Word by Word

The author, a Louisiana slave writing in 1863, begins by simply transcribing sections of the US Constitution. Soon, however, he starts going on tangents of his own: “it is retten that a man can not Serve two masters,” he writes at one point. “But it seems that the Collored population has got two a reble master and a union master the both want our Servises.”

The unruly text captivated Hager, both for its startling originality and for the way it seemed to exist outside the literary canon. “There I was, four months away from getting my Ph.D.,” Hager says, “and I had no idea how to interpret this.”

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