Harriet E. Wilson was born in 1825 in Milford, New Hampshire, to an African-American father and a white mother. After the death of her father, she was abandoned by her mother at the home of a local family for whom she worked as an indentured servant until the mid-1840s.
Wilson married in 1851 and had a son named George whom she later left with foster parents when her husband abandoned her and she was forced to seek work in Boston.
She reportedly became a clairvoyant and psychic healer known as Dr. Hattie E. Wilson, the trance medium, who traveled the country giving lectures on the spirit world and race relations. Her novel Our Nig was a fictional account of her life in indenture, prejudice and tenacity. It was the first to be published by an African-American woman when it was printed on Sept. 5, 1859. The book was lost for years until scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. discovered an original edition in a Manhattan bookstore in 1981 and republished it in 1983.
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(Photo: Courtesy of Today in African American History)