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Henry Watson, b. 1813
Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave
Boston: Published by Bela Marsh, 1848


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

Page 5

FredericksburgCity in Virginia, approximately 100 miles north of Richmond.

Planting corn timeusually late April to early May.

Page 9

knocked downsold.

Page 10

"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.

sulkya 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.

Page 13

mind my P's and Q'scolloquial idiom of disputed origin, meaning to be on one's best behavior or particularly attentive to detail.

made a wifeidiomatic for had sexual relations with, does not imply marriage.

VicksburgMississippi city about 40 miles west of Jackson.

Page 14

Gin-HouseRoom 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.

Page 15

driverPosition, 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.

Page 19

hand-barrowa 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.

cowskina stiff, short whip made of braided rawhide.

Page 21

his younger brotherWilliam McNeill, brother of Watson's master.

pantaloonsgeneral term for pants, originally tight fitting pants fastened beneath the calf.

Page 22

MemphisLargest city in Tennessee, on the Mississippi river, in south west corner of the state.

stagea stagecoach, a horse-drawn coach that transported people and goods on scheduled routes.

NashvilleCapitol of Tennessee, on the Cumberland river.

Lexington, Kentuckya city in north central Kentucky.

Page 23

State of YorkYork in Great Britain.

Page 24

cutwood cut illustrations were engraved, in reverse, into blocks of wood and then inked.

piazzaa large porch or veranda.

neta net for protection from mosquitoes and other insects.

Page 26

"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.

Page 27

give bondsPay an indemnity.

martial lawIn August, 1833, a temporary military government was established in Vicksburg for the purpose of removing gamblers.

apoplexya stroke or cerebrovascular accident, used to denote any sudden unconsciousness.

Page 29

"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."

Page 30

"The servant that knoweth his master's will...stripes"Luke 23: 47.

Page 35

Shorter CatechismA sequence of 107 questions and answers about religious doctrine established by the Westminster Assembly in 1647 and used chiefly in Presbyterian churches.

Page 36

free papersDocuments that free blacks were required to carry stating that they were not slaves.

Page 38

glass half full of brandy, thick with cayenne peppersupposed remedy for sea-sickness.

New Orleanscity in Louisiana at near the opening of the Mississippi river into the Gulf of Mexico.

Page 39

William L. GarrisonWilliam Lloyd Garrison (1805-79), abolitionist leader and publisher of The Liberator newspaper.

Mr. Nellpossibly William G. Nell, father of William C. Nell (1816-74), abolitionist and journalist for The Liberator.

Page 40

McDuffieGeorge McDuffie, 1790-1851, South Carolina legislator, senator, and governor.

under-ground railroadnetwork of people who helped fugitive slaves to the free states.

Page 41

"an ever present help in time of need."See Psalm 46:1.

Page 42

WELD'S AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT ISAmerican 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.

Page 43

John C. Calhoun, Robert Barnwell Rhett, Hugh S. LegareLeading 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.

Page 44

MolochThe sun god of the Canaanites who required the sacrifice of firstborn children.

Page 46

Stroud's Sketch of the Slave LawsA 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.