Hannah Bond, pen name Hannah Crafts (b.ca.1830s), was an African-American writer who escaped from slavery in North Carolina about 1857 and went to the North. Bond settled in New Jersey, likely married Thomas Vincent, and became a teacher. She wrote The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts after gaining freedom, which may be the first novel by an African-American woman. It is the only known one by a fugitive slave woman.
Apparently written in the late 1850s, the novel was published in 2002 for the first time after Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a Harvard University professor of African-American literature and history, purchased the manuscript and had it authenticated. It rapidly became a bestseller.
Bond's identity was documented in 2013 by Gregg Hecimovich of Winthrop University, who found that she had been held by John Hill Wheeler of Murfreesboro, North Carolina. He had identified many details of her life. Gates and other major scholars have supported his conclusions.
Hannah Bond, according to Gregg Hecimovich of Winthrop University, was born into slavery. She may have been born in Virginia, as was the heroine of her novel: families and persons Crafts refers to have been documented in Virginia. Of mixed race and with light skin, as a young adult she was held on the plantation of John Hill Wheeler in Murfreesboro in Hertford County, near the border with Virginia. Bond worked for Wheeler's wife Ellen as a lady's maid, and learned to read and write. Her novel revealed close knowledge of the Wheeler household and his tenure as US Minister to Nicaragua. She quotes liberally from novels by prominent authors found to have been part of Wheeler's extensive library.
About 1857 Bond took on disguise with men's clothes, perhaps helped by someone in the Wheeler family, and escaped from the plantation, traveling as a white boy. She reached freedom in the North, living for a time in upstate New York with a couple named Crafts. She apparently took their surname as her pseudonym. Later she settled in New Jersey. There she married and became a school teacher.
Only novel by slave woman
Bond wrote a novel, The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts, Fugitive Slave from North Carolina. It is a fictional slave narrative, recounting the experiences of a young mixed-race woman slave who escapes to the North and gains freedom. Her manuscript was found years later in a New Jersey attic and held privately for some time. In 2001 it was purchased at auction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor of African-American literature and culture at Harvard University. He had the manuscript authenticated, and arranged publication in 2002.
Most literary scholars believed that the name Hannah Crafts was a pseudonym, and they have considered the work to be a fictionalized autobiography. From her writing, Crafts appears to be self-taught. References in the work suggest that she may have been born in the 1830s.
The paper of the manuscript is a distinct one, from the library of North Carolina slave owner John H. Wheeler. This was part of the evidence found by Hecimovich that confirmed "Hannah Crafts" had lived at the Wheeler plantation. Bond apparently was able to use the library, as her novel borrows from elements of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott. Hecimovich used "wills, diaries, handwritten almanacs and public records" and interviews to discover and document the life of Hannah Bond, and confirm her identity. Scholars familiar with the novel and the period, such as Gates, Hollis Robbins, and William L. Andrews, believe that he has demonstrated an accounting of her identity.
Hecimovich learned that girls from a nearby school often boarded at the plantation; part of their curriculum required memorizing Charles Dickens' Bleak House, which influences Bond also borrowed for her own novel. She may have heard the girls reading aloud, or read the book herself. It was serialized in Frederick Douglass' newspaper, which had wide circulation among fugitive slaves.
Other scholars, including Joe Nickells, who authenticated the manuscript, had previously tied the author to John H. Wheeler, as she had accurately described him as the US Minister to Nicaragua and his duties, as shown by his own diary. Believing that the novel was autobiographical, scholars speculated that the fugitive slave had also married a Methodist minister and lived in New Jersey. Her married name may have been Hannah Vincent, the wife of Thomas Vincent, as they were both listed in the census records of New Jersey in 1870 and 1880.[page needed]
Background of book
Research suggests the book was written some time between 1855 and 1869. For instance, the book shows knowledge of and adaptation from Dickens' novel Bleak House (1853). The surname Crafts, her pen name, was at one time thought to be a tribute to the slaves Ellen and William Craft, whose bold escape in 1848 was covered by the national press. Hecimovich believes it is more likely Hannah took this name after living with a Crafts couple in upstate New York in her early time after reaching the North by the Underground Railroad. Most scholars believe the manuscript was written before the American Civil War, because they think Bond would have referred to it if writing during or after. She referred to other contemporary events, as well as creating fictional ones.
- Bosman, Julie (September 18, 2013). "Professor Says He Has Solved a Mystery Over a Slave's Novel". The New York Times.
- Bosman, Julie (18 September 2013). "Professor Says He Has Solved a Mystery Over a Slave's Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Gardner, Eric (2009). Unexpected Places: Relocating Nineteenth-century African American Literature. Margaret Walker Alexander series in African American studies. University Press of Mississippi. p. 173. ISBN 1-60473-283-0.
- "Blackening Bleak House: Hannah Crafts's The Bondwoman's Narrative," in In Search of Hannah Crafts: Critical Essays on the Bondwoman's Narrative, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Hollis Robbins. Basic/Civitas, 2004
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Hollis Robbins, editors, In Search of Hannah Crafts (2003)
- Beaulieu, Elizabeth Ann (2006). Writing African American Women: A-J. An Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color. 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 229–232. ISBN 0-313-33197-9.
- Gray, Richard J. (2007). A Web of Words: The Great Dialogue of Southern Literature. Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures. University of Georgia Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-8203-3005-1. Retrieved 2011-04-07.