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Story of Ashton Warner, an enslaved Vincentian, republished in Canada after almost 200 years

Story of Ashton Warner, an enslaved Vincentian, republished in Canada after almost 200 years
Dr Sandy Campbell holding a copy of ‘Mary Prince and Ashton Warner : Two slave narratives transcribed by Susanna Moodie’ , which was published in the last quarter of 2018

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The narrative of an enslaved Vincentian from the Cane Grove Estate in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has been republished for the first time in almost two centuries.

And a Canadian scholar believes that the story of Ashton Warner, which was originally published in England in 1831, has significant historic value for this country.

Warner’s narrative was the second to be published by Susanna Strickland, and did not receive as much attention as the first pamphlet she published on Bermudian slave, Mary Prince.

Strickland migrated to Canada after she got married to Canadian John Moodie, and almost two centuries since the first publication of the narratives, they have been republished in the Early Canadian Women Writers Series.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT this week, Dr Sandy Campbell, the general editor of the series said that the story of Warner belongs to SVG and so, she felt it necessary to bring it home.

“Ashton Warner; that narrative has never been in print since 1831 so I really wanted that to be paired with the other one because they belong together – the two slaves knew each other – and I wanted it to be in paperback,” Campbell said. “I’m a scholar, there’s all the cultural theory apparatus, but also I want those stories in print where people can read them, people in the society.”

The book, which was published in the last quarter of 2018 in Canada, is titled ‘Mary Prince and Ashton Warner: Two Slave Narratives transcribed by Susanna Moodie’.

Prince and Warner were employed at the residence of Thomas Pringle, Scottish writer and abolitionist, when they met the author of their narratives.

At the time, Warner had escaped the plantation estate in Cane Grove and journeyed to England, where he was hoping to make a case for the freedom of his wife and child. But by the time he arrived, he learned that the owner of the plantation had died two months before his arrival.

Instead, Warner spoke with individuals who were left in charge of running the estate.

“They were somewhat sympathetic or at least they gave him a bit of money and said well, we’re going to look into this, but you also wonder, are they protecting themselves, because the whole debate about abolishing slavery is very hot at this time, so maybe they don’t want the publicity,” Campbell told SEARCHLIGHT.

Mary Prince’s story was published in late January of 1831 and Ashton Warner’s followed in late February. But the Vincentian man died before his story was published.

Campbell said Prince’s story did well and even resulted in meetings of Parliament and several lawsuits. It was seen as a catalyst for Warner’s story to be told, but the Vincentian’s story did not garner as much interest.

“Just as the book is published, he dies, probably of pneumonia, so they wanted to send the profits, if any, from selling the pamphlet…back to help Sally (Warner’s wife) and the child, but unfortunately, the story is not as dramatic as Mary Prince’s story, which has a lot of sex and beatings,” she explained. “There was a tendency because it had not sold as well because the big fuss was about Mary Prince, to forget about it. No one was paying attention to it and I didn’t think that was either right or smart on so many levels.”

During her visit to SVG, the scholar has reached out to the National Public Library, the National Archives and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College Library.

And Campbell intends to give copies of the book to these institutions so that it will be available for individuals who have an interest in Ashton’s story.

The literary historian said that 100 copies of the book were sent to Bermuda and she expects the same will be done for SVG.

The scholar said the value of the book lies in the fact that it is about a real person and their real experiences in the times of slavery. But she acknowledges that reading it can be quite upsetting for many people.

“They’re upsetting because they sort of make more vivid, a very traumatic part of history and its important to look at that, but it’s not easy. It’s interesting and its important, but its also painful,” Campbell said.

Currently, ‘Mary Prince and Ashton Warner: Two Slave Narratives transcribed by Susanna Moodie’ is available for purchase at www.tecumsehpress.ca, which ships to St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is sold in Canada for CA$19.95, approximately EC$40.

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