | to the tune of @cnn 😞
1 of 25
2. Got so much work to do but I just wanna stay in bed and binge watch #Gameofthrones and start the new season of #OnceUponATime. I know I can't be the only one. Right? Ha 💤🦁🍂 #saturday
2 of 25
3. Mommy's weekend turn up ❤️👶🏾💕🍼 Wouldn't trade it for nothing. #TeamNoSleep lol #HesMyBiggestBlessing ✨
3 of 25
4. One of them oh shit mont we made it feelings … this shit still be unreal 💯💪🏾 @remyboymonty1738
4 of 25
5. Tickets Available October 14 @ticketmaster.
5 of 25
6. People magazine Home edition has raided my house! Get a sneak peek into the bedroom life of the Leakes and see other parts of my home now at PEOPLE.COM
6 of 25
7. They want to kick you when you down, but kick it when you up
7 of 25
8. Got my advance copy of #Mafia3 at @gamestop. Get yours via link in the bio #Mafia3 #Ad
8 of 25
9. This is some of the cast and our diverse team of writers in the writer's room creating funny sh*t for @nbcmarlon what a fun room! Lots of jokes, great stories and having a great time doing what we love... making people laugh and feel something. Look out for our show next year @nbcmarlon we bringing sitcoms back to NBC
9 of 25
10. #HappySunday☀️Thank you @4everbrandy101 💛💡💛
10 of 25
11. Happy to be back in Central Falls, RI breaking ground for the One Stop Health Center and hosting a local community event with #Vaseline.
11 of 25
12. Thank you all in advance 💋💋💋 #Repost @urbansvintage・・・#TarajiPHenson's memoir #AroundTheWayGirl will be available everywhere TODAY October 11th! Will you be purchasing a copy? #UrbansVintage
12 of 25
13. Moms got my back
13 of 25
14. @galore dinner party glo ✨ thanks to @styledbygiigii
14 of 25
15. 🌹#ThisIsWhatTheTruthFeelsLikeTOUR #forevereve
15 of 25
16. Yes, all those videos I've been posting have led to this: the introduction of skincare to @TYRABeauty! This is the rundown on the new line:Years of research and beauty tips I live by led me to produce the most effective and delightful skincare out there. I'm all about taking really good care of my skin, so I can look like I'm aging in #TyraYears and go filter free on Instagram when I feel like it! Now, it's your turn. ✨My Mama always told me not to wash my face with just my hands. "Tyra, girl, you're just moving the dirt around!" And I've listened. First up is The Clean Machine.... ...a 3-in-1 foaming face wash that cleanses, removes makeup and purified your skin. It has patented technology - a attached Turbo Cleansing Tool - to give you that deep clean that makes your skin feel super fresh. Wanna know more? Yeah, baby. Click that link in my bio.
16 of 25
17. On set of #beingmaryjane like... ❤️😬💃🏾
17 of 25
18. #carouselofhope@yvetteshelton100@makeupbylatrice @thestacetheface@marialuciahohan24
18 of 25
19. I refuse to let a little cold stop me from my daily routines to greatness. #onlythestrongsurvive #warriors
19 of 25
20. Big things begin with big THINKING... #BusinessEthics #SetLife 🎥
20 of 25
21. Goodnight - here's a song
21 of 25
22. Words can't explain the feeling that I have right now.....God is good. look momma I made it. #Harts #Blessed #WhatNow #comedicrockstarshit #4DaysAway
22 of 25
23. I tried to get a better video with out the nasty bib but she started getting mad at me..lol! Big cuz @the_queen_caitlin trying to show her what to do. #MamasToots #HeirBear👑💜
23 of 25
24. Gorgeous Serena joined Beyoncé in Formation last night on stage in New Jersey!!!
24 of 25
25. 😜 @lifeofdesiigner & @rockohill
25 of 25