Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

September 5, 1859 Our Nig becomes first book by an African American woman to be published

Sep 05, 2020 08:00AM ● By Diamond Jones

In 1859 Harriet Wilson became the first African American woman to publish a book. Her book, Our Nig, tells the story of Frido, an African American girl living and working in antebellum New Hampshire. Frido was born to a poor White mother and an African American father. After her father died, her mother sent her off to live with the Belmont family of Singleton, New Hampshire. Growing up, Frido was brave, relentless, and spiritual while facing the daily trauma of isolation, abuse and the reality that although she wasn’t a slave, she still didn't have her freedom.  

Frido’s story will take you on an emotional roller-coaster. You will feel sincerity in the friendships made between Frido and the characters who sympathise with her. You will feel a burning sense of rage as you read the gruesome details of the abuse Frido faced at the hand of her boss and head of the household, Mrs. Belmont. The story will have you cheering for Frido’s happiness.  Her journey of self-improvement and courage will inspire you.

Harriet Wilson's story is important for many reasons. First, it blends the genres of autobiography, fiction, and slave narrative into a perfect American tale of beating the odds. Her story also caused some controversy by implying that White people in the North were hypocrites. By revealing that  racism  was often overlooked or simply ignored, Wilson opened the door to more discussions about the treatment of Blacks in the North post and pre-Civil War. Many critics asserted  that details in Wilson’s story also suggest Blacks in the North were treated almost as badly as those in the South which caused another huge controversy. She implies a more complicated narrative than just the North as “good” and the South as “bad.” 


For unknown reasons the book was lost and forgotten for almost 120 years. It wasn't until the 1980’s that the book was rediscovered and rereleased to the public with newly ascertained information about Harriet Wilson. The most important revelation was that the book, although mostly fictitious, is heavily based on her life. She married Thomas Wilson in 1852, and they had one son named George before Thomas passed away in 1853. Poor and struggling to take care of her son, Harriett gave her son to foster parents. He tragically passed away before his 9th birthday. 

Harriet spent the rest of her life as a medium and psychic healer and found some fame and status in her new profession. She passed on June 28, 1900.