Clergyman, author. Stroyer was born and raised a slave in antebellum South Carolina. After emancipation, he authored an engrossing autobiographical narrative, My Life in the South, first published in 1879. Subsequently revised and expanded, the book is a collection of incidents that provides an intimate view of Stroyer’s life as a slave. The slaves’ struggle for survival, the constant task of having to shift loyalties, and the brutality of day-to-day life are frankly shared by Stroyer in his narrative, as are the ethics, morality, and religious adherence of slave life.
By Stroyer’s own account, he was born in 1846 (later editions of his autobiography state 1849) on the Singleton family’s extensive Kensington Plantation, near Columbia. His mother and her parents were owned by the Singleton family, as was his father, who was transported from Africa as a young boy. Stroyer’s father was married twice in “mutual agreement” slave marriages, which resulted in fifteen children. Jacob was the third son from his father’s second marriage.
Like his father, Stroyer labored as a hostler (a keeper of horses and mules) on the Singleton plantation. Colonel M. R. Singleton kept race horses, including the notable prizewinners Capt. Miner and Inspector, which Stroyer, after becoming a legitimate certified rider, rode in many practice races. The death of Colonel Singleton put an end to Stroyer’s care and racing of the family’s sporting horses, and all of the men and boys who had been hostlers and riders were placed to labor in the cotton fields. Stroyer was small and seemingly not suitable for fieldwork. He was placed there anyway and suffered many brutal whippings before becoming acclimated to his new station.
After emancipation, Stroyer went to school in Columbia and Charleston and then moved north to Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1870. After attending evening schools, Stroyer went to Worcester Academy, where he studied for two years. During this time he was licensed as a preacher of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and he later was ordained as a deacon at Newport, Rhode Island. Soon thereafter Stroyer was sent to Salem, Massachusetts, where he remained to “preach the gospel.” During this period Stroyer became a much-sought-after speaker regarding his life as a slave, and he was encouraged to write and publish these accounts. He did so with the idea and purpose to raise means that would enable him to add to his education and devote his services and attainments to the good of his race.
Stroyer, Jacob. My Life in the South, Part I. Salem, Mass.: Salem Press, 1879.