Austin Steward

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Austin Steward
Born 1793
Prince William County, Virginia
Died February 15, 1869(1869-02-15) (aged 75–76)
Cause of death typhoid fever
Resting place Canandaigua, New York
Known for Twenty-Two Years a Slave
Parent(s) Robert and Susan Steward

Austin Steward (1793 – February 15, 1869) was an African-American abolitionist and author. He was born a slave and escaped from Virginia at about age 21, settling in Rochester, New York, and then Canada. His autobiography, Twenty-Two Years a Slave, was published in 1857.


Austin Steward was born in Prince William County, Virginia, in 1793 to Robert and Susan Steward. He had a sister Mary. They were held by planter Capt. William Helm. Steward was seven years old when he was assigned his first duties as a house servant to Helm.[1] Steward taught himself to read in secrecy, but he was discovered and severely beaten.[1]

Helm moved his family and the Stewards to New York in 1800. Although it was a free state, it had a gradual abolition approach and slavery was still permitted.[2] After continued abuse when hired out to a brutal taskmaster, Steward determined to escape, which he did in 1814 at about age 21.[3]

Steward made his way to Rochester, New York. Initially he worked for Dennis Comstock, president of the Manumission Society, and took classes to increase his education.[2] Before his escape, he had consulted about pursuing legal manumission but was discouraged that it would take too long. In 1817 he started what became a successful business in Rochester,[4] opening his own meat market and general store. He gradually acquired considerable property.[1] According to his autobiography, he gave a speech on July 5, 1827, the celebration of final emancipation of slaves in New York, and gained press coverage of the event. in New York and reprints some press coverage of the event.[2]

In 1831 Steward went to Canada, to aid fugitive slaves seeking refuge there. Steward devoted much of his later life in aiding these fugitive slaves. He was interested in a new settlement and became president of the board of managers of Wilberforce Colony. It was founded by African Americans fleeing the Ohio Black Codes, as well as rioting in Cincinnati, and joined by refugees.[1] It struggled with internal divisions and financial difficulties.[2] Steward eventually returned to Rochester in 1837.

His memoir Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman was published in 1857. It is considered a slave narrative, detailing his early life of enslavement and escape, as well as his years of freedom and work at Wilberforce Colony. In the years before the Civil War, such books sometimes became bestsellers in the North, and abolitionists drew from them in their arguments against the cruelties of slavery.

Steward died of typhoid fever on February 15, 1869, and was buried in Canandaigua, New York.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Steward, Austin (1793-1869)",
  2. ^ a b c d Summary: Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman; Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce Colony, London, Canada West, Rochester, N.Y.: William Alling, 1857; at Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina
  3. ^ "Steward, Austin(1793–1865) - Abolitionist, slave, Chronology",
  4. ^ "Austin Steward, From Servitude to Authorship", African American Registry.

External links

  • Works by Austin Steward at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Austin Steward at Internet Archive
  • Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman; Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years. Rochester, N.Y.: William Alling, 1857; full text available online at Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina.
  • Spartacus Educational: Austin Seward

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