Date of Publication: 1859
Number of Pages: 131
This is the story of Frado, a mulatto girl who grows up in antebellum New England. Her mother, a poor white woman, abandons her after the death of her father, a black man, at the home of a rich, white family, the Bellmonts. Frado’s life with the Bellmonts is a mixture of happiness and agony. Mr. Bellmont and his two sons, Jack and James, and his daughter, Jane, take an instant interest in the pretty Frado, and send her to school to be educated. Her experience in school is a happy one, and she makes friends easily, much to the annoyance of Mary, the Bellmont’s other, more wicked daughter. Mary and her mother heap abuses on Frado, both in the form of beatings and scoldings. Frado is an indentured servant in the house, and is obliged to stay until she turns eighteen. She endures years of abuse, which only gets worse as her few allies leave her behind, whether by marriage or by death. The abuse takes its toll on her health, causing her to become gravely ill during her last few years in the family. Her faith and her self-reliance, plus the encouragement of her friends, enables her to survive and to find her way to supporting herself, both financially, and emotionally.
It’s extremely important to note Harriet Wilson was most likely the first African American to publish a novel. And yet, this book remains largely unknown to the reading public. It deals with the life of an indentured servant in the northern United States, and her experience with the racism of her white neighbors and employers. Wilson wrote the book for financial purposes: she wanted to be able to support her infant son. Unfortunately, her son died six months after the novel was published. With the little information that is known about her, it appears that the story she wrote was essentially autobiographical. With that in mind, it is startling to recognize that blacks in the North suffered the same indignities and abuses as blacks in the South. The book is a quick read (I read it in about 90 minutes) and is sentimental in tone. Frado is indeed a tragic character, and the descriptions of the violence against her are gruesome. I think this book is important for everyone to read, as it will enlighten readers as to the realities of our common past.