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Zamba Zembola

Portrait of Zemba Zembola from The Life and Adventures of Zamba, 1847

Zamba Zembola (born c. 1780) is the supposed author of an 1847 slave narrative, The Life and Adventures of Zamba, an African Negro King; and his Experience of Slavery in South Carolina, which describes his kidnapping and 40 years of labor as a slave on a plantation in the U.S. state of South Carolina. The work was edited by Peter Neilson, a Scottish abolitionist.

Debate on authenticity of The Life and Adventures of Zamba

On its appearance in 1847, The Spectator took a sceptical view of all the detail in the book;[1] the New Monthly Magazine, however, called it "a genuine and interesting sketch of African domestic manners".[2] A review from 1848 in the Baptist Magazine raised the question of its authenticity.[3]

Some modern scholarly sources state outright that Neilson was the author of the work.[4][5] Graham White wrote of the time gap between the 1820s, when on Neilson's account he knew Zamba in the USA, and 1847 when the work was published, as raising issues that do not have immediate answers.[6] Robert S. Starobin stated that the work "provides an extreme example of the problem of antislavery romanticism in a slave narrative", citing also Philip D. Curtin's opinion that it was a "blatant forgery".[7]

Account of early life and slavery

Born in Congo, Zebola was in his twenties when he befriended Captain Winton, one of the Western traders with whom his father the king did business. Winton provided Zebola with an education and eventually with passage on his slave ship to America. A free man, Zebola recorded the squalid conditions in which the slaves were kept. Upon his arrival to the United States, he lost his freedom when he was seized and sold into slavery. Forced to work for over 40 years on a plantation in South Carolina, he published his autobiography The Life and Adventures of Zamba, an African King in 1847, after obtaining his freedom.[8]

Inside cover from The Life and Adventures of Zamba, showing author, editor, and publisher information


  1. ^ The Spectator. F.C. Westley. 1847. p. 378. 
  2. ^ Thomas Campbell; Samuel Carter Hall; Edward Bulwer Lytton Baron Lytton; Theodore Edward Hook, Thomas Hood, William Ainsworth (1847). New Monthly Magazine. E. W. Allen. p. 123. 
  3. ^ The Baptist Magazine. 1847. p. 645. 
  4. ^ Potter, Jane. "Neilson, Peter". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/19871.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Peter Hogg (4 February 2014). The African Slave Trade and Its Suppression: A Classified and Annotated Bibliography of Books, Pamphlets and Periodical. Routledge. p. 337. ISBN 978-1-317-79235-2. 
  6. ^ Graham White, Inventing the Past? The Remarkable Story of an African King in Charleston, Australasian Journal of American Studies Vol. 12, No. 2 (December, 1993) , pp. 1-14, at p. 11. Published by: Australia and New Zealand American Studies Association Stable URL:
  7. ^ Robert S. Starobin, Privileged Bondsmen and the Process of Accommodation: The Role of Houseservants and Drivers as Seen in Their Own Letters, Journal of Social History Vol. 5, No. 1 (Autumn, 1971) , pp. 46-70, at p. 49 note 5. Published by: Oxford University Press. Stable URL:
  8. ^ "Zamba Zembola". Retrieved 2008-10-02. 

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