Austin Reed’s Manuscript and Others

March 3, 2016

By Melissa Barton

On March 4, Beinecke, the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale, and the departments of English and African American Studies are co-sponsoring a symposium on Austin Reed’s The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, a 19th-century memoir of Reed’s life and eventual incarceration at New York’s House of Refuge and the notorious Auburn State Prison. Participants will discuss Reed’s work in the context of African American literature, and in African American captivity. See the full schedule. Or, get a copy of Caleb Smith’s edited edition of Reed’s story, out last month.

Reed’s memoir was composed around 1857-1858 in handwritten (holograph) manuscript in a blank bound notebook, widely available in the mid-19th century. While Reed’s memoir is unique, Beinecke’s collections include dozens of similar notebooks, reflecting the ease of their availability at the time Reed composed his story. These notebooks contain diaries and journals of trips to the American west and sea voyages, and of full-length works composed, like Reed’s, for publication, such as Hannah Crafts’s Bondwoman’s Narrative. Two of these, the Bondwoman’s Narrative and Charles A. Benson’s Journal on board bark Glide of Salemare available in their entirety in Beinecke’s Digital Library.