Henry Watts was a college janitor in the 1850s and 1860s who was best known for participating in the annual commencement ceremonies. Called “Judge Watts” by nearly everyone, he was photographed by a faculty member during the Civil War and fondly remembered by many Dickinsonians for decades afterward. However, there is no current acknowledgment on campus of his previous importance to the institution.
Henry Watts was born around 1830 in Carroll County, Maryland to Valentine and Violet Watts, both of whom had probably been enslaved at some point in their lives, though it remains uncertain whether they were free or enslaved at the time of Henry’s birth. The Watts family was quite large; Henry had several younger siblings, including younger brother Samuel who worked with him at Dickinson. The Watts family left Maryland at some point in the late 1840s and settled in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Initially, Henry and Sam worked as waiters at a boarding house associated with the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg. Soon, however, they found employment as janitors and waiters at Dickinson College in Carlisle. College ledgers reveal payments to “Judge” Henry Watts and his brother Samuel as early as 1853. One student’s diary from December 1857 also records being “awakened by Watts” one cold morning (which brother, however, remains uncertain). Professor Charles F. Himes, an amateur photographer, then took a series of stereographic views of both brothers with their janitorial equipment in 1862. The 1860 census described both Henry and his wife Mary as mulattoes, or people from mixed race backgrounds. Henry may have served in the Union army (with the 22d USCT) during the Civil War. He worked at Dickinson until his death in 1879.
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