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Wilson, Harriet E. (ca 1828 - ca 1863).


- born Harriet Adams, a daughter of Afro-American father and white mother, abandoned by her mother after her father's death 

- married Harriet Wilson, abandoned by her husband who died soon afterwards, experienced the death of her only son at the age of seven (see Our Nig)

- involved with Spiritualism, gave lectures, also active as a healer and nurse

W o r k

- one of the first Afro-Americans to publish a novel in English in the US

- her work thought to be written by a white male author

Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859):

- an autobiographical, introspective, and sentimental novel

- a young girl Fado of mixed origin abandoned by her white mother, grows to a womanhood as a servant in the pre-Civil War New England, and has to face the racist woman as a head of the family

- leaves the family at the age of 18, experiences an unhappy marriage, early widowhood, and after the birth of her child must support herself essentially on her own


"'Keep her', said Jack. 'She's real hand-some and bright, and not very black, either'.

'Yes', rejoined Mary; 'that's just like you, Jack. She'll be of no use at all these three years, right under foot all the time'.

'Poh! Miss Mary; if she should stay, it wouldn't be two days before you would be telling the girls about OUR nig, OUR nig'! retorted Jack.

'I don't want a nigger 'round me, do you, mother'? asked Mary.

'I don't mind the nigger in the child. I should like a dozen better than one', replied her mother. 'If I could make her do my work in a few years, I would keep her. I have so much trouble with girls I hire, I am almost persuaded if I have one to train up in my way from a child, I shall be able to keep them awhile. I am tired of changing every few months'".


From Our Nig (1859).


(Photo: Harriet Wilson Project org).

  • Author

    Born Harriet Adams. Married Harriet Wilson. (ca 1828 - ca 1863). African-American.
  • Work

    Novelist. The first female Afro-American novelist.
  • Genres

    Romanticism. Sentimentalism. Autobiography.


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Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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