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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Renee

Harriet E. Adams Wilson | First Published Black Woman Author

Updated: Jan 30


Harriet E. Adams Wilson (1825 - 1900) penned My Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, which historians believe make her the first Black American of any gender to publish a novel in North America.


Harriet was a biracial woman believed to have been born free to Margaret Ann Smith, an Irish washerwoman, and Joshua Green, a Black barrel maker. When she was a child, her father died, and soon after, her mother left her with a wealthy white farmer named Nehemiah Hayward Jr. 


Because of her status as an orphan, the Haywards, who allegedly abused her and nicknamed her "Nig," forced Harriet into indentured servitude.


When she reached adulthood, Harriet was freed from captivity and found work as a seamstress and household servant. 


It's believed that in 1851, she met and married Thomas Wilson and later gave birth to a son, George. Shortly after that, Thomas left the family to work as a sailor and died less than a year after his departure.


Widowed and destitute with a young child to raise, Harriet moved to Boston and wrote her novel, which she titled Our Nig. When the novel was published in 1859, it was done so anonymously. Not until more than a century later, in 1981, did scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. rediscover the book and its author.


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