Memoir of James Jackson

The Attentive and Obedient Scholar, Who Died in Boston, October 31, 1833, Aged Six Years and Eleven Months, By His Teacher

Author Miss Susan Paul

Edited by Lois Brown

“The design of this Memoir is, to present the incidents in the life of a little colored boy.” So begins the life story of James Jackson, as set down by his African American teacher, Susan Paul, in 1835, as an example to other children and adults who might learn from the boy’s goodness.

This remarkable document ― the first African American biography and a work that predates Harriet Jacobs’ "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" by almost 30 years ― is a lost treasure from the annals of African American history. With its combination of eyewitness accounts, personal testimony and excerpts from traditional Sunday school texts, the memoir is an extraordinary social history rooted in both 19th century evangelicalism and the experiences of free African Americans.

Susan Paul’s portrayal of James Jackson’s Christian sensibility, his idealism and his racial awareness emphasizes his humanity and exemplary American character over his racial identity, even as it embeds him in his African American community.


Editor Lois Brown is professor of English in literature at Arizona State University, where she directs the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

Praise for this book

This fascinating little book... offers a remarkably instructive [introduction] by Brown... and a biography written in 1835 as a didactic spiritual narrative — a work of evangelical juvenilia — by Paul (1809 to 1841). Brown's adept annotations combine with her introduction and Paul's text to produce an explication and exposition that command attention from a wide range of scholars and general readers interested in African Americans, women's studies, children's literature, social history, regional history, the antebellum era and more.

Thomas J. Davis Library Journal

Fortunately now restored to publication, this significant cultural artifact still makes meaningful reading today. Paul was a young black teacher in Boston who, when she published an account of one of her little students in 1835 titled "Memoir of James Jackson," made history as the author of the first African American biography... The memoir itself is a heartfelt profile, easy to immerse oneself into, and from it the contemporary reader not only meets a special child but also gathers information on black education in the antebellum North.

Brad Hooper Booklist