A Furious, Forgotten Slave Narrative Resurfaces After Nearly 170 Years

One day in 1855, a man walked into a newspaper office in Sydney, Australia, with an odd request.

The man, later described as a “man of color” with “bright, intelligent eyes” and an American accent, was looking for a copy of the United States Constitution.

The text was procured, along with a recent book on the history of the United States. Two weeks later, the man returned with a nearly 20,000-word text of his own, bearing a blunt title: “The United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots.”

The first half offered an account of the author’s birth into slavery in North Carolina around 1815, his escape from his master, his years on a whaling ship and then his departure from “the land of the free” for the shores of Australia, where he went to work in the gold fields.

The second half was a long, blistering condemnation of the country he had left behind, in particular its revered founding document.

“That devil in sheepskin called the Constitution of the United States,” Jacobs wrote, is “the great chain that binds the north and south together, a union to rob and plunder the sons of Africa, a union cemented with human blood, and blackened with the guilt of 68 years.”

The newspaper published the narrative anonymously, in two installments, attributing it only to “A Fugitive Slave.” How it was received is unknown.

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