Women at Sea pp 225-243 | Cite as

Journeys and Warnings

Nancy Prince’s Travels as Cautionary Tales for African American Readers
  • Cheryl Fish


When Nancy Gardner Prince stood on the deck of the Romulus, leaving Boston for Russia in 1824, she must have felt the presence of all that was divine and terrible as she looked out to sea. A freeborn African American woman from Massachusetts who had worked as a domestic and had been a part of Boston’s tight-knit black community, Prince was about to leave the United States for the first time. Her experiences as a traveler—narrated in two travelogues and several shorter pieces—constitute important yet neglected components in the emerging discourse of the Black Atlantic. Her departure from the United States crystallized many important developments in her life that until recently had been silenced, marginalized, or simply ignored by critics and historians. Moreover, her journeys and subsequent accounts of them, as presented in her hybrid travelogues, add a significant gendered dimension to the Black Atlantic tradition and point to a complex narrative strategy through which we can study the transnational agency of black women.


Black Woman Bodily Harm Truth Teller Woman Writer Colored People 
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    Several recent full-length studies and articles on the writing produced by African American women in the antebellum years have included Nancy Prince. See A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing. Edited by Farah Griffin and Cheryl Fish. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998); Frances Smith Foster, Written By Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746–1892 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); and “Adding Color and Contour to Early American Self-Portraitures: Autobiographical Writings of Afro-American Women.” In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction and Literary Tradition. Edited by Marjorie Pryse and Hortense Spillers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985). See Carla L. Peterson, Doers of the Word: African American Women Writers in the North, 1830–79 (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) and “Doers of the Word: Theorizing African-American Women Writers in the Antebellum North.” In The Other American Traditions. Edited by Joyce Warren (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993). Hazel Carby included Nancy Prince’s Narrative of the Life and Travels in her study of the development of black women’s fiction, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). Useful introductory essays to editions of Nancy Prince’s Narrative were written by Ronald G. Walters, A Black Woman’s Odyssey Through Russia and Jamaica: The Narrative of Nancy Prince (New York: Markus Wiener, 1990) and Anthony G. Barthelemy, “Introduction.” In Collected Black Women’s Narratives (Oxford/Schomburg Library, 1988). Dorothy Sterling and Bert James Loewenberg and Ruth Bogin included excerpts from Prince’s Narrative, with brief commentary: See We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Dorothy Sterling et al. (New York, 1984) and Black Women in Nineteenth Century American Life: Their Words, Their Thoughts, Their Feelings. Edited by Bert James Loewenberg and Ruth Bogin (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Ivette Romero-Cesareo 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cheryl Fish

There are no affiliations available

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