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Bibb, Henry Walton

Bibb, Henry Walton

May 10, 1815

Henry Walton Bibb, an author, editor, and emigrationist, was born a slave on a Kentucky plantation. He was the oldest son of a slave, Milldred Jackson. Like many slaves, he never knew his father and was even unsure of his father's identity; he was told, however, that he was the son of James Bibb, a Kentucky state senator. His six brothers, all slaves, were sold one by one, until the entire family was scattered. In 1833, he met and married a mulatto slave named Malinda, with whom he had one daughter, Mary Frances. Bibb's fierce desire to obtain his freedom and reclaim his wife and daughter motivated his repeated attempts to escape from slavery. In 1842 he successfully fled to Detroit, where he began work as an abolitionist. He continued to search for Malinda and his daughter, but after learning that Malinda had been sold as the mistress of a white slave owner, Bibb gave up his longtime dream and resolved to advance the antislavery cause.

In 1850 Bibb published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave. One of the best-known slave narratives, the book contains an extensive, personal account of Bibb's life as a slave and runaway. Soon after it appeared, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slave owners the right to reclaim runawaysand obligated northerners to help them to do so. Bibb, like many others, openly stated that he preferred death to re-enslavement, and he fled with his second wife, Mary Miles Bibb of Boston, to Canada. In Ontario, the Bibbs soon became leaders of the large African-Canadian community.

In 1851 Bibb established the Voice of the Fugitive, the first black newspaper in Canada. Through the Voice, he expressed his essential ideas as an emigrationist by urging slaves and free blacks to move to Canada. The newspaper became a central tool of emigration advocates. In addition to the Voice, Bibb's civic and political accomplishments in the Ontario communities were substantial.

Two years before his death, and as a direct result of his work as a writer and orator, Bibb was reunited with three of his brothers, who had also escaped from bondage and emigrated to Canada. He interviewed them and published their stories in the Voice of the Fugitive. Bibb died in the summer of 1854, at the age of thirty-nine.

See also Runaway Slaves in the United States; Slave Narratives


Bibb, Henry. The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave. Introduction by Charles J. Heglar. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. Originally published in 1849 as Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself.

Blassingame, John W. "Henry Walton Bibb." In Dictionary of American Negro Biography, edited by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. New York: Norton, 1982.

jeffrey l. klein (1996)
Updated bibliography

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