Only Known Slave Narrative Published Independently in California, Life and Adventures of James Williams with Descriptions of Frontier West, Mormons, and Chinese

WILLIAMS, James (1825-?) Life and Adventures of James Williams, A Fugitive Slave, With a Full Description of the Underground Railroad. San Francisco: Women’s Union Print, 1873.

8vo (6 x 9 in.). Original purple wrappers (wear to covers sunned and soiled with some chipping to upper corner and spine, upper half of title page lacking with repair).

FIRST EDITION. A remarkable biography of James Williams, the only known full-length slave narrative published independently in California. The work details his early life and escape from slavery, reuniting with his fugitive mother in Pennsylvania. At the age of 16, he began working the Underground Railroad. His devotion to freeing his fellow man is evident as he includes the stories of several other escaped slaves in this book. The work also follows his move to California, trips to Mexico and British Columbia, the transcontinental railroad, his work with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Spiritualism, the Gold Rush, the Modoc War and more. An interesting chapter “About Bigamy” briefly and sympathetically mentions Brigham Young and the burgeoning Mormon community in Salt Lake City. He also expresses progressive opinions upon both the Chinese and Irish populations in California, remarking, “Drive them out? Ah, my learned friends, are you not aware that California is a free country? It is part of the United States of America, and America throws open her doors for all nations.” An invaluable document of life in the western frontier. Very scarce.


Covers sunned and soiled with some chipping to upper corner and spine, occasional foxing. Upper half of title page lacking with repair.

Estimate: $2,000 - $4,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium

Internet Bidding

Have a Similar Item?

Consign With Us

Purchased items will be available for pickup in Chicago on February 20, 2020 ONLY.
All other in-person pickups must be made in Cincinnati. 

Let Cowan's Handle Your Shipping!

Cowan's Auctions is one of the only houses to offer full service, in-house shipping.  

Our experts pack and ship over 5,000 purchases each year.  
Shipping costs are included on every invoice to make getting your items as fast and easy as possible. 

For more information, click HERE or contact shipping@cowans.com.