Abstract and Keywords
This essay examines Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge and Life of William J. Brown, narratives of first-generation free-born black and indigenous persons in postemancipation Rhode Island. Eldridge and Brown separately assert intricate, representational truths about their (fore-) parents’ enslavement and their own ostensible free status. Each conveys a configuration of historical truth about institutional slavery, namely that the challenge of representing slavery—both corporeal bondage and the institutionalized abridgement of black liberties after its illegalization—required conveying slavery as existing within and emerging from a white culture of incoherence, infamously embodied in the Brown Brothers of Providence: John Brown leading whites in the enslavement of people of color, and Moses and his Quaker cohort rejecting slavery on religious grounds. The bifurcated political contexts that shaped the ideologies of Eldridge’s and Brown’s respective white readerships further determined the “truthfulness” of these free-born authors’ shrewd depictions of the black population in early Rhode Island.