Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave

Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave American History Biographies Slaves and Slave Owners African American History

This image depicts From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909

Published in 1849, the work contains the stories and narratives of former slaves (among other things). The Library of Congress tells us more about it:

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909, offers primary source materials depicting African Americans in the nineteenth century in representations ranging from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to humor on the minstrel stage, and abolitionist tracts in pamphlets and newspapers.

Former-slave narratives provide an opportunity to analyze issues of authorship, while congressional speeches provide a look at the impact of contention in politics.

Among other items in this pamphlet are narratives by slaves or former slaves. One of those narratives is the story of Henry Watson. 

Why does Watson tell his tale? One of his reasons is to:

...present a faithful record of a few only of the transactions I have been eye-witness of, hoping that a perusal of them might add something to the already abundant testimony of the horrors of the slave system. (See page 4 of the narrative).

It is fair to ask a few questions about such narratives which are included in the pamphlet:

  • Are the stories really the stories of the slaves, told by the slaves without embellishment and with their own words; or
  • Are the stories partly the stories of the slaves with embellishments included by the abolitionists who wanted to underscore the hardships slaves were experiencing?

We can try to analyze those questions by assessing the “Narrative of the Life of J.D. Green, a Runaway Slave.”

Are the following the words of J.D. Green - or - are they the words of abolitionists telling Green's story? Commenting on when his mother was sold, Green says:

Oh! how dreadful it is to be black! Why was I born black? It would have been better had I not been born at all. Only yesterday, my mother was sold to go to, not one of us knows where, and I am left alone, and I have no hope of seeing her again.

At this moment a raven alighted on a tree over my head, and I cried, "Oh, Raven! if I had wings like you, I would soon find my mother and be happy again." (See page 6.)

Curators at the Library of Congress—where this book plus many other slave narratives are maintained—help us to think about these stories and pamphlets by posing these questions:

1. What is the purpose of including a description of the raven in J.D. Green’s narrative?

2. What is the tone of these pamphlets?

3. Who do you think was the intended audience for these pamphlets?

4. Do you think that former slaves wrote these pamphlets?

How would you answer these thought-provoking questions?

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

Media Credits

Image online courtesy, U.S. Library of Congress.


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"Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Sep 21, 2018.
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