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John Thompson was born into slavery on the Wagar plantation in Maryland in 1812. He was one of seven children. He remained there until the death of Mrs. Wagar in October 1822, when Thompson and his family were sold to Mr. George Thomas, an even crueler master than Wager had been. John Thompson, who had been taught to write in secret by Wager's son, was then shuffled from plantation to plantation before moving further south to Mississippi, when he escaped to the North. He settled in Pennsylvania, where he married and found work. He joined a whaling vessel to avoid arrest and remained at sea for several years. Ultimately, Thompson gave up sea-faring and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, where his narrative was published in 1856. He died only four years later in 1860. William L. Andrews is E. Maynard Adams Professor of English and Senior Associate Dean for Fine Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the W. E. B Du Bois institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.