John Andrew Jackson
John Andrew Rhodes Jackson was born on a Country plantation in Sumter County, South Carolina. His grandfather was a stolen slave from Africa. John Andrew's mother was named Betty and his father was known as Dr. Clavern, because of his ability to cure snake bites. John Andrew had five brothers and five sisters. Before he left the plantation, two brothers and two sisters were dead.
Jackson had a bad relationship with his owner and mistress, as many slaves did, but often mentioned that his mistress hated him more than any other slave on the plantation. The reason for the mistress’s hatred toward John was that when John was about ten, he was playing with one of the mistresses children in the dirt. The two boys found an old hickory root and started to play with it. The mistress’s son started hitting John Andrew with the stick. When John asked the boy to stop; the boy continued to beat John until he was bloody. When John reached for the hickory root with a bloody hand, he smeared blood on the boy’s shirt. The little boy went to his mother and showed her the blood on his shirt. In return, the mistress whipped John and held her hatred for him and his family for the rest of the time she knew him.
John Andrew grew up surrounded by brutality. If he was not getting whipped, a friend or family member of his would be getting whipped. The plantation where John lived was overseen by a violent and unforgiving master. The slaves would wake up and work in the fields all day in the hot sun. The sun would burn lumps on their backs, and their bare feet would be torn and cracked by the end of the day. When the slaves did not obey their masters, they would be punished with 25-100 lashes. The brutal lumps obtained by the heat of the sun, combined with the lashes from the whip, were awful and painful. What little sleep the slaves did get was cherished. However rats would come in the middle of the night and chew on the slaves' feet. Since the slaves' feet were so torn up from working barefoot all day, they could not feel the rats eat through their feet. In the morning, their feet were in so much pain it was hard to work.
John Andrew’s first job was being a scarecrow in the corn fields. He would stand out from dusk until dawn everyday posing as a scarecrow in the hot Carolina air. When he got older he was ordered to manage the plow, but due to his lack of strength, he was unable to manage the plow correctly. If John Andrew ever dropped the plow his master would beat him until his back was covered in blood. Even though he was experiencing so much hardship, around this time, John fell in love with a girl named Louisa.
Master and Mistress
John Andrew’s master was born in North Carolina and lived his young life as a Quaker. When the master was older, he moved to South Carolina and married a woman who had a few slaves. The master then set up a liquor store and had slaves steal cotton and bring it to him. In return, the slaves were rewarded with a quart of liquor, which was worth much less than the cotton the slaves stole for him. The method of stealing cotton in exchange for objects of less worth made many southern men rich. The master and his wife were then able to own more slaves and become even more rich.
The mistress was born and raised in South Carolina. She was a mean lady to everyone except her family. The mistress would not allow slaves to eat bran, meat, or any other foods that were considered luxurious. And she would often watch the slaves being beaten, as it was among one of her favorite pastimes.
Wife and Children
Louisa lived in the plantation about a mile away. John and Louisa were unofficially married and had two children. John was prohibited from visiting his wife and children, but John would often sneak out and be with his wife and kids. When the master would find out, John would be whipped, but John persisted and continued to see his wife and children until his wife’s master moved to Georgia. John never saw his wife or children again. In 1846, after John Andrew was separated from his wife, he fled slavery. Later after he escaped to Canada, he remarried and had two more children with his second wife.
As time progressed, the idea of freedom became more and more real. One day, John Andrew bought a pony from one of the slaves on a neighboring plantation. When the mistress found out, she threatened to have the pony killed, and asked two of her son-in-laws to get rid of it. Hearing of the jeopardy of his pony, John hid the pony until Christmas. On Christmas Day, John took his pony and rode off from his plantation never to see his mother or father again. As he rode off to Boston, he ran into many white people who asked where he was off, to where John would respond that he was on his way to his plantation. John made it to the Santé Fe River where he boarded a small ship that was being run by a black man. John and his pony were dropped near land, but had to struggle upstream in order to reach it. After almost drowning, John and his pony made it to shore.
Then, John heard about a special badge that all African Americans had to produce in order to prove they were allowed to be free. John, not having a badge, sold his pony to buy a cloak to hide from patrolmen. The cloak worked to his advantage till he was able to find a ship to Boston.
When John found a ship heading to Boston, he tried to board but the crewmen refused to let John on board. The crewmen were afraid that he was working for a white man and trying to set them up. After being refused passage, John hid in a five by three foot box that was loaded onto the ship and put in the lower levels. Eventually the crewmen found him and threatened to unload him on the next ship. There never was another ship, and John made it to Boston safely.
From Boston, John Andrew went on to settle in Salem, Massachusetts. Once settled, he sought to purchase his family members still enslaved. He sent a letter to inquire about his family, and shortly after it was received, a slave agent was sent to search for him. Jackson avoided capture and was assisted by Harriet Beecher Stowe, who gave him food, clothes, and five dollars. He left Salem for Canada.
In Salem, John was free but not safe. He worked as a leather tanner and part-time sawmill operator until the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law rekindled his fear of being returned to slavery. He escaped with help to Canada.
Once in Canada, John Andrew settled in Saint John, New Brunswick. He remarried legally and had more children.
Still seeking to purchase his family members in slavery, in 1857, he journeyed to Great Britain with his wife to solicit contributions. He lectured in Scotland and England with several others, including: David Guthrie, Rev. Thomas Candlish and Julia Griffiths.
He never saw his mother, father, first wife, or children again, but his freedom was the beauty of his life, and he never regretted leaving his life of torture.
- 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 2008 http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jackson/jackson.html.
- From THE BLACK ABOLITIONIST PAPERS: Vol. I: The British Isles, 1830-1865 edited by C. Peter Ripley, et al. Copyright (c) 1992 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu. 
- The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862.