A newly available slave narrative tells the story of a Maryland woman who escaped slavery and traveled the Underground Railroad on a yearslong journey to Auburn, N.Y. The 12-page manuscript was penned by Julia C. Ferris, a white teacher who sat down with a former slave named Jane Clark, and it was never available to historians, scholars and students until now.
Transcribed and made available to the public by Common-Place, Clark’s story began in 1822, when she was born under slavery. At age 7 or 8, Clark was given to a wealthy plantation owner, William Compton, as payment for a debt. After Compton’s death, Clark was mistreated so often, she became “determined to escape or die in the attempt.”
Clark’s journey includes incredible details about the Underground Railroad, including hiding in a cabin for almost a year, obtaining forged passes to travel to Washington, D.C., to witness a presidential inauguration, and securing train tickets to Baltimore and then New York.
Ferris wrote the narrative in 1897 after sitting down with Clark to interview the former bondswoman. Clark recounted her story to Ferris years before the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (later the Works Projects Administration) conducted more than 2,300 interviews of formerly enslaved people.
The full text of the narrative is available at Common-Place, a publication dedicated to exploring early American life. The narrative, including historical insight and explanation, was completed by Robin Bernstein, the Dillon Professor of American History and professor of African and African-American studies and of studies of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University.