“The Vilest That Every Saw the Sun,” The House of Bondage Book Review

‘It was bad,” or “it was so long ago, get over it,” are some of the cliché responses that one would hear at the very mention of slavery. Yes, I said it slavery, slavery, slavery the trans-Atlantic slave trade was the most horrific mass trafficking of human bodies in history and it deserves more attention and research than the watching of a Roots movie. I am the first to admit that I use to be one of those ignorant world citizens who repeated rhetoric as I shook my head in disapproval. As a youth I did not learn much in school about slavery, however,  I was well versed in vague saying and references to the ‘duti Babylon system,’ but I never learned much historical substance beyond that.

My aha moment! I started off wanting to learn more about the stereotype of ‘the Angry Black Woman.’ The research for that book opened the door for what I have come to understand today. About a year ago I accepted an invitation to do an online presentation on slavery, at that time I was knee-deep in the LEV project, a wild idea I had to read slave narratives straight for one year.

The presentation topic, The House of Bondage, Biblical Parallels from Slavery Then and Now. Fast-forward to this past weekend when I was minding my business, (as always 🙂 looking around the slave narrative archives when Lo and behold there it was a narrative by the same name of my presentation, of course you know I had to read it.

The House of Bondage  published in 1890 and written by Octavia V. Rodgers is an excellent piece of history. Octavia Rogers was born in 1853 to enslaved parents she was twelve years old during emancipation. Mrs. Rodgers went on to attend Atlanta University where she studied to become a teacher, it was during her time at the University that she met her classmate and later husband Dr. Albert. They married in 1874, Octavia was just two months shy of her 21st birthday.

Her book the  House of Bondage is a compilation of friendly conversations that Mrs. Rodgers had over the course of time in Louisiana. During her stay she acted on her interest to chronicle the lives of freed ‘blacks’. Her book concept parallels a similar project conducted by the United States government, the Federal Writers Project Born in Slavery.

Octavia’s work offers personal accounts written in prose. Her narrative opens with this powerful statement,

“None but those who resided in the South during the time of slavery can realize the terrible punishments that were visited upon the slaves. Virtue and self-respect were denied them. Much has been written concerning the negro, and we must confess that the moral standing of the race is far from what it should be; but who is responsible for the sadly immoral condition of this illiterate race in the South? I answer unhesitatingly, Their masters.”

Aunt Charlotte

The story begins with Charlotte Brooks a central character and link to many other characters. Mrs. Rogers makes a note of why she respectfully calls her Aunt Charlotte, they met in the Fall of 1879. Fiction kinship were common during slavery, the desire to claim or connect with strangers based on similar experiences is still pervasive throughout the ‘black’ experience. Aunt Charlotte nostalgically recounts how she ‘got religion’ and what it meant to her survival during ‘slave times.’ She recollects being ripped away from her mother in Virginia and surviving her time in bondage through the faith her mother instilled in her. She tenderly recalls how her mother would often recite prayers and sing hymns like, ‘O where are the Hebrew children? Safe in the promised land.’

Aunt Jane

Four years after being seized from the ol’ country, Charlotte heard reports  that another woman was forcibly trafficked to Louisiana from Virginia, her name was Jane Lee. The culture and customs of each state varied and Aunt Charlotte noted how much Louisiana differed from Virginia when it came to many things namely religion. ‘Merican Religion as she called it was a stark contrast to the ‘beads and crosses’ of the Catholic dominated sugar estates of Louisiana. At the time of aunt Jane’s arrival Charlotte was home sick, after meeting her she was ecstatic to learn that aunt Jane brought with her that ol’ religion.

One of the differences that caused much consternation the fact that Louisiana ‘whites’ were known for ‘desecrating the Shabbat.’ This meant they bought and sold on the day of rest and  forced their slaves to work when others were resting.

When asked. “Did any of the black people on his place believe in the teachings of their master?”

Aunt Charlotte replied,

“No, my child; none of us listened to him about singing and praying. I tell you we used to have some good times together praying and singing. He did not want us to pray, but we would have our little prayer-meeting anyhow. Sometimes when we met to hold our meetings we would put a big wash-tub full of water in the middle of the floor to catch the sound of our voices when we sung. When we all sung we would march around and shake each other’s hands, and we would sing easy and low, so marster could not hear us. O, how happy I used to be in those meetings, although I was a slave! I thank the Lord Aunt Jane Lee lived by me. She helped me to make my peace with the Lord.”

The story goes on to highlight the experiences of other men and women during slavery in that section of Louisiana. One man in particular reportedly was severely whipped, over 900 times for the mere mention of freedom. Other issues such as high infant mortality rates touched on the morbid reality of mothers rejoicing over the death of their child. Roger’s masterfully captures the mood of the story and the storyteller, giving the reader the feeling of being present for a conversation that took place 138 years ago.

The shady areas within their slave experience begin to take shape, presenting the reader with details of enslaved men and women who would rather live ‘off the grid’ in the woods with snakes, insects, and ferocious animals than endure the daily abuse of their masters.  There are so many gripping and insightful first-hand accounts in the House of Bondage by Octavia V. Rogers, it is advisable that anyone and everyone read and be acquainted with this history.

The book is available for print and for free. Take the time to read  and share, we would love to hear your thoughts as well.

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About Author
Emunah Y’srael is an expert in DIY Soul Improvement with over 20 years actively dedicated to her own soul journey. She is the creator of the a myriad of self-improvement projects. Emunah has authored to date four books, all available on amazon.

For question or comments on the contents of this article feel free to reach out:  @emunah_ysrael or soulonomics@gmail.com

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