The Hunted Slave


The striking front cover portrays a heroic slave defending a woman from the attack of slave catcher's hounds. It is an l865 engraving done by C.G. Lewis, from a painting entitled The Hunted Slave by the British artist Richard Ansdell.  While abolitionist art tended to portray slaves as prayerful victims, The Hunted Slave captured some of the crackling tension and defiance of escaped slaves cornered by bloodhounds. Ansdell, an associate of the Royal Academy of Arts, was inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Slave in the Dismal Swamp. The dramatic portrayal of fugitive slaves pitted against the huge hounds is not a strict portrayal of the characters described by Longfellow. Contrast the vigorous figure in the engraving with the infirm, lame, old slave:

A poor old slave, infirm and lame;
Great scars deformed his face;
On his forehead he bore the brand of shame,
And the rags, that hid his mangled frame,
Were the livery of disgrace.

Ansdell completed the work in l86l and exhibited it at the Royal Academy in London in the same year. The following lines of the poem appear at the base of the painting:

In dark fends of the Dismal Swamp
The hunted Negro lay;
He saw the fire of the midnight camp,
And heard at times a horse's tramp
And a bloodhound's distant bay.
Where hardly a human foot could pass,
Or a human heart would dare,
On the quaking turf of the green morass
He crouched in the rank and tangled grass,
Like a wild beast in his lair.

Ansdell studied under W.C. Smith of the Liverpool Academy and he later became a member associate and president of the Academy. He was the recipient of the Heywood Gold Medal on three occasions and won a third class gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in l855. His works were exhibited at the Liverpool Academy from l835 until l865 and at the Royal Academy from l840 until his death in l885.

This engraving of The Hunted Slave was donated to the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center in l9l3 by Julia Hamilton Smith, a noted educator and Howard Alumna.


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August 2000