Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 March 2021
This chapter investigates the function of a biblically-derived rhetoric of redemption in writings by turn-of-the century Black narrators who discussed slavery in the United States of America. I focus on three key texts: Venture Smith’s A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, A Native of Africa, But resident above seventy years in the United States of America (1798); George White’s A Brief Account of the Life, Experiences, Travels, and Gospel Labours of George White, An African (1810); and John Jea’s Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, The African Preacher. White and Jea infuse the account of their freedom from the bondage of sin and their subsequent regeneration in God with a riveting chronicle of their experiences both as slaves and as roving Atlantic freedmen, while Smith incorporates his experiences as a slave and a freedman within a Franklinesque account of personal fiscal successes and exploits. Operating as a principal and a vocabulary, the rhetoric of redemption enlarged possibilities for Black narratives to critique both the early practices of racial slavery and the historical character of freedom in the North American context. The word “redemption” carries theological and economic meanings that bore directly upon the historical character of (and possibilities for) Black liberation in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.