Journal of James Watt
Expedition to Timbo, Capital of the Fula Empire in 1794
Edition and Introduction by Bruce L. Mouser

African Studies Program. University of Wisconsin-Madison. 1994. 97 pages


In 1994 the James Watt journal of his travels to and from Timbo, the capital of the Fula Empire in the Futa Jalon highlands of modern Guinea, will be two hundred years old. Perhaps it is fitting that in its two-hundredth year, it finally be printed in a script that is readable and available to scholars who will profit from its contents. Watt, unfortunately, died an untimely death little more than a year after his travels to Timbo in 1794, at the early age of 35 years, without having polished his journal into publishable form. At the time of his death, Watt and James Gray were planning a monumental challenge: an overland exploration of West Africa from the coast to Timbuktu and from there to North Africa across the Sahara. Others soon would attempt similar travels and follow their successes with journals in published form. Surely Watt had like designs for his writings. His traveling companion to Timbo, Matthew Winterbottom, likewise died an early death, but Winterbottom's journal was used by his brother, Dr. Thomas Winterbottom, who wrote and had published his own important two-volume An Account of the Native Afticans in the Neighbourhood of Sierra Leone in 1803. Except for those few scholars who sought out Watt's manuscript journal of the expedition to Timbo, the only accessible version was that by Winterbottom; and Dr. Winterbottom was clearly more interested in a description of the “native African” than recording the attitudes of those who made the journey or their daily trials and observations along the way.
The only extant copy of Watt's record, itself a copy of the original which in 1794 was deposited in the Secretary's Office of Fort Thomton, the center of the Sierra Leone Company's activities in Freetown' is in Rhodes House Library, Oxford. When this copy of the original was made is unclear. It was written on both sides on foolscap paper. Whether at the time of copying or later, page numbers were added on the first side. It is clear that the copier had some difficulty in reading sections of the original document, especially toward the end of the joumal. In several instances, the copier left blank spaces in the text, presumably because words were either missing in the original or undecipherable. In other cases the copier made mistakes and simply crossed through the errors. In two instances the copier left large spaces and in another place he indicated that something was unintelligible in the original and that he subsequently omitted what he considered unimportant.
I attempted to avoid these pitfalls, especially the latter. But some changes were made in the manuscript. The copier (I will assume that the problems were his) was generally an excellent speller, sometimes using words which I did not know or recognize but using them correctly for his time. Words, such as “everything” and “anything,” were in places divided and in others not; “ice” often became “ei;” and words with double letters sometimes had them and sometimes not. The spelling of Arabic and African names lacked consistency. In each case, I sought to follow his spelling and use the expression “[sic]” sparingly.
Capitalization in this copy was typical of the late eighteenth century; one has the impression that the author used capital letters for emphasis as well as to introduce a sentence or a new thought. For sake of clarity for today's readers, I decided that capitalization should be removed altogether, except for the beginning of sentences, for proper names and titles, and for words to which a more formal addition appeared elsewhere in the text. Removing capitalization was not a major problem, partly because I was uncertain whether the copier intended for some letters to be taken as capital letters.
Punctuation did not seem to follow any particular stylistic or grammatical principles. Watt (i.e., the copier) clearly liked to use commas and dashes in his writing. Rather than follow his forms exactly, I chose instead to delete dashes and to follow his punctuation only where it was useful in explaining the text. Generally I did not add or delete punctuation, except where it was crucial; and where my addition might make a difference in the meaning, I placed that punctuation in brackets. Watt wrote occasionally with long run-on sentences; these I chose to end at convenient spots, leaving sometimes incomplete sentences or adding a word, within brackets, to make the text flow more evenly. In all cases, however, I sought to maintain the sense of the journal and to assure that every sentence completed a thought that added to the meaning of the entire manuscript.
The other changes which I made in Watt's journal were merely cosmetic in nature. Pagination remained the same as in the copied text, except that I designated that text found on the first side of the page as “r” and the second as “v.” I numbered each side in this edition and began each side with the name of the place (in brackets) where or about which the text was originally written. In the text itself I used brackets to add missing parts of formal names and accepted spellings for places found on contemporary maps of Guinea and Sierra Leone. In those situations where the copier left a blank space in his copy, I noted these places with [blank]. Where the copier made errors and marked through his text, I repeated his error, marked through it mechanically, and added [marked through in the text] immediately following the error. I chose not to annotate this journal in the traditional manner because I was concerned that my annotations would become confused with Watt's writing, with the copier's copying, and with any additions that may have been added to the manuscript over the past two hundred years. Instead of annotation, I introduced the journal and the conditions on the Windward Coast in the early 1790s in an introductory chapter and included elaborations concerning individuals, events, or items mentioned in the text in the index.
Many shared in the labor which brought this journal to its present form. I first read the manuscript in 1968, struggling with the long and tedious script within the confines of a research reading room. I knew that it was an important record and that one day I would want to return to it in a more formal way. In 1981 Paul Hair of University of Liverpool, asked me if I would continue a transcription which one of his students had started and I agreed to think about it. Perhaps sensing my reservation, Hair sent me a photocopy of the entire manuscript which with my microfilm copy set me on a course that has consumed many hours and years. My daughter, Audrey, who was only eleven years old at the time, became an adult in the shadow of Watt's journal, and in 1993 graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a concentration in African Studies, perhaps attesting to the long-term impact of the Watt project on this household. Three departmental secretaries, Jan Larkin, Judy Sapio, and Marcella Bergerson, became local Watt experts, typing and retyping numerous drafts before the computer made that process easier. The list of students in the department who spent time checking spellings and deciphering words or sentences and constructing indexes which sometimes were meaningful, and sometimes not, perhaps cannot be reconstructed properly. Of these the most important and latest were Rachel Breitsprecher and John Luster.
Several foundations and institutions provided financial assistance to support research that made this edition possible. The National Endowment for the Humanities supported travel to the 1981 International Sierra Leone Symposium at the University of Birmingham, where I read a paper on a related period in Guinean history and where Hair recruited me for this project. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Foundation consistently funded research on topics which promised a small readership, and I could not have continued my interest in this area without their valuable support. But perhaps most important, I appreciate the interest and support which I received from the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, which provided secretarial help, supplies, travel support, and student help which made this project move forward. To all of these I owe my lasting thanks.

Bruce L. Mouser
Department of History
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse