Although some scholarship has questioned the authenticity of Equiano’s claim to African birth, his autobiography is unquestionably the first to challenge on moral and religious grounds the popular acceptance of slavery as a socio-economic institution in eighteenth-century England and the Americas.The first fugitive slave narrative in the United States, the Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, Written by Himself (1825), revealed for the first time to readers in the North the horrors of chattel slavery in the American South and the pervasiveness of racial injustice in New England.
Revising and expanding his original life story, Frederick Douglass wrote Hannah Crafts—purports to be the autobiography of a fugitive slave from North Carolina.
Although the vast majority of American slave narratives were authored by people of African descent, African-born Muslims who wrote in Arabic, the Cuban poet Juan Francisco Manzano, and a handful white American sailors taken captive by North African pirates also penned narratives of their enslavement during the nineteenth century.
From 1760 to the end of the Civil War in the United States, approximately one hundred autobiographies of fugitive or former slaves appeared.
After slavery was abolished in North America in 1865, at least fifty former slaves wrote or dictated book-length accounts of their lives.
During the Depression of the 1930s, the Federal Writers Project gathered oral personal histories from 2,500 former slaves, whose testimony eventually filled eighteen volumes.