160: A South Carolina slave in Britain, 1859-ca 1865

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John Andrew Jackson (1825?-1899?) was born on a plantation in Sumter County, South Carolina and laboured in slavery as a field hand. After his wife and young daughter were sold away from him, Jackson fled on horseback over 150 miles across South Carolina to the Atlantic Ocean port of Charleston. There he was able to engineer a harrowing escape smuggled between bales of cotton aboard a northbound ship. He spent a couple of years in Massachusetts, and then escaping slave catchers he went to St John, across the American border in New Brunswick, Canada.

He met and married his second wife, Julia, in St John, and they sailed to Britain where he was to lecture for the abolitionist cause. He reached Liverpool in late 1856, and toured in England and Scotland, delivering at least forty lectures and talks. Many are documented in British newspapers (which have recently been digitized). He became a protégé of the Revd Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a widely respected leader of the Baptist church in Britain, probably the most influential Baptist in England. As Spurgeon’s protégé, Jackson adds a critical dimension to our understanding of the connections and associations of abolitionists in America and in Britain, and of the varying influences that different Christian religious movements had on the Northern (non-slavery) states where even abolitionists often wavered. One of Jackson’s roles, as with the dozens of other African American lecturers who were found all over the British Isles, was to stimulate the British  audiences to keep pressure on their government and on liberal and progressive Americans.

Jackson’s relationship with Spurgeon led to the latter publishing his The Experiences of a Slave in South Carolina in London in 1862. Spurgeon also promised to assist Jackson raise money to free relatives in the U.S.A. Members of Spurgeon’s congregation seem to have helped Jackson and his wife find employment in London, and perhaps a place to live (the 1861 census lists them lodging at 15 Baker Street, London: Julia was a ‘ladies maid’ born in North Carolina, aged 29).

Something went terribly wrong, and the dispute led to the two men splitting. Jackson no longer was welcome in the pulpits and lecture halls of Spurgeon’s numerous associates and admirers. He scraped a living in England as a labourer for some months until the defeat of the Confederacy ended the oppression of slavery in the U.S.A.

Jackson returned to America but did not disappear, and instead forged a career that saw him seek justice and aid for his own family and for the many thousands of freedmen and -women in South Carolina, destitute in a war-torn land. Reunited with relatives in Sumter (possibly including his first wife) he became involved in a utopian plan for black-owned sharecropping farming. He had the audacity to attempt to purchase the plantation where he had laboured in slavery times. He raised funds for a school and for a church. He went back and forth between Northern lecture halls and rural poverty in the South — for thirty years. He kept pushing the social revolution of Reconstruction to its fullest potential.

Julia Jackson died in Massachusetts. The place and date of the death of John Andrew Jackson are uncertain.

* Contributed by Dr Susanna Ashton, Department of English, Clemson University, South Carolina 29631 U.S.A. who asks that if you quote or use information from this page please be responsible and cite her as your source, and this website page (jeffreygreen.co.uk/160).

If anyone has further information on Jackson in Britain, she will be delighted to hear from you (sashton@clemson.edu). LEAVE ANY RESPONSE IN THE BOX AT THE FOOT OF THE PAGE.

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