Watkins was born enslaved in 1821 in Maryland. After one failed escape attempt, Watkins finally managed to flee to the northern states in 1844. He settled in Connecticut with his wife Mary and had three children, but the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forced him to flee to England for safety.
The first edition of his slave narrative, Narrative of the Life of James Watkins, was published in 1852, with subsequent editions selling well into the 1850s. In 1860, he published a revised edition in Newcastle, Struggles for Freedom.
By the 1880s, Watkins was living in the United States but his date of death is unknown.
Infants are sold by weight – two guineas for every pound. Infants are sold from the breast. They would sell an angel if they could. His own sister had been sold, and that too for the white man’s lust. The horrors of slavery could not be exaggerated – the picture was so black, that it was impossible to over colour.