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Versions of Blackness: Key Texts on Slavery from the Seventeenth Century written by Derek Hughes


Versions of Blackness: Key Texts on Slavery from the Seventeenth Century written by Derek Hughes


Aphra Behn's novel Oroonoko (1688) is one of the most widely studied works of seventeenth-century literature, because of its powerful representation of slavery and complex portrayal of ways in which differing races and cultures - European, Black African, and Native American - observe and misinterpret each other. This edition presents a new edition of Oroonoko, with unprecedentedly full and informative commentary, along with complete texts of three major British seventeenth-century works concerned with race and colonialism: Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines (1668), Behn's Abdelazer (1676), and Thomas Southerne's tragedy Oroonoko (1696). It combines these with a rich anthology of European discussions of slavery, racial difference, and colonial conquest from the mid-sixteenth century to the time of Behn's death. Many are taken from important works that have not hitherto been easily available, and the collection offers an unrivaled resource for studying the culture that produced Britain's first major fictions of slavery.


This edition presents a new edition of Oroonoko, with unprecedentedly full and informative commentary.


Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-86930-0 - Versions of Blackness - Key Texts on Slavery from the Seventeenth Century - by Derek Hughes





The Isle of Pines (1668)

The ISLE of



A late Discovery of a fourth ISLAND near Terra Australis, Incognita I


Henry Cornelius Van Sloetten.

Wherein is contained.

A True Relation of certain Englishpersons, who in Queen Elizabeths time, making a Voyage to the East Indies were cast away, and wracked near to the Coast of Terra Australis, Incognita, and all drowned, except one Man and four Women. And now lately Anno Dom. 1667. a Dutch Ship making a Voyage to the East Indies, driven by foul weather there, by chance have found their Posterity, (speaking good English) to amount (as they suppose) toten or twelve thousand persons. The whole Relation (written, and left by the Man himself a little before his death, and delivered to the Dutch by his Grandchild) Is here annexed with the Longitude and Latitude of the Island, the scituation and felicity thereof, with other matter observable.

Licensed July 27. 1668.

LONDON, Printed for Allen Banks and Charles Harper next door to the three Squerrills in Fleet-street, over against St. Dunstans Church, 1668.

Two Letters concerning the Island of Pines to a Credible person in Covent Garden

Amsterdam, June the 29th 1668.

IT is written by the last post from Rochel, to a Merchant in this City, that there was a French ship arrived, the Master and Company of which reports, that about 2 or 300 Leagues Northwest from Cape Finis Terre,2 they fell in with an Island, where they went on shore, and found about 2000 English people without cloathes, only some small coverings about their middle, and that they related to them, that at their first coming to this Island (which was in Queen Elizabeths time) they were but five in number men and women, being cast on shore by distress or otherwise, and had there remained ever since, without having any correspondence with any other people, or any ship coming to them. This story seems very fabulous, yet the Letter is come to a known Merchant, and from a good hand in France, so that I thought fit to mention it. It may be that there may be some mistake in the number of the Leagues, as also of the exact point of the Compass, from Cape Finis Terre; I shall enquire more particularly about it. Some English here suppose it may be the Island of Brasile3 which have been so oft sought for, Southwest fromIreland: if true, we shall hear further about it; Your friend and Brother,

Abraham Keek.

Amsterdam, July the 6th, 1668.

IT is said that the ship that discovered the Island, of which I hinted to you in my last, is departed from Rochel,4on her way to Zealand. Several persons here have writ thither to enquire for the said Vessel, to know the truth of this business. I was promised a Copy of the Letter that came from France, advising the discovery of the Island abovesaid, but itís not yet come to my hand; when it cometh, or any further news about this Island, I shall acquaint you with it,

Your Friend and Brother,
A. Keek.

The Isle of Pines,


Near to the Coast of Terra Australis Incognita, by Henry Cornelius Van Sloetten, in a Letter to a friend in London, declaring the truth of his Voyage to the East Indies.


I Received your Letter of this second instant, wherein you desire me to give you a further account concerning the Land of Pines, on which we were driven by distress of Weather the last Summer. I also perused the Printed Book thereof you sent me, the Copy of which was surreptiously taken out of my hands, else should I have given you a more fuller account upon what occasion we came thither, how we were entertained, with some other circumstances of note wherein that relation is defective. To satisfie therefore your desires, I shall briefly yet fully give you a particular account thereof, with a true Copy of the Relation it self; desiring you to bear with my blunt Phrases, as being more a Seaman then a Scholler.

   April the 26th 1667. We set sail from Amsterdam, intending for the East-Indies; our ship had to name the place from whence we came, the Amsterdam, burthen 350. Tun, and having a fair gale of Wind, on the 27 of May following we had a sight of the high Peak of Tenriffe belonging to the Canaries. We have touched at the Island Palma,5but having endeavoured it twice, and finding the winds contrary, we steered on our course by the Isles of Cape Verd, or Insulś Capitis Viridis,6 where at St. Jamesís we took in fresh water, with some few Goats, and Hens, where with that Island doth plentifully abound.

   June the 14. we had a sight of Madagascar, or the Island of St. Laurence,7 an Island of 4000 miles in compass, and scituate under the Southern Tropick; thither we steered our course, and trafficked with the inhabitants for Knives, Beads, Glasses and the like, having in exchange thereof Cloves and Silver. Departing from thence, we were incountred with a violent storm, and the winds holding contrary, for the space of a fortnight, brought us back almost as far as the Isle Del Principe;8 during which time many of our men fell sick, and some dyed, but at the end of that time it pleased God the wind favoured us again, and we steered on our course merrily, for the space of ten days: when on a sudden we were encountered with such a violent storm, as if all the four winds together had conspired for our destruction, so that the stoutest spirit of us all quailed, expecting every hour to be devoured by that merciless element of water. Sixteen dayes together did this storm continue, though not with such violence as at the first, the Weather being so dark all the while, and the Sea so rough, that we knew not in what place we were. At length all on a sudden the Wind ceased, and the Air cleared, the Clouds were all dispersed, and a very serene Sky followed, for which we gave hearty thanks to the Almighty, it being beyond our expectation that we should have escaped the violence of that storm.

   At length one of our men mounting the Main-mast espyed fire, an evident sign of some Countrey near adjoyning, which presently after we apparently discovered, and steering our course more nigher, we saw several persons promiscuously? running about the shore, as it were wondering and admiring? at what they saw: Being now near to the Land, we manned out our long Boat with ten persons, who approaching the shore, asked them in our Dutch Tongue Wat Eylant is dit?9 to which they returned this Answer in English, That they knew not what we said. One of our Company named Jeremiah Hanzen who understood English very well, hearing their words, discourst to them in their own Language; so that in fine we were very kindly invited on shore, great numbers of them flocking about us, admiring at our Cloaths which we did wear, as we on the other side did to find in such a strange place, so many that could speak English, and yet to go naked.

   Four of our men returning back in the long Boat to our Ships company, could hardly make them believe the truth of what they had seen and heard, but when we had brought our ship into harbour, you would have blest your self to see how the naked Islanders flocked unto us, so wondering at our ship, as if it had been the greatest miracle of Nature in whole World.

   We were very courteously entertained by them, presenting us with such food as that Countrey afforded, which indeed was not to be despised; we eat of the Flesh both of Beasts, and Fowls, which they had cleanly drest, though with no great curiosity?, as wanting materials, wherewithal to do it; and for bread we had the inside or Kernel of a great Nut as big as an Apple, which was very wholsome, and sound for the body, and tasted to the Pallat very delicious.

   Having refreshed our selves, they invited us to the Pallace of their Prince or chief Ruler, some two miles distant off from the place where we landed; which we found to be about the bigness of one of our ordinary village houses. It was supported with rough unhewn pieces of Timber, and covered very artificially with boughs, so that it would keep out the greatest showers of Rain; the sides thereof were adorned with several sorts of Flowers, which the fragrant fields there do yield in great variety. The Prince himself (whose name was William Pine the Grandchild of George Pinethat was first on shore in this Island) came to his Pallace door and saluted us very courteously, for though he had nothing of Majesty in him, yet had he a courteous noble and deboneyre spirit, wherewith your English Nation (especially those of the Gentry) are very much indued.

   Scarce had he done saluting us when his Lady or Wife, came likewise forth of their House or Pallace. Attended on by two Maid-servants, she was a woman of an exquisite beauty, and had on her head as it were a Chaplet of Flowers, which being intermixt with several variety of colours became her admirably. Her privities were hid with some pieces of old Garments, the Relicts of those Cloaths (I suppose) of them which first came hither, and yet being adorned with Flowers those very rags seemed beautiful; and indeed modesty so far prevaileth over all the Female Sex of that Island, that with grass and flowers interwoven and made strong by the peelings of young Elms (which grow there in great plenty) they do plant together so many of them as serve to cover those parts which nature would have hidden.

   We carried him as a present some few Knives, of which we thought they had great need, an Ax or Hatchet to fell Wood, which was very acceptable unto him, the Old one which was cast on shore at the first, and the only one that they ever had, being now so quite blunt and dulled, that it would not cut at all. Some few other things we also gave him, which he very thankfully accepted, inviting us into his House or Pallace, and causing us to sit down with him, where we refreshed our selves again, with some more Countrey viands which were no other then such we tasted of before; Prince and peasant here faring alike, nor is there any difference betwixt their drink, being only fresh sweet water, which the rivers yield them in great abundance.

   After some little pause, our Companion (who could speak English) by our request desired to know of him something concerning their Original and how that people speaking the Language of such a remote Countrey should come to inhabit there, having not, as we could see, any ships or Boats amongst them the means to bring them thither, and which was more, altogether ignorant and meer strangers to ships, or shipping, the main thing conducible to that means, to which request of ours, the courteous Prince thus replyed.

   Friends (for so your actions declare you to be, and shall by ours find no less) know that we are inhabitants of this Island of no great standing, my Grandfather, being the first that ever set foot on this shore, whose native Countrey was a place called England, far distant from this our Land, as he let us to understand; He came from that place upon the Waters, in a thing called a Ship, of which no question but you may have heard; several other persons were in his company, not intending to have come hither (as he said) but to a place called India, when tempestuous weather brought him and his company upon this Coast, where falling among the Rocks his ship split all in pieces; the whole company perishing in the Waters, saving only him and four women, which by means of a broken piece of that Ship, by Divine assistance got on Land.

   What after passed (said he) during my Grandfathers life, I shall show you in a Relation thereof written by his own hand, which he delivered to my Father, being his eldest Son, charging him to have a special care thereof, and assuring him that time would bring some people or other thither to whom he would have him to impart it, that the truth of our first planting here might not be quite lost, which his commands my Father dutifully obeyed; but no one coming he at his death delivered the same with the like charge to me, and you being the first people, which (besides our selves) ever set footing in this Island, I shall therefore in obedience to my Grandfathers and Fathers commands, willingly impart the same unto you.

   Then stepping into a kind of inner room, which as we conceived was his lodging Chamber, he brought forth two sheets of paper fairly written in English, (being the same Relation which you had Printed with you at London) and very distinctly read the same over unto us, which we hearkened unto with great delight and admiration, freely proffering us a Copy of the same, which we afterward took and brought away along with us; which Copy hereafter followeth.

© Cambridge University Press

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