United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots: A True Story of Slavery; A Rediscovered Narrative, with a Full Biography

United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots: A True Story of Slavery; A Rediscovered Narrative, with a Full Biography
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Lost on the other side of the world since 1855, the story of John Swanson Jacobs finally returns to America.

For one hundred and sixty-nine years, a first-person slave narrative written by John Swanson Jacobs--brother of Harriet Jacobs--was buried in a pile of newspapers in Australia. Jacobs's long-lost narrative, The United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots, is a startling and revolutionary discovery. A document like this--written by an ex-slave and ex-American, in language charged with all that can be said about America outside America, untampered with and unedited by white abolitionists--has never been seen before. A radical abolitionist, sailor, and miner, John Jacobs has a life story that is as global as it is American. Born into slavery, by 1855, he had fled both the South and the United States altogether, becoming a stateless citizen of the world and its waters. That year, he published his life story in an Australian newspaper, far from American power and its threats. Unsentimental and unapologetic, Jacobs radically denounced slavery and the state, calling out politicians and slaveowners by their names, critiquing America's founding documents, and indicting all citizens who maintained the racist and intolerable status quo.

Reproduced in full, this narrative--which entwines with that of his sister and with the life of their friend Frederick Douglass--here opens new horizons for how we understand slavery, race, and migration, and all that they entailed in nineteenth-century America and the world at large. The second half of the book contains a full-length, nine-generation biography of Jacobs and his family by literary historian Jonathan Schroeder. This new guide to the world of John Jacobs will transform our sense of it--and of the forces and prejudices built into the American project. To truly reckon with the lives of John Jacobs is to see with new clarity that in 1776, America embarked on two experiments at once: one in democracy, the other in tyranny.

ISBN: 
9780226684307
Binding: 
Paperback
Publication Date: 
May 21, 2024