Narrative of James Williams, an American Slave
Publication Year: 2013
The American Anti-Slavery Society originally published Narrative of James Williams, an American Slave in 1838 to much fanfare, describing it as a rare slave autobiography. Soon thereafter, however, southerners challenged the authenticity of the work and the society retracted it. Abolitionists at the time were unable to defend the book; and, until now, historians could not verify Williams's identity or find the Alabama slave owners he named in the book. As a result, most scholars characterized the author as a fraud, perhaps never even a slave, or at least not under the circumstances described in the book.
In this annotated edition of Narrative of James Williams, an American Slave, Hank Trent provides newly discovered biographical information about the true author of the book -- an African American man enslaved in Alabama and Virginia. Trent identifies Williams's owners in those states as well as in Maryland and Louisiana. He explains how Williams escaped from slavery and then altered his life story to throw investigators off his track. Through meticulous and extensive research, Trent also reveals unknown details of James Williams's real life, drawing upon runaway ads, court cases, census records, and estate inventories never before linked to him or to the narrative. In the end, Trent proves that the author of the book was truly an enslaved man, albeit one who wrote a romanticized, fictionalized story based on his real life, which proved even more complex and remarkable than the story he told.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
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Frontispiece: Engraving of James Williams by Patrick Reason, originally Narrative of James Williams, an American slave / edited by Hank Trent. 0-8071-5103-7 (pdf) — ISBN 978-0-8071-5104-4 (epub) — ISBN 978-0-8071-5105-1 (mobi) 1. Williams, James, 1805– 2. Slaves—Ala-bama—Biography. 3. Slavery—Alabama—History—19th century. ...
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The fugitive who arrived at Emmor Kimber’s home on Christmas Day 1837 seemed different from the numerous enslaved people the wealthy old Quaker had helped along the Underground Railroad over the years. Like many, James Williams arrived alone, tired, poorly clothed, and afraid of capture. But as he rested and talked about his years in slavery, he impressed Kimber not only ...
NARRATIVE OF JAMES WILLIAMS
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Oh the slave, who toils from the rising sun to sundown—who labors in the cul-tivation of a crop whose fruits he may never reap—who comes home at nightfall weary, faint, and sick of heart, to fi nd in his hut creatures that are to run in the same career with himself,—will you not tell him of a period when his toil shall be ...
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...“American slavery,” said the celebrated John Wesley, “is the vilest beneath the sun!”2 Of the truth of this emphatic remark no other proof is required than an examination of the statute books of the American slave states. Tested by its own laws, in all that facilitates and protects the hateful process of con-verting a man into a “chattel personal”;3 in all that stamps the law-maker and ...
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I was born in Powhatan County, Virginia,1 on the plantation of George Lar-rimore, sen.,2 at a place called Mount Pleasant,3 on the 16th of May, 1805.4 My father was the slave of an orphan family whose name I have forgotten, and was under the care of a Mr. Brooks, guardian of the family.5 He was a native of Africa, and was brought over when a mere child, with his mother. My mother ...
Note by the Editor
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The reader may perhaps feel a curiosity to know something further of James Williams, and whether he has found a place of security from the hunters of human chattels at the South. He came to New York on the 1st of the 1st mo., 1838. He was taken to the house of a true friend of the oppressed, where he was received and entertained with much sympathy and kindness.1 While in ...
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APPENDIXES TO THE ANNOTATED EDITION
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A. George Larimer’s Letter
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George T. F. Larimer, the son-in-law of Williams’s Virginia owner, wrote the following letter to John B. Rittenhouse, editor of the Greensborough Alabama Beacon, in response to an inquiry from Rittenhouse, who was trying to dis-cover if the person in Williams’s narrative called George Larrimore actually ex-isted. Rittenhouse printed the letter in the Beacon, and it was reprinted in an ...
B. Poisoning Trial Transcript
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James Williams, under his original name Shadrach Wilkins, and three other enslaved people, Warner, Tabby, and Mary Jr., were brought to court in Essex County, Virginia, on August 18, 1834, in connection with the attempted mur-der of a neighboring couple, Dr. Augustus Gustavus Dunbar Roy and his wife, Lucy Carter Garnett Roy. Warner and Tabby were tried and found guilty, while ...
C. Runaway Ads
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Williams attempted to run away from Caleb Tate’s plantation in Alabama at least three times. Tate advertised for him in the closest newspaper, the Selma Free Press, as well as other surrounding papers, the Huntsville Advocate, the Mobile Advertiser, the Montgomery Journal, and the Tuscaloosa Intelligencer and State Rights Expositor. Williams did pass near both Montgomery and Selma on ...
D. Recapture in Baltimore
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The following court records relate to Williams’s capture and sale in Baltimore, after he escaped from Caleb Tate on October 16, 1835. The records are found in Alabama Governor (1835–37: Clay), Extraditions and Requisitions File, SG24782, Reel 11, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery.Personally appeared before me Benajah S. Bibb judge of the County Court ...
E. Slatter v. Holton
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When Caleb Tate sold Williams to slave trader Hope H. Slatter in Baltimore, Slatter transferred him to his brother, Shadrach F. Slatter, a trader in New Orleans. Shadrach Slatter sold him to Charles Armstrong, from whom Wil-liams soon escaped in January 1837 by stowing away on the steamboat Henry Clay. The Henry Clay took him as far as the mouth of the Cumberland River, ...
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Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 1 halftone
Publication Year: 2013