John L. Watson was born in Sharon, but was living in Cornwall when he enlisted with the 29th Colored Connecticut Infantry Regiment. His exact age is unclear: his enlistment papers stated that he was 37, but other documents suggest he was 27 or even 24. He married Harriet J. Jackson of Woodbury five days after he enlisted in the Union army. After Watson’s death in 1891, his widow was able to continue collecting his military pension.