In Milford, New Hampshire’s Bicentennial Park, a statue celebrates Harriet E. Wilson, the first Black American woman to publish a novel in the United States.
In 1859, Wilson published Our Nig; or Sketches From the Life of A Free Black. The novel, which is a semi-autobiographical work, conveys the hardship and abuse Wilson endured in her life as a Black woman in 19th-century New England. After being abandoned by her parents, Wilson was forced to support herself from a young age, and found work as a servant for a well-known abolitionist family. It was unusual for a woman to publish a novel at all in the days prior to the American Civil War, and only more impressive that a Black woman was able to author, finance, and publish a novel despite the obstacles that life put in her way.
Wilson’s work was not well-known at the time of publication. But in 1982, scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. rediscovered the novel and began to share Wilson’s story more widely. The novel work shows that cruelty and racism were not limited to the American South.
The Harriet E. Wilson Memorial was commissioned by the Harriet Wilson Project and dedicated in 2006. The statue was sculpted by artist Fern Cunningham, who also created the Harriet Tubman Memorial in Boston’s South End.