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Lunsford Lane

By Sadie Van Vranken

Lunsford Lane, born in 1803, spent the first thirty years of his life enslaved in Raleigh, North Carolina. After purchasing his freedom in 1834, Lane remained in North Carolina and worked in tobacco manufacturing and for the governor’s office in Raleigh. After a court battle over whether Lane, as a free black, could remain in North Carolina, Lane moved to Boston in 1841, and by 1842 had raised funds to emancipate his wife, children and mother. When Lane returned to Raleigh in 1842 to purchase his family, he was arrested for delivering abolitionist lectures and his possessions were searched for “incendiary” material. After being tarred and feathered by a mob, Lane escaped from Raleigh and returned to Boston with his family.

Lane’s narrative was issued four times; twice in 1842, in 1845, and in 1848. The title and publishing information remains constant in every issue: “Published by Himself” and in the imprint, “Printed for the Publisher.” Likewise, every issue includes a copyright statement on the title verso attributing the copyright to Lane. The first two issues, printed by J. T. Torrey, share the same setting of type, implying that Lane’s first print run was small. The narrative is first advertised in a July 14, 1842 paper, and the second issue has a letter dated August 24, 1842, indicating that Torrey kept the type set for over a month while Lunsford sold his narrative. The success of the first print run, and the subsequent issues printed every three years until 1848, indicates that Lane was likely selling his narrative at a fairly constant rate.

Although Lane states in his introductory letter to the second issue that there is no “material alteration” in the text, there are several significant editorial changes within the body of his work between the first and second printings, in addition to several changes in punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. For example, on page 11 of the first issue, Lane writes: “Indeed Mr. Boylan was regarded as a very kind master to all the slaves about him; that is, to his house servants; nor did he inflict much cruelty upon his field hands, except by proxy.” In the second edition, this sentence becomes: “Indeed Mr. Boylan was regarded as a very kind master to all the slaves about him; that is, to his house servants; nor did he personally inflict much cruelty, if any, upon his field hands” (italics added).

The second text thus adds editorial restraint when discussing the cruelty of slavery; something that Lane professes to desire in his introduction, where he states, “In whatever I have been obliged to say unfavorable to others, I have endeavored not to overstate, but have chosen rather to come short of giving the full picture …” Lane’s apparent concern that his text will be perceived as incendiary abolitionist literature (and perhaps thus have its circulation curtailed) extends to the minutest editorial decision. He states: “And yet I would not venture to say that this publication does not contain a single period which might be twisted to convey an idea more than should be expressed,” demonstrating a focus on the impact of minutia on the interpretation of his text. The suspicion Lane faced during his return to Raleigh as an abolitionist spreading “incendiary” materials may have fueled his editorial choices. Lane’s restraint, and the editorial changes to the text between editions, are deserving of further study.

Between the second and third issues, Lane switched printers, employing Hewes and Watson Print for the 1845 and 1848 issues of his text. Although AAS does not have the third edition, the changes between the second and fourth issues are significant, and open up possibilities for further investigation of the material changes in Lane’s text between printings. Hewes and Watson Print uses a different imposition in the fourth printing, gathered in sixes with a final gathering of nine. Using this imposition, rather than the earlier, simpler gatherings of eights used by J. T. Torrey, likely permitted Hewes and Watson to print the narrative on a single, larger sheet. This cost-saving measure is accompanied by a cheaper, simpler wrapper, indicating that, in the fourth printing, saving costs was a priority for Lane or the printer.

The setting of type is a close replica of the second edition, using the same font and pagination, although it is not a stereotype. The text of the fourth issue, while it contains some punctuation changes, is also largely similar to the second edition.  Again, the detailed changes in punctuation could be a fruitful source of further research, given Lane’s reference to the potential interpretation of periods in his text as incendiary.

Further reading:

Andrews, William L. and David Alexander Davis, eds. North Carolina Slave Narratives: The Lives of Moses Roper, Lunsford Lane, Moses Grandy, and Thomas H. Jones. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Hawkins, William G. Lunsford Lane; Or, Another Helper from North Carolina. Boston: Crosby & Nichols, 1863.

McCarthy, B. Eugene and Thomas L. Doughton, eds. From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2007.