Thomas Jackson may be a name that few people in Ilkeston today have heard of, but in the USA he is rapidly becoming recognised as one of the most important writers because of his work to abolish slavery.
His distant relative John Paling has been busy researching Thomas Jackson, who was appalled by the treatment of slaves he witnessed when he lived in America.
John has created a website containing all the fascinating letters and information about Thomas Jackson, who, as part of his efforts to oppose slavery wrote letters back to relatives in Ilkeston and Eastwood asking to get them published in local newspapers.
These include a letter about his joy on the re-election of president Abraham Lincoln in November 1864, in which he states: “While I am writing now a poor old black man is sitting on my office doorstep, telling me the sad story of his wrongs and the life-long suffering slavery, thrice cursed slavery, has inflicted on him. “His whole appearance shows that he has had a life of hardship. He escaped to our army two years ago, and is now at least 70-years-old. I asked him his age: “Lord bless you, sir, I don’t know. None of us ever know how old we are. They never tells us; I may be a hundred years for all I know.”
Now the letters are the source of important new information about the American Civil war.
As a young man, Thomas went to school in Ilkeston and then joined his father John making ropes on the canal a couple of miles down from Gallows Inn.
In 1829, aged just 22, Thomas went to live in Pennsylvania where he built his own rope-making business.
John, Thomas’ distant cousin, who lives in Florida, said: “Then one day, he went on business to the city of Richmond where he stumbled on a slave market in full swing. He was so appalled to witness the cruel degradation of buying and owning human beings that this changed his life for ever. He became a life-long abolitionist and started writing a series of eloquent letters about slavery and the civil war that he sent to his relatives here in England with the request that they get them published in local newspapers.
“The Ilkeston Pioneer printed at least one powerful Thomas Jackson letter about that slave market in September 12, 1862.”
“In one of his first letters, he wrote: “My father had never mentioned such a thing as American slavery. I never dreamed that such a thing was possible as liberty and slavery existing together under just laws.
“But about 12 years after I came to America I had occasion to visit a large Southern city on business. The day after my arrival there I saw a crowd of men in one of the principal streets. On going to see what brought them together, I found an auction of slaves in full operation.”
John recently came to Ilkeston and spent a week researching Thomas Jackson’s roots with the help of Stephen Flinders and Beverley Kilby, from the Ilkeston & District Local History Society. In addition, he worked with experts at the Erewash Museum and the Ilkeston library to find more details of the Jackson family background.
“Everyone was so helpful,” he said. “I plan to return before long and would welcome hearing from anyone who has any knowledge of Thomas Jackson or his father while they lived in Ilkeston.
“It is impressive to realise that these letters, penned by a man who was brought up and spent his early years in Ilkeston, are now destined to finish up in the American Library of Congress and be available to researchers for ever.”