F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

Briton Hammon's Narrative of the Sea

The narrative of Briton Hammon is an interesting text in that unlike other slave narratives that I’ve read over the course of this semester, this one ends with the slave returning to their master. Having this strange ending I kept thinking who is this text really for and what does it mean for the text to end with the enslaved returning back to the master? I cannot let go of the idea that this text is trying to make the argument that there are good slave masters and that we as the reader should not be so quick to paint with a broad brushstroke  all slaveholders as inherently evil. But while the text for me is doing the work of reinventing the slave owner as something good, the text also does the work of imagining the Indigenous population as mere savages which is the second work that I believe the novel is doing. The narrative which on the one hand does the work of revealing how the sea offers this interesting lens into how someone like Hammon is able to navigate these spaces, he’s moving from ship to ship as if he is already free, and the challenge for me is how then does this text challenge what we think of the slave narrative? But at the same time I cannot ignore how this text is trying to create this image of the Indigenous as savage, violent, cannibals and participates in the colonial narrative to justify colonial conquest. But there is a way in which Hammon moves from place to place that makes me wonder how were slaves in Hammon’s situation (moving in and between naval vessels) able to move and negotiate their own subjectivity. The sea is not simply as space in which the enslaved can negotiate there freedom, but is a space where the notion of what it means to be free or enslaved is complicated.

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