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Thomas H. Jones

From C. Peter Ripley et al., eds., The Black Abolitionist Papers, vol. 2, Canada, 1830-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 134-5. Used by permission of the publisher.


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.

See a report of the Brig Bell in the Wilmington Tri-Weekly Commercial

See also a plan of Wilmington, N.C. from 1856.

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.

See a letter from Thomas H. Jones to Daniel Foster May 5, 1851

See a letter from Thomas H. Jones to Daniel Foster July 15, 1852

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.

See this broadside announcing Thomas H. Jones' preaching engagements

Sources consulted. 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 #]

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