Slave narratives are the personal accounts by black slaves as well as exslaves about their experiences of slavery and the struggles to obtain freedom. The slave narratives offer chronological incidents into an individual’s experiences and they provide the audience with an understanding into the writer’s mind and the structure of the slave society. Exslaves, like Frederick Douglass, wrote narratives to try to persuade his readers about the injustices and immorals of slavery and also attempted to eventually abolish the institution of slavery. Other slaves wrote narratives to earn money to buy relatives out of slavery, to support themselves in their old age, and to financially support the causes of abolition. Jacob Stroyer wasn’t any different. He wrote his book, My Life in the South, to show the harsh realities of slavery and to document his life on a large slave plantation in South Carolina.
Jacob Stroyer was one of fifteen children born on a plantation in 1849. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed Stroyer in 1864, he spent 15 horrible years in bondage. In Stroyer’s book, he describes the cruel conditions he endured on a daily basis from whipping, to being nearly starved to death. Stroyer describes living in one cabin with two large families. How could two families sleep in such a small cabin? Stroyer describes the tension it caused living so close together. Families often competed against one another for food. When someone stole a hog from the master and brought the meat home, the other family reported the thief to the master. That person suffered severe consequences. Stroyer describes how the family sleep when it got so hot during the summer. “When it was too warm for them to sleep comfortably, they all slept under trees until it grew too cool” (Stroyer 57).
Stroyer , however, was very fortunate enough to have not been separated from his family. Stroyer lived on the plantation with his mother, father, two sisters and Uncle Benjamin. Stroyer’s father took care of the horses and mules and at a young age Stroyer learned to tend to the animals and he also learned how to ride them. Stroyer describes his first whipping he received from his owner, because he was caught riding one of the horses. He was very surprised by this, because his mother and father were the only one’s to have whipped him. “I cried out in a tone of voice as if I would say, this is the first and last whipping you will give me when my father gets hold of you. When I got away from him I ran to my father with all my might, but soon found my expectation blasted, as father very cooly said to me, “Go back to your work and be a good boy, for I cannot do anything for you” (Stroyer 69). This didn’t satisfy Stroyer and he went to his mother, who confronted the owner. His mother also received a beating. Stroyer was disappointed that his mother couldn’t help him. “Although mother failed to help me at first, still I had faith that when he had taken me back to the stable yard and commenced to whipping me, she would come and stop him, but I looked in vain, for she did not come” (Stroyer 70). This is when Stroyer first realized that he and the rest of the Negroes were doomed to a life of cruel treatment.
Stroyer and his family continued to endure severe whippings, and Stroyer was to see his family separated at his first slave trade. Stroyer describes the excitement of some of the slaves who hoped to leave their cruel slave masters for someone better. Others were crying and weeping for they knew they probably would never see their families and friends ever again. “As the cars moved away we heard the weeping and wailing from the slaves as far as human voice could be heard; and from that time to the present I have neither seen nor heard from my two sisters, nor any of those who left Clarkson on that memorable day” (Stroyer 84).
Stroyer continued to live on the plantation, but one event led to the freedom of all slaves. Northerners were against slavery and white Southerners felt that slavery was needed to continue their prosperous way of living. Conflict between the two regions led to the Civil War in 1861, and the country was torn apart. After four years and the loss of 617,000 American lives, the Union was saved and African Americans were promised the rights of citizens and slavery was abolished. After the Civil War, Stroyer and his family moved to Salem, Massachusetts. Here Stroyer served as an African Methodist Episcopal Minister.
Unlike many other slave narrative writers who were taught at an early age how to read and write, Stroyer had no knowledge of reading and wring. It was only until after the Civil War that Stroyer learned the true meaning of literacy. Stroyer contributed enormously to the slave narrative tradition just by writing his book, My Life in the South. Jacob didn’t hold back his feelings and he didn’t try to appeal to the white audiences. He gave gruesome accounts of his daily experiences being born a slave. He wanted everyone to know about the immorality that slaves suffered just because they were black. He sought to inform the readers of the inhuman and immoral characteristics of slavery. After the War, Stroyer continued to voice his opinion about the wrongs of slavery and continued to preach the word of God. Stroyer should be commended because he is apart of history. Many slaves didn’t get the opportunity to writer about their suffrage. In my opinion, Stroyer is the voice of all the slaves who couldn’t be heard. He does a tremendous job of documenting his accounts of what he and his fellow slaves endured.
Stroyer, Jacob. My Life in the South. Massachusetts: