In 1842, a white abolitionist from Pawtucket, Rhode Island printed an extraordinary pamphlet entitled A Brief Memoir of the Life and Religious Experience of Cato Pearce, a Man of Color. It is an autobiography of Cato Pearce, who was born in 1790 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island as the child of slave parents. It is the only extended narrative by a Rhode Island slave.
Pearce’s autobiography describes the following events:
- When he was six, his mother, a slave, ran away and left him with two younger siblings.
- At age 18 he ran away, was caught in Wickford and whipped by his white master.
- After running away again, he was flogged at sea on a merchant vessel.
- He became active as an evangelical itinerant preacher, with the assistance of whites.
- The pamphlet describes a shocking incident when Elisha R. Potter, Sr., one of the most powerful white men in Rhode Island, had Pearce imprisoned because Potter did not want Pearce to leave work at Potter’s South Kingstown farm to preach at Sunday services.
Only recently re-discovered, Pearce’s autobiography is the most complete account by a Rhode Island-born African American who made the transition from slavery to freedom.
This book has two Parts:
- Part I contains an essay by me that summarizes Pearce’s autobiography and places the events described in it in historical context.
- Part II contains an actual copy of the pamphlet of Pearce’s life, the only one known to be in existence.