Samuel Watts

After discovering information on Sam Watts in the Dickinson janitorial drop file, I began to wonder if Samuel Water was a misspelling of Samuel Watts. Professor Pinsker and Dickinson College Archivist Jim Gerencser confirmed my suspicions. I returned to and researched for “Samuel Watts.” The search yielded nine results for multiple people named Samuel Watts. Knowing he worked at Dickinson in the 1870s, I disregarded all entries that marked the birth year after 1870. Because all the other people called Samuel Watts were born after 1880, I was left with two sources that applied to the correct Samuel Watts. The first is the 1860 census and the second is the 1870 census.

According to the 1860 census, Sam Watts was born in Virginia in about 1836. This implies he would have been a slave during his childhood. By 1860, he had moved to Carlisle and worked as a waiter. He was married to Martha Watts who was a 22 Pennsylvanian born washerwoman. Their children were Agnes (7), Laura (3), and Cecilia (3 months).

This is the 1860 census of Samuel Watts in Carlisle, PA. Courtesy of

According to the 1870 census, Sam Watts was born in Maryland in about 1832. This would still imply he was a slave for his life but makes him about four years older. By 1870, he was employed as a college janitor. He was still married to Martha Watts, but she is listed as only 26 years old by the 1870 census when she should have been about 32 based on the 1860 census. Their children were Agnes (14), Laura (12), Henry (8), and Nelson (3).

This is the 1870 census of Samuel Watts in Carlisle, PA. Courtesy of

While I do not know which census is correct (if either) regarding Sam Watts’s birth year or birthplace or Martha’s birth year, it is very likely that Sam Watts was previously a slave. Both Virginia and Maryland likely would have enslaved him. A slavery status might also explain why his birth year is uncertain by a span of four full years. The census records also reveal that he became a janitor at Dickinson sometime between 1860 and 1870.

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