Re-Collecting Jim: Discovering a Name and a Slave Narrative’s Continuing Truth. Or, analysis of the authorship of Recollections of Slavery by a Runaway Slave (1838)

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2014

Publication Title

Common-Place The Interactive Journal of Early American Life


Common-Place The Interactive Journal of Early American Life, Inc


In a follow-up installment in 1839 to the anonymously authored Recollections of Slavery by a Runaway Slave, the narrator testifies that a Charleston slave speculator known as "Major Ross" had sold his brother. The narrator notes that Ross lives in "a nice little white house, on the right hand side of King street as you go in from the country towards the market."

The right-hand side? Was that level of precision necessary? Because people challenged the veracity of slave narratives at the time they were published, details mattered very much. But the level of specificity in this instance caught my eye. The facts were borne out: property records in the Charleston County Register Mesne Conveyance Deeds office show that in 1831, a James L. Ross, known also as "Major Ross," purchased a house situated on the west side of King Street, just a few blocks north of the market. If you were entering the city of Charleston from the country, Ross' house would indeed have been on the right-hand side (fig 1).

And so it comes down to that. In order to prove his own humanity, the truth about the human capacity for cruelty, and the very reputation of abolitionist crusaders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, this survivor made his story unassailable by giving the correct location for the speculator's house on King Street in Charleston.