Readers soon learn that Blake is not all that he appears. Born free to wealthy West Indian tobacco planters, Blake as a youth goes on what he mistakenly believes to be a Spanish man-of-war but what turns out to be a slave ship. When Blake protests at the auctioning of the slaves in the United States, the ship's commander sells him to Franks. Once on the Franks plantation, Henry marries Maggie, and they have a son. Henry's decision to respond to Maggie's sale with a revolutionary plot contrasts strikingly with the religiosity advocated by his in-laws and by Stowe's Uncle Tom. While most of the slaves Henry meets on his travels talk in a stereotypical, black southern slave dialect, Henry speaks in standard English. He is characterized as a well-educated, strong, Moses-like figure who will be the deliverer of his race.
Delany wrote Blake during the 1850s, when he was advocating for black emigration. While a few sample chapters were being published in the Anglo-African Magazine, he solicited the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to publish the entire novel, but when this did not happen, Delany continued to publish his book in the black periodical press.
The novel has both domestic and international concerns. Henry Blake's travels take him through the United States, into Canada and Cuba, and back and forth from Africa. Indeed, as the nineteenth-century subtitle to the book details, Blake is "A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States and Cuba." Thus, the novel not only shows how the transatlantic slave trade is a problem; it also shows how a transnational black revolution might be a solution to that problem. Much like other seafaring novels of the nineteenth century, such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or the Whale (1851), Blake is international in scope.
Blake also explores the role Christianity played in antebellum slave life. Henry Blake excoriates slave owners like Franks for beating their slaves and breaking apart slave families while claiming to be "Christian people." He also disapproves of slaves like Daddy Joe and Mammy Judy who adopt their masters' Christianity whole cloth. Rather than waiting on salvation, Blake asks slaves to be violent. Nevertheless, Blake himself does rely on religion in his own endeavors, frequently leading prayers among his followers. Ironically, while disapproving of the way that whites have distorted and used Christianity to advance their own interests, he claims that blacks should behave similarly. He states that "'[t]he whites accept of nothing but that which promotes their interests and happiness, socially, politically and religiously. They would discard a religion, tear down a church, overthrow a government, or desert a country, which did not enhance their freedom. In God's great and righteous name, are we not willing to do the same?'" Religion can be useful to Blake, as long as it is used to advance black freedom.
Blake is a significant cultural document for both its depiction of transatlantic slavery and its characterization of hemispheric, violent revolt as a fitting response to slavery. In this way, it is an important early progenitor of black nationalist thought. At the same time, as some scholars have pointed out, Blake does a great deal of revolutionary planning, but he does not incite a great deal of actual violent revolt. Because we have yet to recover the last six chapters of the book, readers are left to ask whether the revolution ever actually came.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Chiles, K. L. Blake; or the Huts of America (1859–1861). (2014, August 6). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Blake_or_the_Huts_of_America_1859-1861.
- MLA Citation:
Chiles, Katy L. "Blake; or the Huts of America (1859–1861)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: September 24, 2012 | Last modified: August 6, 2014