In Harriet E. Wilson’s only known work, Our Nig; Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, I read about a young black girl who grows up as an indentured servant to a large Bellmont family. In the readings I read, the young girl has three names: Alfrado, Frado and Nig. In this essay, I’ll refer to her as Frado. Although Our Nig is an actual fictitious novel, our literature book only gives us three chapters. Each of these small chapters tells us a great story.
In Chapter IV “A Friend for Nig”, we learn what Bellmont family members are Frado’s friends and what member despises her. Our readings didn’t start from the beginning of the novel, we didn’t get a proper introduction to the characters. Instead, you have to catch on as you read. Mrs. Bellmont is married to Mr. John Bellmont. They have four children: James, Jack, Jane, and Mary. Aunt Abby is Mr. Bellmont’s sister, but Mrs. Bellmont calls her Nab. Finally, the family dog is Fido. Confused? Well, I hope I got it right. Fido, the dog we know is a friend to Frado. He may not say anything, but he listens, and sometimes we just need a friend to listen. Mrs. Bellmont, on the other hand, we learn quickly, is very abusive to Frado. She orders Frado to get the smallest wood to keep the fire burning. Frado does what she is told, but Mrs. Bellmont still wants the wood smaller and orders her again. If Frado brought the smallest wood she could find the first time, every other piece of wood had to have been slightly bigger. Mrs. Bellmont couldn’t or didn’t want to understand this, so she kicked Frado repeatedly. The only reason she stopped kicking was because John and Aunt Abby walked in (2640). When they did, Frado got up and ran away from the house where no one could find her. The conversation between Aunt Abby and John after this incident was interesting. She asks John why he puts up with his wife beating Frado if he doesn’t want Frado to get hurt. His answer is, “How am I to help it? Women rule the earth, and all in it” (2641). Everything we’ve read before this, men were rulers of the earth. In this story, Mrs. Bellmont is the dominant one in the house. Like all the other members of this family, except Mrs. Bellmont, Mr. John Bellmont feels sorry for the way Frado is being treated, but he only says it and does nothing to prevent it. They eventually find Frado and James talks to her until she’s happy again.
In Chapter X “Perplexities-Another Death”, I find that James is dead. Also, Frado starts going to religious meetings with aunt Abby. She speaks freely to the minister, telling him all that Mrs. Bellmont has done to her. Mrs. Reed, a neighbor, tells Mrs. Bellmont what Frado is doing and the next morning Mrs. Bellmont forbids Frado from going out of the house except when she has errands to do. This means Frado will be around Mrs. Bellmont more often, so Mr. Bellmont advises Frado to try to avoid being kicked and whipped. She takes this advice and before Mrs. Bellmont could strike her, Frado shouts, “Stop! strike me, and I’ll never work a mite more for you” (2644). This surprised Mrs. Bellmont and so she didn’t strike. Frado wanted to escape from Mrs. Bellmont, but she had no place to go, so she decided to wait until she became eighteen.
In Chapter XII “The Winding Up of the Matter“, Frado is eighteen years old and she meets and falls in love with a black man named Samuel. Together they have one child. Unfortunately, Samuels job ask that he travel a lot, so he is rarely home with his wife and kid. Then, Frado starts becoming sick and to top it off she finds out Samuel had died of yellow fever in New Orleans. All of these misfortunes was too much for Frado to handle, so when the baby was big enough she had a friend, Mrs. Capon, took care of the baby, while she went to get healthy herself. She had adventure after adventure, but in the end she and her baby were able to survive (2646-2647).
Harriet E. William’s novel Our Nig, is a great story about a free black. Although she wasn’t a slave, Mrs. Bellmont abused her like she was one. Frado had to be a strong woman to survive all that she did. No one stood up for her, so she took matters into her own hands and although it was a struggle, she survived.