The following annotations to Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave were compiled in the fall 2000 by Seth Berkowitz and Ankeet Shah, first-year students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as a class project in Professor William L. Andrews's First-Year Seminar on Slavery and Freedom in African American Literature and Film. We welcome any corrections, additions, or suggested revisions of these annotations. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fredericksburg—City in Virginia, approximately 100 miles north of Richmond.
Planting corn time—usually late April to early May.
"had the devil in them"—from a general sense of trouble-maker, this term took on a specific meaning of slaves thought likely to run away.
sulky—a light, two wheeled, one horse carriage with room for one passenger.
Natchez, Miss.—City on Concordia Adams river, in southwest corner of the state of Mississippi.
mind my P's and Q's—colloquial idiom of disputed origin, meaning to be on one's best behavior or particularly attentive to detail.
made a wife—idiomatic for had sexual relations with, does not imply marriage.
Vicksburg—Mississippi city about 40 miles west of Jackson.
Gin-House—Room where cotton gin was housed. Invented by Eli Whitney, the cotton gin (short for engine) removed seeds from picked cotton at a rate much faster than humans could.
driver—Position, often filled by slaves, also know as head man or head slave, responsible for ensuring that slaves worked hard. The driver was empowered to punish those whose work was found deficient.
hand-barrow—a shallow open box for moving small loads, having one wheel in front with two legs in back to form a tripod and two protruding handles.
cowskin—a stiff, short whip made of braided rawhide.
his younger brother—William McNeill, brother of Watson's master.
pantaloons—general term for pants, originally tight fitting pants fastened beneath the calf.
Memphis—Largest city in Tennessee, on the Mississippi river, in south west corner of the state.
stage—a stagecoach, a horse-drawn coach that transported people and goods on scheduled routes.
Nashville—Capitol of Tennessee, on the Cumberland river.
Lexington, Kentucky—a city in north central Kentucky.
State of York—York in Great Britain.
cut—wood cut illustrations were engraved, in reverse, into blocks of wood and then inked.
piazza—a large porch or veranda.
net—a net for protection from mosquitoes and other insects.
"Slavery has made labor dishonorable to the white man"—See also Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery (1901), in which he also discusses the effect slavery had on whites' views of labor.
give bonds—Pay an indemnity.
martial law—In August, 1833, a temporary military government was established in Vicksburg for the purpose of removing gamblers.
apoplexy—a stroke or cerebrovascular accident, used to denote any sudden unconsciousness.
"All things...them."—Matthew 7:12 "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."
"The servant that knoweth his master's will...stripes"—Luke 23: 47.
Shorter Catechism—A sequence of 107 questions and answers about religious doctrine established by the Westminster Assembly in 1647 and used chiefly in Presbyterian churches.
free papers—Documents that free blacks were required to carry stating that they were not slaves.
glass half full of brandy, thick with cayenne pepper—supposed remedy for sea-sickness.
New Orleans—city in Louisiana at near the opening of the Mississippi river into the Gulf of Mexico.
William L. Garrison—William Lloyd Garrison (1805-79), abolitionist leader and publisher of The Liberator newspaper.
Mr. Nell—possibly William G. Nell, father of William C. Nell (1816-74), abolitionist and journalist for The Liberator.
McDuffie—George McDuffie, 1790-1851, South Carolina legislator, senator, and governor.
under-ground railroad—network of people who helped fugitive slaves to the free states.
"an ever present help in time of need."—See Psalm 46:1.
WELD'S AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT IS—American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses by Theodore D. Weld (New York: Published by the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839). Collection of various accounts of slavery compiled by leading abolitionist and politician Theodore Dwight Weld, 1803-1895.
John C. Calhoun, Robert Barnwell Rhett, Hugh S. Legare—Leading proslavery politicians. Calhoun (1782-1850) was Vice President of the United States from 1825-1832 and was a senator from South Carolina from 1832-43 and 1845-50. Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) was a senator (1850-1852 and representative (1837-1849) from South Carolina. Hugh S. Legare (1797-1843), held state offices in South Carolina and became U.S. Secretary of State in 1843.
Moloch—The sun god of the Canaanites who required the sacrifice of firstborn children.
Stroud's Sketch of the Slave Laws—A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America (1856), authored by Judge George McDowell Stroud (1795-1875), details laws of slavery in various states.