Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Thomas Buchanan
In 1841, Adam B. Chambers, the editor of The Missouri Republican, published a pamphlet containing the texts of his interviews with four African Americans convicted of bank robbery and murder. Because these narratives cover the lives of three free men of color and one quasi-free slave, they present a view of the antebellum African American experience that has been understudied. The existing canon of African American narratives and secondary research focuses on slaves. While few studies have examined the lives of free blacks, most of those have focused on the African American elite. This project brings to light the lives and attitudes of African Americans who had little choice but to follow a life of crime as their method of resisting the restrictions of white society. This project includes research into the motivations of Chambers, the reliability of his transcription, and explores themes found within the narratives. Researching Chambers’ motivations found that, despite his goal of producing a text fashioned after other criminal confessions, he had reasons to provide accounts at least as reliable as widely accepted slave narratives. An exploration of the construction of the text shows that the voices of Chambers’ informants create a subtext that competes effectively with Chambers’ attempt to mold their stories as confessional literature and succeeds in telling their stories on their own terms. The themes found in the text demonstrate a radically different worldview in which these men portray themselves as heroic tricksters using crime to resist white authority and use the term “rascal” to claim fear and respect by flaunting their success in crime. This project sought to bring to light this worldview by making these narratives available for the study and discussion of a neglected aspect of American history.
Reuter, Mark K., "The Confessions of the Madison Henderson Gang" (2005). Student Work. 516.