Different Tales of John Glasgow: John Brown’s Evolution to Slave Life in Georgia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This article seeks to advance conversation on the literary and political agency of fugitive slave narrators and their far-reaching archival footprints by focusing on the evolution of John Brown’s narrative of John Glasgow, a Demerara-born free Black sailor with whom Brown toiled side by side on a Georgian plantation. In British and U.S. abolitionist discourse, Glasgow’s tragic story—he was imprisoned under Georgia’s seamen law upon arriving in Savannah and eventually fell into bondage—made him the symbol of the southern seamen acts’ egregious infringement of British freedom. Brown, a formerly enslaved expatriate resident in England, told this tale in his autobiography Slave Life in Georgia, but the authorship of this story has some ambiguity. It is believed by some scholars that the narrative’s editor, London-based White abolitionist Louis Alexis Chamerovzow, concocted the tale. By drawing on newly discovered documents, this article demonstrates that Brown originally attributed Glasgow’s enslavement to kidnapping by deceit, not to a Black seamen law. Furthermore, an examination of British diplomatic dispatches and the details of the Black seaman law operating in Savannah at that time posits the likelihood that Glasgow became enslaved by deception rather than law. What do we make of these findings? Instead of marshalling them to confirm Chamerovzow as the story’s creator, this article speculates that John Brown himself invented the Glasgow story and imagines a transatlantic Black political circuitry connecting England and Canada.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-234
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Black Studies
Volume49
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018

Keywords

  • Canada
  • John Brown
  • John Glasgow
  • abolitionism
  • fugitive slave narratives
  • southern seamen acts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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