Samuel Williams and His World: Before the War and After the Union

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Sources and Credits


Susanna Ashton is a Professor and Chair of English at Clemson University and has authored and edited various books and articles on nineteenth century American literature and culture, including “I Belong to South Carolina”: South Carolina Slave Narratives (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010). She has co-edited with Rhondda R. Thomas, The South Carolina Roots of African American Thought (Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina Press, 2010)co-edited with Tom Lutz “These ‘ColoredUnited States”: African American essays of the 1920s (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1998), and co-edited with William J. Hardwig Approaches to Teaching Charles W. Chesnutt (NY: The Modern Language Association of America, 2018). She is currently working on a biography of a South Carolina abolitionist and fugitive slave author titled: A Plausible Man, the Life of John Andrew Jackson.

Clemson University students at the Old Slave Mart in Charleston researching Samuel Williams, photograph from Susanna Ashton, Charleston, South Carolina, 2015.

Clemson University students and Susanna Ashton (and her son, Henry Laurence) at the Old Slave Mart in Charleston researching Samuel Williams, photograph from Susanna Ashton, Charleston, South Carolina, 2015.

The research for this exhibit was made possible by the English Department and the Creative Inquiry Program at Clemson University. Special research was provided by Benjamin Barkley and Hannah Meller and also by undergraduate researchers who came to know and honor the complexity of Samuel Williams’s life:

Glenn Bertram
Kristen Doe
Vanessa Eggenschwiler
Clare Kelly
Melissa Knapp
Kirsten Alexandra Nelson
Hannah Thompson
Mary-Kate Tilley
Lydia Wardlaw

Thank you also to the staff at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the Clemson University Library, the South Carolina Historical Society, the Vermont Historical Society, and the expert staff at the Charleston County Public Library.

Special thanks, too, to Erika McClain and the other descendants of Samuel Williams for honoring us with the story of their family’s proud legacy.


The best place for more information about the life of Samuel Williams is, of course, his memoir, written under the name Samuel Aleckson: Before the War and After the Union: An Autobiography, which was reprinted in “I Belong to South Carolina.” South Carolina Slave Narratives, edited by Susanna Ashton (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010), p. 228-293. This edition was assembled before Samuel Williams’s proper identity was established, however, so many of the determinate details presented in this exhibit are more current and thorough than that 2010 edition could present.

Primary Sources

Aleckson, Sam. Before the War and After the Union: An Autobiography. Boston: Gold Mind Publishing Company, 1929.

Barnett, W.F. United States. Census Bureau. “Schedule 1: Inhabitants in Charleston in the County of Charleston, State of So. Co.” 1880 United States Federal Census, 9 June 1880. Ancestry Institution [Web]. 21 Feb. 2016.

Gaillard, P. C., and W. H. Smith. "An Ordinance." The Charleston Daily News 14 Dec. 1866: n. page. The Library of Congress. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

New Hampshire Homes: Photographic Views of City, Village, Summer, and Farm Homes of New Hampshire Men and Residents of the Granite State, With Descriptive Sketches of the Same. Concord, N. H., James A. Wood, 1895. 

 “Samuel Williams’s Views,” The Oakland Sunshine, column 6, September 29th, 1915.

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