WRITING TEAM MEMBERS:
The Writing Team
The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself is a “slippery text.” It has troublesome questions of authorship and truthfulness because it is the result of a collaborative storytelling, compiling, and editing team.
Mary Prince told her story to Susanna Strickland (later Moodie), a budding writer and newly converted Methodist, who compiled the text. Then Thomas Pringle, a professional writer and the secretary of London’s Anti-Slavery Society, edited it. Joseph Phillips, an abolitionist pamphleteer who had lived in Antigua and had served jail time there for his beliefs, assisted Pringle on the Antigua section. Phillips knew Prince and her fifth slave-owner John Adams Wood Jr. from his time spent in that colony. All team members were abolitionists.
This was a complex situation. Although Mary Prince was the storyteller of the team and the principal source of the text, she was not only the subject of her own story. She was also the subject of the collective work and imagining of the team.
Mary Prince was the storyteller of the team. It is likely that when she told her story to Susanna, she left out parts of her life that she did not want known. This is because she wanted to be in the abolitionist camp, and, wrongly or righly, she may have thought aspects of her story might cause her to be excluded.
When Mary lived in Antigua, she joined the Moravian congregation at Spring Gardens, St. John’s. Mary was a member of the congregation by 1819, so she had been a Moravian for at least seven years before she travelled to England.
Moravian cultural practices include oral storytelling. It may be that Mary was a practiced storyteller—and that she had told the story of her life—before she related her life history to Susanna Strickland.
Susanna Strickland compiled Mary Prince’s story. This means Susanna listened to Mary tell her story, and she then wrote it down. Very likely, Susanna left out parts of the story that Mary told her. She may have left them out because she thought they could put the project in jeopardy. For example, Susanna may have left out parts of the story that dealt with Mary's sexuality because she thought them inapproprate for readers. Another reason she may have left parts out was because of available space.
At the time, Susanna was a budding writer. She was a new convert to Methodism and to Abolition, and she was an acquaintance of Thomas Pringle. A member of a middle-class literary family, she may be best remembered for her later work Roughing It in the Bush, published in 1852.
She married Thomas Pringle’s friend John Moodie, and they emigrated to Upper Canada in 1832. Roughing It in the Bush is about Susanna’s, and her family’s, experiences as settlers in Upper Canada.
Susanna’s identity was concealed in the first edition of The History of Mary Prince. Near the end of her narrative, Mary lists her friends in London, and Susanna is put down as “my good friend, Miss S—” (Prince 23).
Thomas Pringle edited the manuscript created by Mary Prince and Susanna Strickland. In the preface to Mary’s narrative, he wrote that he “pruned it into its present shape” (Pringle, preface in Prince iii) but that he took care to keep “Mary’s exact expressions and peculiar phraseology” (Pringle, preface in Prince iii) as much as was practical for the purpose of the project. Mary spoke a Creole that, perhaps, was not easily understood by Londoners. Because the team wanted people to read and to understand Mary’s narrative, Thomas
made adjustments to the text.
In the preface, Thomas also wrote that he did not omit any fact of importance from the story, nor did he add anything to the text. He does admit to removing repetitions and to fixing large grammatical errors, however. Again, this was to assist potential readers so that they would be better able to understand Mary’s narrative.
After he had edited the text, Thomas went over it with Mary. He made sure that all the details in the story were correct. On the Antigua section, he had the assistance of Joseph Phillips, who had lived in Antigua for over 20 years. Joseph had known both Mary and her slave-owner John Adams Wood Jr. during his time in Antigua.
Thomas Pringle was a Scottish immigrant to South Africa. He and his family had settled there, establishing a farm called Eildon, on the Baviaans River. While in South Africa, Pringle had butted heads with colonial powers—notably Governor Somerset. As a result, he and his wife Margaret returned to Britain, settling in London.
In London, Thomas was hired by London's Anti-Slavery Society to be its paid secretary. Thomas was also a professional writer, and he earned money editing periodicals. Additionally, he co-edited the Anti-Slavery Reporter, along with its founder Zachary Macaulay.