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Thomas H. Jones to Daniel Foster 5 May 1851

FROM C. Peter Ripley et al., eds., The Black Abolitionist Papers, vol. 2, Canada, 1830-1865 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 133-5. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
This letter originally appeared in The Liberator, 30 May 1851.


Arrival on Canadian soil often had a powerful impact on fugitive slaves reaching the end of a dangerous journey to freedom. One observer reported that "they seemed to be transformed; a new light shone in their eyes...." Letters written by black refugees back to American friends reflect Canada's transforming effect. Fugitive Thomas H. Jones offered his reaction in a letter to Daniel Foster, his Massachusetts benefactor. Jones, who had escaped from slavery two years earlier, was forced by slave catchers to flee to the Maritime Provinces, leaving his wife nand children with friends in Salem, Massachusetts. Even so, Jones confided to Foster that, upon arriving in Canada, he felt for the first tim, "that my bones are a property bequeathed to me for my own use." Hill, Freedom-Seekers, 59; Lib[ The Liberator], 30 May 1851.

St. John, N[ew] B[runswick]
May 5, 1851

DEAR BROTHER: (1)

From my knowledge of your generous nature and kind Christian hospitality, I know it will be a source of pleasure to you to be informed of my safe arrival here on British ground. Quite free from terror, I now feel that my bones are a property bequeathed to me for my own use, and not for the servitude or gratification of the white man, in that gloomy and sultry region, where the hue of the skin has left my race in thraldom and misery for ages.

O, my dear friend! how good it is to live on the poorest fare, where the mind may apply its immortal powers to the contemplation of heaven and heavenly things, unawed by the monsters who would tie us to a tree and scourge us in our nakedness for attempting to worship the Creator in spirit and in truth!

The atrocity of the hideous system under which I groaned for more than forty years was never so strikingly demonstrated to my mind as it has been by breathing under the auspices and protection of a Government that allows all its children to go abroad in the true liberty of nature, every person free to frequent the altar or the sanctuary to which Conscience would lead him; no cause for degradation but vice, and no lever of promotion but virtue and intelligence.

I begin to see clearly, and to hope with reason, that the Refugee Law has or will awaken the world to a sense of our deep wrongs; and I feel warranted in saying, that the nations of the earth will soon give an expression of opinion upon our cause which will shame the southern white man out of his cruelty, and cause him to unchain his sable victims. The Ethiopian will ere long be redeemed from his bondage, (2) for Jehovah will be his Emancipator, as he is his King, Creator and Judge.

As to this Province, I have found a home of refuge, full of true, warm, generous Christians, whose hearts, abounding with the love of God, are full of sympathy for the slave, whom they will help to free in due time, as far as human means can extend. The citizens of St. John have received me in the spirit of brotherhood, and only that my mission calls me beyond the seas, I might remain here, and be an instrument of good for many years to come.

In a few days, I proceed to Halifax, and thence to England, as soon as circumstances will permit. (3) Hoping that you will remember me to every kind friend taking an interest in my destinies, I am, Your brother in Christ,

THOMAS H. JONES (4)

P.S. Wherever I preach or lecture, I am followed by enthusiastic houses.

T. H. J.


Scholarly and bibliographic notes from The Black Abolitionist Papers.

Some bibliographic citations reference the microform edition of the The Black Abolitionist Papers which was published by Microfilming Corporation of America. Square brackets contain the reel number, a colon, and then the frame number, of the microfilm edition where there citation can be found: [reel #: frame #]

1. Daniel Foster (?-1864), a Massachusetts minister, studied at Dartmouth and Andover. He embraced Garrisonian abolitionism in 1848 and served as an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in the early 1850s but broke with the Garrisonians in 1853. He taught at a black school in Boston for a time, served briefly as chaplain of the state house of representatives (1857), and joined the free settlers struggle in Kansas. Foster enlisted in the Union army in 1862 as a chaplain and received a captain's commission before he was killed in action at Chapin's Bluff, Virginia. Lib [The Liberator], 21 June 1861, 25 March, 17 August 1862, 29 November 1863, 21 October 1864; WAA [Weekly Anglo-African], 29 October 1864; NASS [National Anti-Slavery Standard], 6 June 1863.

2. Jones refers to members of the black race, particularly New World slaves.

3. Jones intended to leave for London during the month in order to be an anti-slavery representative at the Great Exhibition of 1851. In July 1852, he was still planning to visit England to solicit funds to purchase his wife's son out of slavery in North Carolina. No evidence exists to suggest that Jones ever crossed the Atlantic to Britain. Lib [The Liberator], 30 May 1851, 13 August 1852 [7: 0697].

4. Thomas H. Jones (1806-?) was born to slave parents near Wilmington, North Carolina. He lived on the plantation of John Hawes until about 1815, when he was sold to a Wilmington storekeeper from whom the slave obtained his surname. While working as a house servant, then a store clerk, Jones obtained a rudimentary education. Upon reaching adulthood, he married a slave named Lucilla Smith, and they produced three children before being separated several years later when her mistress moved to Alabama. Following his master's death in 1829, Jones was sold to Owen Holmes of Wilmington, who hired him out as a stevedore. By the mid-1830s, convinced that he would never see his family again, Jones remarried, this time to a slave named Mary R. Moore. She bore several children before Jones purchased her out of slavery. They lived in the free black community of Wilmington until 1849, when a white lawyer friend warned Jones about plans to reenslave his children, who were technically still slaves. The lawyer attempted to maneuver a special act for their emancipation through the North Carolina legislature. When this effort failed, Jones sent his wife and children—except a son, Edward, who remained in slavery—to safety in the free states. In August 1849, Jones stowed away on the brig Bell until it reached New York, where he rejoined his family. He was quickly drawn into the antislavery movement, and lectured for several months in Connecticut and western Massachusetts before settling in Salem, where he preached regularly at the local Wesleyan Church. At the 1850 meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, he defended William Lloyd Garrison against clerical critics, which gained him the attention of Garrisonians and earned him the friendship and support of Massachusetts clergyman-abolitionist Daniel Foster. In May 1851, the threat of slave catchers forced Jones to flee to the Maritime Provinces, leaving his family behind in Salem. Basing himself in St. John, he gave antislavery lectures throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, frequently attracting sizable audiences. He also enlisted subscribers for the Liberator. Word reached Jones in 1852 that he could purchase his eldest son Edward for $850. His wife raised $324 in the Boston area, but the remainder came in slowly, so Jones turned his full attention toward redeeming his son from slavery. He solicited contributions throughout the Maritimes and considered a fund-raising tour of England that never materialized. Jones returned to Massachusetts in August 1853. His treatment on the steamer Eastern City during the trip back briefly made him an antislavery cause célèbre; a clerk who had assaulted Jones during the voyage to Boston and forced him to pass the night on deck was eventually arrested for his actions. After arriving in Boston, Jones toured New England and penned his narrative, The Experience of Thomas Jones (1854), to raise funds to free his son. Although Jones's narrative sold well, it remains unclear when (or if) he completed his son's purchase. But by 1859 he had settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, and reemerged as a minor figure in the antislavery movement. He attracted considerable attention with a speech given before the August 1859 New England Colored Citizens' Convention in Boston, in which he urged black Americans to militantly "strike for liberty." He also became a vocal critic of black emigration projects, particularly those advocated by the African Civilization Society. Jones continued to reside in Worcester through 1862. Thomas H. Jones, The Experience of Thomas Jones, Who was a Slave for Forty-Three Years (Springfield, Mass., 1854); Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Eighteenth Annual Report (1850), 98 [6:0364]; Lib [The Liberator], 30 May 1851, 13 August 1852, 19 August, 2 September 1853, 18 August 1854 [6:0949, 7:0697, 8:0430]; Thomas H. Jones to William Lloyd Garrison, 10 February 1854, Anti-Slavery Collection, MB [Boston Public Library and Easter Massachusetts Regional Library System, Boston, Massachusetts] [8:0650-51]; Foner and Walker, Proceedings of Black State Conventions, 2: 216, 223; Worcester City Directory, 1860-62.

Titles by Thomas H. Jones