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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
The Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
Theme: FreedomTheme: EnslavementTheme: CommunityTheme: IdentityTheme: Emancipation
Theme: Freedom

2.
Mali, Africa, map, 2008, detail
Mali
- Boyrereau Brinch describes his homeland of Bow-woo, Niger River valley, 1810 (PDF)


Boyrereau Brinch was born in the early 1740s in the Niger River valley of present-day Mali, about 300 miles east of the Senegambian homelands of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Abdul Rahman Ibrahima (see FREEDOM #1). Not from a Muslim culture like Ayuba and Rahman, Brinch may have been of the Dogon people of the region.1 At age sixteen he was captured and transported to Barbados in the Caribbean. After serving as an enslaved sailor on a British ship during the French and Indian War, he was taken by his owner to Connecticut and sold again, later enlisting in the American army during the Revolution. In 1783 he was emancipated due to his military service.

In the early 1800s Brinch narrated his memoirs to Benjamin Prentiss, an anti-slavery journalist, who published The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nick-named Jeffrey Brace, in 1810. It is an "as told to" narrative with Prentiss as the first-person narrator ("I") recounting Brinch's life and adding his commentary on Africa, slavery, and scripture. Contrast the voice and perspective in these excerpts with those in other parts of Brinch's narrative—on his transatlantic journey, his arrival in Barbados, and his military service during the Revolution. Who is Boyrereau Brinch? Who is Jeffrey Brace? (4 pages.)


Discussion questions
  1. Compare the Brinch narrative with others in this Theme, FREEDOM. How are they similar? different?
  2. How dominant is the perspective of the white American anti-slavery narrator, Benjamin Prentiss?
  3. What attitudes toward Africa and Africans does he express?
  4. What attitudes toward Boyrereau Brinch does he express?
  5. Where does the voice of Brinch transcend or break through Prentiss's narration?
  6. Contrast the voice and perspective in these excerpts with those in other sections of Brinch's narrative—on his transatlantic journey, his arrival in Barbados, and his military service during the Revolution
  7. From the entirety of Brinch's narrative, how did he define freedom before and after enslavement, as far as you can determine?
  8. Why are the laws and punishments of African peoples emphasized in several of the narratives, not only by white author-narrators but also by Olaudah Equiano in his narrative (see FREEDOM #5)?
  9. Create a dialogue with Brinch, Ayuba, and Rahman (see FREEDOM #1), whose homelands were in the Senegambia region of west Africa. Perhaps include the Muslim Mahommah Baquaqua in the dialogue (see FREEDOM #4). What would they find most similar in their life experiences? What would they choose to emphasize to 21st-century readers?

Framing Questions
  • How did Africans live in freedom before enslavement?
  •  How did Europeans and African Americans perceive African cultures?
  •  What was the experience of capture and enslavement for those who became African Americans?


Printing
Boyrereau Brinch:  4
Supplemental Sites

Boyrereau Brinch, The Blind African Slave, 1810, full text in Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library)

Other selections from the Brinch narrative in the Toolbox Library Timeline of Art History: Guinea Coast, 1600-1800 A.D. (present-day Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, coastal Guinea, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Republic of Benin, and Nigeria)

African Nation Founders, with useful maps, in African American Heritage and Ethnography, from the National Park Service

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience, from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library)

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University Digital Library)



1 Kari J. Winter, ed., The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), pp. 4-5.



Images:
-U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Africa, map, 2008, detail. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, Call. No. G8200 2008 .U5.
-"On the Niger," near Timbuktu, Mali (detail), in Félix Dubois, Timbuctoo the Mysterious, 1897. Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library), #1267721.


*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.





FREEDOM
1. Senegal & Guinea   2. Mali   3. Ghana
4. Benin   5. Nigeria   6. Capture








TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
Freedom | Enslavement | Community | Identity | Emancipation


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