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Maum Guinea and Her Plantation "Children"

Dred; or, The Dismal Swamp Maum Guinea, and Her Plantation “Children”; or, Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Estate by Mrs. Metta V. Victor was published in December 1861 by Beadle and Company as the “holiday offering” of Beadle’s Dime Novels, their premier series of affordable fiction. It includes an introduction by the author (a rarity in dime novels) justifying the accuracy of both the portrayal of Southern slave life and the description of Nat Turner’s rebellion. Given that Victor’s husband, Orville J. Victor, was probably working on his History of American Conspiracies (which was published two years later) at the same time that she was writing her novel, she likely had access to the same historical sources her husband did, using them to add realism to her fictional account.

Maum Guinea follows the lives of the white and black inhabitants on a pair of Southern plantations. A group of slaves plans to escape, partially inspired by stories of fellow slaves. In a series of stories within the main novel, the slaves gather together over a series of nights to share tales of previous plantations where they lived and worked. A woman named Sophy tells the story of Turner’s rebellion, and her husband’s role in it. Her story begins with the brutal treatment of her family prior to the insurrection, events which inspire her husband to join Turner. She then provides a firsthand account of the uprising, including the murder of all the whites on the plantation, from the cruel overseer down to the master’s young daughter. After the failure of the rebellion, Sophy finds Turner hiding out in the woods, and provides him aid and food for as long as she can before he is captured. Turner even asks Sophy to provide reassurance and comfort to his wife. Her story ends with Turner’s hanging and a visit to his widow, and Sophy’s audience promises never to share what she has told them.

Sophy’s story, with its descriptions of the conditions that prompted her husband to join Turner, of the rebellion itself, and of the aftermath, is vivid and heartrending. Over the course of her tale, she not only describes how her fellow slaves generally perceived Turner, but also her direct interactions with him. Turner, as Sophy portrays him, is a charismatic leader with the power of religious conviction behind him, who has a deep-seated desire for freedom for himself and his fellow slaves. There is no doubt in Sophy’s mind that Turner is a prophet and that he received messages from God. When describing his meeting with the seven men who would initially follow him, she relates his report of his visions and messages from the Holy Spirit: “De Holy Spirit has bid me arise and prepare myself. I am to slay mine enemies wid der own weapons; de black spirits contended wid de white in de heabens, and I see de black victorious. Cheer up, woman. Your chil’ren shall no longer be sold from your bosom nor your husband lashed at de whipping-post. I am come to repay.”

For Sophy, Turner is not just a man who is familiar with scripture; he has received direct messages from the Holy Spirit, messages of freedom for enslaved blacks. Sophy also emphasizes that Turner saw himself as a moral, upright leader, following in the American tradition of fighting against tyranny. Turner compares himself to George Washington, and he explicitly tells his followers that they are only to kill, not to rape or torture as the whites have done to them. Sophy’s Turner is a strong, righteous man who wanted to lead his people to freedom and failed, paying for it with his life and the lives of his followers.

The full text of this novel is available through Northern Illinois University.

Metta Victoria Fuller Victor, Maum Guinea, and Her Plantation “Children”; or, Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Estate. From the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.