© 2014 by Collin Eichhorn and Susanna Ashton. This essay is the product of original research so please be sure to properly cite the authors and the site, if you reference it. Your citation can look like:
Eichhorn, Collin and Susanna Ashton. “John Andrew Jackson.” Freedom Stories of Pioneer Valley. 4 June 2014. Web. Accessed day month year. https://freedomstoriespv.wordpress.com/john-andrew-jackson/
John Andrew Jackson was a self emancipated slave from the midlands of South Carolina. His bravery and boldness were part of a life that, until recently, had not been fully discovered. Born in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1825 he was enslaved by the English family who owned some small plantations. After Jackson made it North, he worked tirelessly for decades; first to bring the terrible scourge of slavery to light and second, after the war, to support the cause and relieve the plight of the freedmen of the South. He was bold, at some points he might be characterized as reckless, yet he never lost sight of his belief that people might all see each other as one.
Jackson’s father was named Dr. Clavern for skill in traditional African remedies, and his mother was named Betty. He had five brothers and five sisters. With a childhood fraught with violence, Jackson experienced all of the horrors which have come to be related to slavery. By the time he escaped from bondage a pair of his brothers and two of his sisters had died by the lash of his masters. When he came of age, Jackson married a woman named Louisa, who lived as a slave with the Wells family a mile away from Jackson’s home. This marriage did not have the consent of Jackson’s master, James English, and Jackson received fifty lashes anytime he went to visit his wife. Sadly, this marriage would not last long; Louisa and the couple’s one surviving daughter, Jinny, were sold away to a J. R. Maclaw in Houston County, Georgia in 1846.
In the year 1846 Jackson planned and executed an escape that would lead him away from the English family and slavery altogether. Underground economies were commonplace throughout Jackson’s slave life, whites sold alcohol to slaves in exchange for stolen cotton and there existed an independent bartering system that occurred amongst the slaves themselves. Through this bartering system, Jackson traded a few chickens he had been raising in the marshy swamps that dominated the landscape of the midlands in exchange for a pony. He kept the pony a secret until the slaves of the English household received a three day respite in honor of Christmas. During this break, Jackson bid farewell to his loved ones, and rode in secret the 150 miles to Charleston. Once there, he worked on the docks, amongst the slave population until he was able to stow away aboard a ship heading north. He placed himself, cramped with limited air, between two bales of cotton with very limited provisions. Nonetheless , once the ship began its way north, Jackson finally thought himself free.
Jackson arrived in Boston and began to move from place to place, in search of better work and in flight from those who would try to re-ensnare him in the bonds of slavery. He stayed in Massachusetts from 1847 through 1850 in both Boston and Salem working in various occupations to sustain himself. During this time, he obtained help from abolitionists throughout Massachusetts, both black and white; including an innkeeper Henry Forman who helped him evade those who sought to bring him back into slavery. Once the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 entered into law, Jackson knew it would no longer be safe to stay where he was, especially considering the advertisements that his owners placed for his return south. He pressed northwards, and stopped in Bath, Maine on the way to Canada. Here, he met and stayed with famed abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe. After a short period of time Jackson departed from Maine and continued north in to Canada where he settled in the city of St. Johns, New Brunswick. He resided there in Canada for four years, from 1852 through 1856, and while there married again, this time legally, to a Julia A. Watson who had been a runaway slave from North Carolina.
From Canada, Jackson traveled to Britain, where he would join the popular lecture circuit of self-emancipated slaves. Jackson toured up and down England and Scotland for the decade between 1856 and 1866. Jackson lectured with the hope of obtaining funds for two of his niece and nephews’ freedom. Here, he was met with great popularity, and gave nearly forty official lectures while associating himself with some of England’s most prominent figures. The best-known of these was the Reverend Charles H. Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher. Jackson’s relationship with Spurgeon highlights Jackson’s rambunctious and bold character. Initially the two were close; Jackson even gave a lecture at Spurgeon’s huge Metropolitan Tabernacle in front of thousands of people. After a while, back in South Carolina, Jackson turned and accused Spurgeon of stealing the money he had raised for his kin. Using bold rhetoric, Jackson proclaimed that he had been enslaved twice, both in South Carolina and in England. Regardless of the validity of his claim, Jackson’s audacity in publicly opposing probably the most influential Baptist Preacher of the 19th century was one of the features that had come to define him, and helped to give him his freedom years earlier. Jackson continued to live and preach in Britain until the end of the American Civil War, and he returned to the United States in 1866.
He returned to Massachusetts and settled in Springfield for many years. During this time he started in on several extraordinary endeavors. Some of the projects Jackson attempted included constructing a church in Darlington, South Carolina, buying one thousand acres of the English family land, and sending large amounts of supplies to the freedmen of South Carolina, often in partnership with his brother Ephraim. Jackson could not purchase the one thousand acres, on which he had hoped to establish a black farming utopia, but did manage a few years later to purchase two acres of land in the same area, adjacent to his old master’s land. This feat in itself is noteworthy, alongside of the plethora of supplies being sent down to his brother and friends, because it established a successful black man in the heart of the south under reconstruction. In the face of an aggravated and expanding Ku Klux Klan, Jackson carried out what he believed to be his mission in the south. He made lengthy visits to South Carolina several times, each visit a statement of purpose.
In the last decades of the 19th Century Jackson continued to raise funds through the lectures and as a laborer. In the north, Jackson lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut and seems to have been based in Springfield and New Haven, Connecticut. After a long, busy, and brave life John Andrew Jackson died at the turn of the century. It isn’t clear where or precisely when he died but the last definitive record of his life, was in 1898 when he deeded for one dollar a small parcel of South Carolina land back to friends in Springfield, Massachusetts, in an attempt perhaps to forever cement the connection between the people in Massachusetts, both black and white, and the struggling communities of freedmen in Sumter County, South Carolina.
- Jackson, John Andrew. “The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina: Electronic Edition”. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 28 November 2008http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jackson/jackson.html.
- Susanna Ashton, “‘A Genuine Article’: Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Andrew Jackson,” Common-Place 13-4 (Summer 2013).