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"The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years -- Chapter Second," ca. 1849


"The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years -- Chapter Second," ca. 1849


In the second installment of The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years, Jones discussed his relationship with his two wives and their children. He included letters back and forth with his second wife who moved to the North when her free status was questioned.


Thomas H. Jones


Thomas H. Jones, "The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years," Documenting the American South, accessed October 23, 2014,




Claire Stroup




Hanover County, North Carolina

Original Format



I enter now upon a new development of wrongs and woes which I, as a slave, was called to undergo. I must go back some two or three years from the time when my master died, and I was sold to Owen Holmes.The bitterness of persecution which master Jones had kept up against me so long, because I would try to serve the Lord, had passed away. I was permitted to pray and go to our meetings without molestation. My master laid aside his terrible severity towards me. By his treatment to me afterwards, he seemed to feel that he had done wrong in scourging me as he had done, because I could not obey his wicked command, to stop praying, and keep away from the meetings. For, after the time of my joining the Church, he allowed me to go to all the meetings, and granted me many other little favors, which I had never before received from him. About this time I began to feel very lonely. I wanted

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a friend to whom I could tell my story of sorrows, of unsatisfied longing, of new and fondly cherished plans. I wanted a companion whom I could love with all my warm affections, who should love me in return with a true and fervent heart, of whom I might think when toiling for a selfish, unfeeling master, who shall dwell fondly on my memory when we were separated during the severe labors of the day, and with whom I might enjoy the blessed happiness of social endearments after the work of each day was over. My heart yearned to have a home, if it was only the wretched home of the unprotected slave, to have a wife to love me and to love. It seems to me that no one can have such fondness of love and such intensity of desire for home and home affections, as the poor slave. Despised and trampled upon by a cruel race of unfeeling men, the bondman must die in the prime of his wretched life, if he finds no refuge in a dear home, where love and sympathy shall meet him from hearts made sacred to him by his own irrepressible affection and tenderness for them. And so I sought to love and win a true heart in return. I did this too, with the full knowledge of the desperate agony that the slave husband and father is exposed to. Had I not seen this in the anguish of my own parents? Yea, I saw it in every public auction, where men and women and children were brought upon the block, examined, and bought. I saw it on such occasions, in the hopeless agony depicted on the countenance of husband and wife there separated to meet no more in this cruel world; and in the screams of wild despair and useless entreaty which the mother, then deprived of her darling child, sent forth. I heard the doom which stares every slave parent in the face each waking and sleeping hour of an unhappy life. And yet I sought to become a husband and a father, because I felt that I could live no longer unloved and unloving. I was married to Lucilla Smith, the slave to Mrs Moore. We called it and we considered it a true marriage, although we knew well that marriage was not permitted to the slaves as a sacred right of the loving heart. Lucilla was seventeen years old

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when we were married. I loved her with all my heart, and she gave me a return for my affection with which I was contented. Oh, God of love, thou knowest what happy hours we have passed in each other's society in our poor cabin. When we knelt in prayer, we never forgot to ask God to save us from the misery of cruel separation, while life and love were our portion. Oh, how we have talked of this dreadful fate, and wept in mingling sorrow, as we thought of our desolation, if we should be parted and doomed to live on weary years, away from each other's dear presence. We had three dear little babes. Our fondness for our precious children increased the current feeling of love for each other, which filled our hearts. They were bright, precious things, those little babes; at least so they seemed to us. Lucilla and I were never tired of planning to improve their condition, as far as might be done for slaves. We prayed with new fervency to our Father in Heaven to protect our precious babes. Lucilla was very proud of me, because I could read and write, and she often spoke of my teaching our dear little ones, and then she would say, with tears, "Who knows, Thomas, but they may yet be free and happy?" Lucilla was a valuable slave to her mistress. She was a seamstress, and very expert at her needle. I had a constant dread that Mrs. Moore, her mistress, would be in want of money, and sell my dear wife. We constantly dreaded a final separation. Our affection for each other was very strong, and this made us always apprehensive of a cruel parting. These fears were well founded, as our sorrowing hearts too soon learned. A few years of very pure and constant happiness for slaves, passed away, and we were parted to meet but once again till we meet in eternity. Mrs. Moore left Wilmington, and moved to Newbern. She carried with her my beloved Lucilla and my three children, Annie, four years old; Lizzie, two and a half years; and our sweet little babe, Charlie. She remained there eighteen months. And oh, how lonely and dreary and desponding were those months of lonely life to my crushed heart! My dear wife and my precious children

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were seventy-four miles distant from me, carried away from me in utter scorn of my beseeching words. I was tempted to put an end to my wretched life. I thought of my dear family by day and by night. A deep despair was in my heart, such as no one is called to bear in such cruel, crushing power as the poor slave, severed forever from the objects of his love by the cupidity of his brother. But that dark time of despair passed away, and I saw once more my wife and children. Mrs. Moore left Newbern for Tuscaloosa, Ala., and passing through Wilmington on her journey, she spent one night in her old home. That night I passed with my wife and children. Lucilla had pined away under the agony of our separation, even more than I had done. That night she wept on my bosom, and we mingled bitter tears together. Our dear children were baptized in the tears of agony that were wrung from our breaking hearts. The just God will remember that night in the last award that we and our oppressors are to receive.

The next morning Mrs. Moore embarked on board the packet. I followed my wife and children to the boat, and parted from them without a word of farewell. Our sobs and tears were our only adieu. Our hearts were too full of anguish for any other expression of our hopeless woe. I have never seen that dear family since, or have I heard from them since I parted from them there. God only knows the bitterness of my agony, experienced in the separation of my wife and children from me. The memory of that great woe will find a fresh impression on my heart while that heart shall beat. How will the gifted and the great meet the charge against them at the great day, as the judge shall say to them, in stern displeasure, "I was sick, destitute, imprisoned, helpless, and ye ministered not unto me; for when ye slighted and despised these wretched, pleading slaves, ye did these acts of scorn against me. Depart ye workers of iniquity."

After my purchase by Owen Holmes, I hired my time at $150 per year, paid monthly. I rented a house

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of Dr. E.J. Desert. I worked, loading and unloading vessels that came into Wilmington, and could earn from one dollar to a dollar and a quarter a day. While my wife and family were spared to bless my home by their presence and love, I was comparatively happy. But I found then that the agony of the terrible thought, "I am a slave, my wife is a slave, my precious children are slaves," grew bitter and insupportable, just as the happiness in the society of my beloved home became more distinct and abounding. And this one cup of bitterness was ever at my lips. Hearts of kind sympathy and tender pity, did I not drain that cup of bitter woe to its very dregs, when my family were carried off into returnless exile, and I was left a heart broken, lonely man! Can you be still inactive while thousands are drinking that potion of despair every year in this land of schools and Bibles? After I parted from my family, I continued to toil on, but not as I had done before. My home was darker than the holds of ships in which I worked. Its light, the bright, joyous light of love and sympathy and mutual endearments, was quenched. Ah me, how dark it left my poor heart. It was colder than the winter wind and frost; the warm sunshine was snatched away and my poor heart froze in its bitter cold. Its gloom was deeper than the prison or cave could make it. Was not there the deserted chairs and beds, once occupied by the objects of a husband's and a father's love? Deserted! How, and Why? The answer, is not the unqualified condemnation of the government and religion of this land? I could not go into my cold, dark, cheerless house; the sight of its deserted room was despair to my soul. So I worked on, taking jobs whenever I could get them, and working often till nearly morning, and never going to my home for rest till I could toil no more. And so I passed four years, and I began to feel that I could not live in utter loneliness any longer. My heart was still and always yearning for affection and sympathy and loving communion. My wife was torn from me. I had ceased

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to hope for another meeting with her in this world of oppression and suffering; so I sat down and wrote to Lucilla,that I could live alone no longer, and saying to her the sad farewell, which we could not say when we were sundered. I asked Mary R. Moore to come and cheer me in my desolate home. She became my wife, and, thank God, she has been rescued from slavery by the blessing of God and my efforts to save her. She is now my wife, and she is with me to day, and till death parts us, secure from the iron hand of slavery. Three of our dear children are with us, too, in the old Commonwealth. I cannot say they are in a free land, for, even here, in the city of Boston, where I am told, is kept the old cradle of liberty, my precious children are excluded from the public schools, because their skin is black. Still, Boston is better than Wilmington, inasmuch as the rulers of this place permit me to send my children to any school at all. After my second marriage, I hired my wife of her master, and paid for her time, $48 a year, for three years. We had one child while Mary was a slave. That child is still in chains. The fourth year, by the aid of a white friend, I purchased my wife for $350. We had before determined to try to accomplish this enterprise in order that our dear babes might be free. Besides I felt that I could not bear another cruel separation from my wife and children. Yet, the dread of it was strong and unceasing upon my mind. So we made a box, and, through a hole in the top, we put in every piece of money, from five cents up to a dollar, that we could save from our hard earnings. This object nerved us for unceasing toil, for twenty months or about that time. What hopes and fears beset us as those months wore away! I have been compelled to hide that box in a hole dug for it, when I knew the patrollers were coming to search my cabin. For well did I know, if they found my box, I should be penniless again. How often have I started and turned in sudden and terrible alarm, as I have dropped a piece of money into my box, and heard its loud ring upon the coin below, lest some prowling enemy

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should hear it, and steal from me my hoarded treasure. And how often have I started up in my sleep as the storm has beat aloud upon my humble home, with the cry of unspeakable agony in my heart, -- "Then, O God, they have taken my box, and my wife and babes are still slaves." When my box was broken open, I still lacked a little of the $350 necessary to buy my wife. The kind friend who had promised to aid me in the contemplated purchase, made up the deficiency, and I became the owner of my wife. We had three children at this time, and, O, how my crushed heart was uplifted in its pride and joy, as I took them in my arms and thought that they were not slaves." These three children are with me and with their mother now, where the slave's chains and whips are heard no more. Oh, how sweet is freedom to man! But doubly dear is the consciousness to the father's heart, made bitter in its incurable woe by the degradation of slavery, that his dear child is never to be a slave! Would to God the fathers of this nation were all possessed of a true consciousness of these things; for then, surely, they would will and secure the immediate ending of human bondage.

After I had purchased my wife, we still worked hard and saved our earnings with great care, in order to get some property in hand for future use. As I saved my earnings, I got a white man whom I thought my friend (his name I choose to keep back for the present,) to lay it out for me. In this way I became the owner of the cabin in which I lived, and two other small houses, all of which were held in the name of this supposed friend. He held them in his own name for me. A slave cannot hold property. I will here remark that I was deceived by this man; and when I ran away from my chains, after sending on my family, I was compelled to sacrifice the whole of this property. I left it, because I could not get my own from his hands, and came off entirely destitute. Thank God, I got away, and now I have no tears to shed over the loss of my houses.

During the winter of 1848-9, a kind lady came and

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told me that some white men were plotting to enslave my wife and children again. She advised me to get them off to the free States as quickly and secretly as possible. A lawyer of Wilmington told me they were not safe, unless emancipated by a special act of the Legislature. He was a member of the House, and tried to get through the House a bill for their emancipation. But there was so much ill feeling upon this question that he could not do it. The Legislature threw it aside at once. He then advised me to get them off to the free States as my only course to save them. This I determined to do if possible. I kept a good lookout for a vessel. I found one, and made a bargain with the captain to take on board for New York a free colored woman and her three children. A kind friend gave me a certificate of their freedom to the captain, and I brought my wife and children on board at night, paid the captain $25 for their fare, and staid on the wharf in torturing fear till about sunrise, when I saw the vessel under way. It was soon out of sight. When I went home, threw myself on my knees, and poured out my soul to God, to carry that ship and its precious cargo safely and swiftly on to a free haven, and to guard and guide me soon to a free home with my beloved family. And so I kept on, praying, working, hoping, pining, for nearly three weeks, when I received the happy news that my dear ones were safe with a true-hearted friend in Brooklyn. I had notified him beforehand that they were coming; and now the good and glorious news came that they were safe with Robert H. Cousins, where the slaveholders could trouble them no more. I had arranged with Mary when she left, to come on myself as soon as I could get the money for my houses and land. She was to write to me as though she had gone to New York on a visit, intending to come back, and she was to speak of New York as if she did not like it at all. I knew my master would be very angry when he heard she had gone unbeknown to him, and I thought he would demand to see the letters my wife should get friends in New York to write to me for her; and so I

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made ready to meet and quiet his suspicions, while I was plotting my own escape. For more than three months I tried to get the money, or part of it for my houses; but was put off and deceived, till I found I must come off without a cent of the property I had tried so hard to accumulate. I was required to call and see my master every day, because he suspected me of design to run away. He was taken suddenly sick, and then I started for my wife and children. Before I give a narrative of my escape, I will give copies of the letters which passed between me and my wife, while I remained in the land of bondage after her escape. These letters with their post marks, are all in my possession and can be examined by any one who may doubt their authenticity, or the fidelity with which they are here given. The kind friend who has written this narrative for me, has corrected some mistakes in the construction and spelling of these letters, and some he has left uncorrected. He has also omitted some repetitions; otherwise they are given as exact copies. I wrote my own letters; my wife wrote by the help of a friend. I give all my letters, and the two from my wife which I was able to keep. The following was written soon after my wife started for New York.

Wilmington, N. C., July 11, 1849.
MY DEAR WIFE - I write these few lines to inform you that I am well, and hope they may find you and the children well, and all the friends. My dear wife, I long to see you and the children one time more in this world. I hope to see you all soon. Don't get out of heart, for I will come as soon as I can. I hope it will not be long, for God will be my helper, and I feel he will help me. My dear wife you must pray for me that God may help me. Tell John he must be a good boy till I see him. I must not forget sister Chavis. She must pray for me, that God may help me come out. Tell her I say that she must be faithful to God; and I hope dear wife you will be faithful to God. Tell sister Chavis that Henry will be out soon,

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and he wants her to keep a good heart and he will send money out to her. Tell her he says she must write to him as soon as she can, for he will not stay long behind her. As soon as he gets his money he will come. I hope to see you all very soon. Tell my Brethering to pray for me, that God may help me to get there safe and make my way clear before me. Help me by your prayers, that God may be with me. Tell brother Robert H. Cousins that he must pray for me; for I long to meet him one time more in this world. Sister Tucker and husband give their love to you and Sister Chavis, and say that you must pray for them. Dear wife, you may look for me soon. But what way I will come, I can't tell you now. You may look for me in three weeks from now. You must try and do the best you can till I come, You know how it is with me, and how I have to come. Tell the Church to pray for me, for I hope to reach that land if I live, and I want the prayers of all God's children. I can't say any more at this time; but, I remain your dear husband, till death,


P. S. - Dear wife, I want you to make out that you don't like New York. When you write to me you must say so. Do mind how you write.
The next letter was written before I had received any certain intelligence of my wife's arrival at New York.

Wilmington, N. C., July 17, 1849.

MY DEAR WIFE -- I write to tell you I am well, and I hope these few lines will find you and the children well. I long to see you all one time more. Do pray for me, that God may help me to get to you all. Do ask sister to pray the Lord to help me. I will trust in God, for I know that He is my friend, and He will help me. My dear wife, tell my children I say they must be good till I see them once more. Do give my love to Brother R. H. Cousins, and tell him I hope to meet him in two or three weeks from now. Then I can tell him all I want to say to him. Tell Sister Chavis I say,

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do not come back to this place till I come. Her husband says he wants her to stay, and he will come on soon. My dear wife, I want you to do the best you can till I come. I will come as soon as I can. You and sister Chavis must live together, for you went together, and you must try to stay together. Do give my love to sister Johnson and husband, and all of my friends. Ask them all to pray for me, that God may be with me in all that I do to meet you all one time more. My dear wife you know how I told you, you must mind how you write your letters. You must not forget to write as if you did not like New York, and that you will come home soon. You know what I told you to do, and now you must not forget it when you write. I will send you some money in my next letter. I have not sold my houses yet, and if I can't sell, I will leave them all, and come to you and the children. I will trust in that God who can help the poor. My dear, don't forget what I told you to do when you write. You know how I have to do. Be careful how you write. I hope to be with you soon, by the help of God. But, above all things, ask all to pray for me, that God may open the way for me to come safe. I hope to be with you soon by the help of the Lord. Tell them if I never come, to go on, and may God help them to go forth to glorious war. Tell them to see on the mountain top the standard of God. Tell them to follow their Captain, and be led to certain victory. Tell them I can but sing with my latest breath, happy, if I may to the last speak His name, preach Him to all, and cry, in death, "Behold the Lamb." Go on, my dear wife, and trust in God for all things. I remain your husband, THOMAS JONES.

Before I wrote the next, I received the happy news that my wife was safe with Brother Cousins.

Wilmington, N. C., July 25, 1849.

MY DEAR WIFE -- Do tell my children they must be good children till I come to them; and you my dear wife, must do the best you can; for I don't know how

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I will come, but I will do the best I can for you. I hope God will help me, for, if He don't, I don't know what I will do. My dear wife, I have not sold my houses yet, but I will do the best I can. If I had money I would leave all I have and come, for I know the Lord will help me. It is for want of money that I can't come. But I hope, my dear wife, the Lord will help me out. Tell Brother Cousins I hope he and all the people of God will pray for me; and you, my dear wife, must not forget to pray for me. Ask brother Cousins, if he pleases, to put my children to some school. Dear wife, you know the white people will read your letters to me; do mind how you write. No one but God knows my heart. Do pray for me. I remain your husband till death. THOMAS JONES.

P. S. -- My dear wife, I received your letter the 24th of July, and was truly glad to hear you arrived safe in New York. Please tell Brother Cousins I will write to him in a few days, and I will send you some money. My dear wife do mind how you write. You must not forget I am in a slave place, and I can't buy myself for the money. You know how it is, and you must tell brother Cousins. I have not sold yet, but if I can't sell, I will come some how, by the help of the Lord. John Holmes is still in my way. I want you to write a letter and say in it, that you will be home in two months, so I can let them read it, for they think I will run away and come to you. So do mind how you write for the Lord's sake. THOMAS JONES.
The next letter was written to Sister Chavis, who went on to New York, but got disheartened and came back to Wilmington.

Wilmington, N. C., Aug. 4, 1849.
MY DEAR SISTER -- I hope to see you in a few days, and all my friends. I hope, dear sister, you will not forget to pray for me, for by the help of God, I will see you in a few days. Your husband is coming on soon, but I will be on before him. I would have been on before now, but I could not get my money. I have had a hard time to get money to leave with. I am

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sorry to hear that you think we can't get a living where you are. My dear sister, a smart man can get a living anywhere in the world if he try. Don't think we can't live out there, for I know God will help us. You know God has promised a living to all His children. Don't forget that God is ever present, for we must trust Him till death. Don't get out of heart, for I know we can live out there, if any one can. You may look for me before your husband. Don't leave New York before I come, for you know what I told you before you left Wilmington. If you come back to this place before I get off, it will make it bad for me. You know what the white people here are. Please don't come yet. I am your brother in the Lord, till death. THOMAS JONES.
P. S. -- I sent the letter you wrote to Mr. John Ranks. I thought you will wait for a letter from your husband and I hope you will be better satisfied in your mind that we can get a living out there. Your husband has wrote to you last week; I hope you have got the letter. Oh, that you may trust in God every day, for I know God is your friend, and you must pray night and day, that he may help you. I long to see you one time more in this world. We went into the new Church on the 9th day of this month. God was with us on that day, and we had a good time. Though my time with them is short, I hope God will be with them, and may we all meet in the kingdom at last. So pray for me, my dear sister. Aunt Narvey has been dead nearly four weeks. She died happy in the Lord, and is gone home to rest. I hope we may meet in the kingdom at last. Good night, my dear sister. THOMAS JONES.

The next letter is to my wife and Brother Cousins, and explains itself.

Wilmington, August 7, 1849.
MY DEAR WIFE -- I long to see you once more in this world, and hope it will not be very long before I am with you. I am trying, my dear wife, to do all I can to get to you. But I hope you will not forget to mind

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how you write to me. If you should not mind how you write, you will do me great harm. You know I told you to write that you would be home in two months, or three months at the longest. But in two months I told them you would be home. Now, my dear, you must mind, and don't forget, for you know how it is here; a man can't say that his soul is his own, that is, a colored man. So do mind how you write to me. Tell Sister Chavis I say she must write to me; and I hope soon I will write my last letter. I will let you know in my next letter how all things are with me. Dear wife, don't get out of heart, for God is my friend. The will of God is my sure defence, nor earth nor hell can pluck me thence, for God hath spoken the word. My dear wife, in reply to your kind letter, received the second day of this month, I have wrote these few lines. I hope you will pray for me, your dear husband,
P. S. -- To Brother Cousins. -- My dear Brother, I hope you will not think hard of me for not writing to you, for you know how it is with me out here. God knows that I would write to you at any time, if it was not for some things. You know the white people don't like for us to write to New York. Now, let me ask your prayers, and the prayers of the Church, and God's children, that I may see you all soon. I know that God is my friend, for He doth my burden bear. Though I am but dust and ashes, I bless God, and often feel the power of God. Oh, my brother, pray for me, who loves you all, for I have found of late much comfort in the word of God's love. When I come where you are, in the work of the Lord, and I hope the time will soon come when the Gospel will be preached to the whole world of mankind. Then go on, dear Brother, and do all you can for the Lord. I hope the Lord will help me to get where you are at work soon. Nothing more, but I remain your brother in the Lord,

The next is from my wife.

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Brooklyn, Aug. 10, 1849.
MY DEAR HUSBAND -- I got your kind letter of the 23d July, and rejoiced to hear that you was well. I have been very sick myself, and so has Alexander; but thanks to the Lord, these lines leave me and the children right well. I hope in God they may find you and my son and my mother, and all enquiring friends, enjoying the same blessings. My dear, you requested me and Mrs. Chavis to stay together, but she has taken other people's advice beside mine and Mr. Cousin's, and has gone away. She started for home before we knew a word of it. She left me on the eighth of this month. Do give my love to Betsey Webb and to her husband. Tell her I am sorry she has not come on before now. I am waiting to see her before I start for home. My dear husband, you know you ought to send me some money to pay my board. You know I don't love to leave in this way with my children. It is true that Brother Cousins has not said anything to me about it. You keep writing that you are going to send it in your next letter; you know I like to act independent, and I wish you to help me do so now, if you please. Do give my compliments to aunt Moore, and tell her the children all send their love to her. They send their love to you and say they want to kiss you mighty bad. The children send their love to brother Edward. I long to see you, husband. No more at present, but remain your loving wife till death. RYNAR JONES.

The next letter is in answer to the letter from my wife, given above.

Wilmington, N.C., Aug. 12, 1849.
MY DEAR WIFE -- I received your paper of the 10th to-day. I am glad to hear that you are well, and the children and friends. I have written to Brother Cousins, and told him to tell you that I had not sold out yet. But I hope to sell in a few days, and then I will send you some money. My dear wife, you know that I will do all I can for you and for my children, and that with all my heart. Do try and wait on me a few days, and

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I hope you will see me and the money too. I am trying to do all I can to sell out, but you know how it is here, and so does Brother Cousins. I will do all I know, for I think of you, my dear wife, and the children, day and night. If I can get my money, I will see you soon, by the help of God and my good friend, and that is a woman; she is waiting for me to come every day. My dear wife, all I want is money and your prayers, and the prayers of my friends. I know that God will help me out of my trouble; I know that God is my friend, and I will trust to Him. You wrote to me that Mrs. Chavis left New York. She has not got home yet. I hope, dear wife, that you have done all your part for her. Do give my love to Brother Cousins; ask him to pray for me, and all God's people to pray for me, a poor slave at this time. My dear wife, since I wrote last, I have seen much of the goodness of the Lord. Pray for me, that I may see more, and that I may trust in Him. My dear wife, I want you should pray for me day and night, till you see me. For, by the help of God, I will see you all soon. I think now it will be but a few days. Do give my love to my children, and tell them that I want to kiss them all. Good night, my dear, I must go to bed, it is one o'clock at night, and I have a pain in my head at this time. Do tell Brother Cousins that I say he must look out for me, on John street, in a few days. Nothing more, but I remain your husband till death. THOMAS JONES.

Letter from my wife.

Brooklyn, August 23, 1849.
MY DEAR HUSBAND -- It is with the affectionate feeling of a wife I received your letter of the l9th inst. It found me and the children well, and we were glad to hear that you was well. But we feel very sorry you have not sold out yet; I was in hopes you would have sold by the time you promised, before I got home. Your letter found Mr. Cousins and his wife very sick. Mr. C. has not been out of the house going on two weeks. He was taken by this sickness, so common,

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which carries so many people off, but, by the help of God and good attendance, he is much on the mend, and his wife also. You ask how much I pay for board. It is three dollars a week for myself and children. In all the letters you have written to me, you don't say a word of mother or Edward. It makes me feel bad not to hear from them. Husband, I have not paid Mr. Cousins any board, and am waiting for you to send me some money. I will pray for you hourly, publicly and privately, and beseech the Almighty God, till I see you again. I shall trust in God; He will do all things for the best. I am yours till death do us part.

Last letter to my wife from the land of bondage.

Wilmington, N. C., Aug. 30, 1849.
MY DEAR WIFE -- I have been quite sick for three weeks, but, thank God, I am better at this time, and hope these few lines will find you and the children all well. I hope, my dear wife, that you have not got out of heart looking for me; you know how it is here; I did think I would have got my money here before this time. But I can't get it, and I will leave all and come to you as soon as I can. So don't get out of heart, my dear wife; I have a hard trial here; do pray for me, that the Lord may help me to see you all soon. I think of you day and night, and my dear children; kiss them for me; I hope to kiss them soon. Edward is sold to Owen Holmes; but I think Mr. Josh. Wright will get him from H. I have done all I could for Edward. Don't think of coming back here, for I will come to you or die. But I want you should write one more letter to me, and say you will be home in a month. Mr. Dawson will be in New York next week, and you will see him; mind how you talk before him, for you know how it is, though he is a friend to me. Now, you must mind what I tell you, my dear wife, for if you don't, you will make it hard for me. Now, my dear wife, you must not come back here for your brother and sister; they talk too much; but mind what I say to you, for

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you know I will do all I can for you; you must not think that you will not get any money, for you shall have it soon. Don't get out of heart, my dear wife; I hope I shall see you soon. Nothing more, but I remain your husband till death.

Soon after despatching this letter, I bargained, while my master lay sick, with the steward of the brig Bell, to stow me away in the hold of the ship, and take me on to New York. I paid him eight dollars, which was all the money I then had or could get. I went into the hold, with an allowance of biscuit and water, and the ship started. She was loaded with turpentine, and I found on the second day that I could not live out the passage there. So I told the steward, and he took me out in a state of great weakness, and stowed me away in one of the state-rooms. Here I was discovered by the captain. He charged me with being a runaway slave, and said he should send me back by the first opportunity that offered. That day a severe storm came on, and for several days we were driven by the gale. I turned to and cooked for the crew. The storm was followed by a calm of several days; and then the wind sprung up again, and the captain made for port at once. I had reason to suspect, from the manner in which I was guarded, after the ship came to anchor off New York, that the captain was plotting to send me back. I resolved to peril life in a last effort to get on shore. So, while the captain was in the city, and the mate was busy in the cabin mending his clothes, I made a raft of such loose boards as I could get, and hastily bound them together, and committing myself to God, I launched forth upon the waves. The shore was about a mile distant; I had the tide in my favor, and with its help I had paddled one-fourth the distance, when the mate of the Bell discovered my escape, and made after me in the boat. I waved my old hat for help, and a boat, which seemed to be coming round not far from me, came to my rescue. I was taken on board. They asked me if I was a slave, and told me not to fear to

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tell the truth, for I was with friends, and they would protect me. I told them my circumstances just as they were. They were as good as their word. When the mate came up they ordered him to keep off, and told him they would prosecute him if he touched me. They took me to Brother Cousins, and gave me a little money and some clothes in addition to all their other kindness.

The meeting with my wife and children I cannot describe. It was a moment of joy too deep and holy for any attempt to paint it. Husbands who love as I have loved, and fathers with hearts of fond, devoted affection, may imagine the scene and my feelings, as my dear wife lay sobbing in her joy in my arms, and my three dear little babes were clinging to my knees, crying, "Pa has come: Pa has come." It was the happy hour of my life. I then felt repaid for all my troubles and toils to secure the freedom of my family and my own. O God, would that my other dear ones were here, too. God in mercy speed the day when right shall over might prevail, and all the down-trodden sons and daughters of toil and want shall be free and pious and happy.

I have but little more now to say. The Sabbath after my arrival in Brooklyn, I preached in the morning in the Bethel; I then came on to Hartford. A gentleman kindly paid my passage to that place, and sent me an introduction to a true-hearted fiend. I staid in Hartford twenty-four hours; but finding I was pursued, and being informed that I should be safer in Massachusetts than in Connecticut, I came on to Springfield, and from thence to Boston, where I arrived, penniless and friendless, the 7th of October. A generous friend took me, though a stranger, in, and fed and cheered me. He loaned me five dollars to get my dear family to Boston. He helped me to get a chance to lecture in May Street Church, where I received a contribution of $2.58; also in the Sion Church, where I obtained $2.33; and in the Bethel Church, where they gave me $3.53. And so I was enabled to get my family to Boston. Entirely destitute, without employment, I now met with a

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kind friend, who took me with him to Danvers. I lectured and preached in the Free Evangelical Church, and received most generous and opportune aid. They gave me ten dollars, and by their kindness they lifted up a sinking brother. The next Sabbath evening I lectured in the Wesleyan Church in Boston, and received a contribution of $3.33. During the week following, I was assisted by the pastor of this Church, and by several individual members. The next Sabbath I spent with Brother Flanders, of Exeter, N. H. He gave me a brother's warm welcome. I preached for him in the Wesleyan Church, of which he is pastor, in the morning, and lectured in the evening to a full and attentive house. Here I received a generous contribution of nearly ten dollars. To-morrow is Thanksgiving Day. God will know, and He alone can know, the deep and fervent gratitude and joy with which I shall keep it, as I gather my friends, my dear family, around me to celebrate the unspeakable goodness of God to me, and to speak with swelling hearts of the kindness of the dear friends who have poured upon our sadness and fears the sunlight of sympathy, love and generous aid. May the blessing of Heaven rest down now and forever upon them, is the prayer of their grateful brother, and of his dear family, by their kindness saved from pinching want.

But alas! it was not long before I found that I was not yet free. I had not yet slipped from the chain. The Fugitive Slave Law drove me from my kind friends in New England, and I found that my wanderings were not yet ended. I took refuge in the British Provinces, where God had provided a house of refuge for the houseless, homeless slave. Tribulation and distress, with many kind dealings of Providence and wonderful deliverances, have since been my lot. I hope to be able to tell in another narrative, of my adventures after the close of this story, of the kindness of friends and the goodness of God.


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Thomas H. Jones, "The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years -- Chapter Second," ca. 1849, Civil War Era NC, accessed April 15, 2024,