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Debate on the Authenticity of Williams' Narrative

From: The Liberator, September 21, 1838


NARRATIVE OF JAMES WILLIAMS. A subcommittee of the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, have [sic] published some certificates from Virginia and Alabama, calculated to discredit this narrative, accompanied with remarks extending through several columns. The committee, after a full and candid examination of the testimony, arrive at the conclusion that it is not sufficiently definite to destroy the credibility of the narrative, although they admit that it involves the matter in some difficulty. We have examined the southern testimony; and, while we candidly admit that it has created a doubt in our mind of the accuracy in some minute particulars, of the statement made by the fugitive to several gentlemen in this State and in New York, (and which was written down from his lips by ourself) we are still disposed to give credit in the main to his narrative. We perceive by the last Emancipator, that some additional testimony in favor of the veracity of the fugitive is to be expected. We shall wait for it with some anxiety; and, in the mean time, shall be glad to hear further from Alabama. Our cause needs no support of a doubtful character; and if the narrative in any essential particular is untrue, the slaveholders of Virginia and Alabama would confer a favor upon us by immediately producing testimony to that effect.—Penn. Freeman.


Is quite complacently announcing the discovery, that James Williams' story is not true. He cites the statement of one Thomas Miller of Powhatan, that there are no such folks as poor Williams mentions in his story, and the Chronicle himself has detected one anachronism in the slave's story, as to one of the young slaveholders going to college. Well, what will turn out next not to be true? We wish to mercy it would turn out that slavery want [sic] true, and also that the Chronicle was not in favor of it. Wonder if somebody from Powhatan would not so testify!

James Williams not a true story! We wished it had not been true all the while we were reading it, and guess James wished so, and big Harry, and all of them. It is true that there was a James Williams who told the story, or at least that there was a John Greenleaf Whittier, who said he told it. The Whittier part we know is true—we have seen him. Thomas Miller cannot certify us out of that. We have seen John G. Whittier,— and posterity will hear of him; long after men will cease to see him on the earth. We are certain there was a Whittier—unless our vision and ears deceived us, and some other senses one at least. He says a colored man. who seemed to be a fugitive, and to have a strong bump for the north star, told him the facts he writ down in that narrative. Now if he invented them all, he is a dabster at invention, for an 'inferior race,' and in time will be sharp enough for freedom, if he keeps on. But how could he have invented all that story out of whole cloth? We are inclined to reckon there must be something down south, pretty much resembling plantation slavery, that the creature had undergone, and that he hatched up names and may be places and times, and put them in shape and told them to 'the Poet,' as the Chronicle calls Friend Whittier.

After all, suppose Friend Whittier made it, what has the Chronicle to say about slaveholding down south? Does he believe in it! He has heard tell of it. Does he believe it is real! What does he say about having a stop put to it allowing it is one ninety-ninth as bad as they tell for! What does he say to stopping of it, pretty much at once!—and does he think of any better way to stop it, supposing there was such a thing and he wanted to have it stopped right away, than to form societies, and get up, round in the country, a nation and town's talk, like, against it,—or how would he stop it? We should like to know his ideas about stopping slavery, for after all we believe there is such a thing in the country, James Williams or not, and that it would be well enough to have it ended, by and by. We think slavery ought to be stopped if there never was such a thing as James Williams told, whether true or false. We shall believe the story substantially false when we find out that negroes have more genius and invention than every body else; and that there is no slaveholding in the country,—for if there is any, it must be like what the book describes.

Herald of Freedom.

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