Trial and Imprisonment

   |   Jonathan WALKER   |   Maria Weston CHAPMAN

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(BRANDED HAND) (WALKER, Jonathan). Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker, At Pensacola, Florida, For Aiding Slaves to Escape from Bondage. With an Appendix, Containing a Sketch of his Life. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845. Octavo, original gilt- and blindstamped brown cloth.

First edition of Walker's "rare first-account of slave life" in the white abolitionist's electrifying account of his struggle to help seven men escape slavery aboard his ship—"cause célèbre of the transatlantic abolitionist movement"—documenting their capture and imprisonment, the punishment of having "S.S." for Slave Stealer branded on his hand, featuring the engraved image of his branded hand on the title page, "one of the most recognizable icons" of the abolitionist movement, along with three full-page engravings, a handsome copy in original cloth.

Jonathan Walker was a ship captain from Massachusetts who lived and worked in antebellum Pensacola. The celebrated Walker case, which involved his attempt to help seven legally bonded men escape enslavement, highlighted "the perpetual nature of the war against slavery being waged by… enslaved residents of Pensacola [who] simply refused to accept their status." The bondsmens' struggle for freedom and Walker's Trial and Imprisonment had "a profound impact on the history of the United States. By illuminating radical and unrelenting cross-sectional and interracial resistance to slavery, [they] fueled the fire of sectional discord and brought the nation closer to the day of reckoning" (Clavin, "Underground Railroad" in Florida Historical Quarterly V92:4, 712, 687).

After seven bondsmen approached Walker and asked for his help, they boarded his ship in July 1844, but even as they were sailing down the Gulf coast of Florida, rewards were posted for capture of the bondsmen and Walker was vilified as "a race-traitor." Detained off the coast by captain of the Eliza Catherine, they were brought back to Pensacola. Some of the bondsmen were returned to their slave owners, while others were imprisoned and beaten in jail. Walker, also imprisoned for months, was convicted after a short trial. Part of his punishment was "standing in the pillory in front of the courthouse… and having the letters 'S.S.' which stood for Slave Stealer, branded onto the palm of his right hand. The branding of a free white northerner for assisting enslaved black southerners was an extraordinary event… As the marshal pressed the red-hot brand into Walker's palm, all those within earshot heard 'a splattering noise, like a handful of salt in the fire.'" When one of the bondsmen was returned to jail on suspicion of stealing, he committed suicide. Walker, then in a nearby cell, wrote that the floor where he died "was stained with the blood of… one of the seven slaves whom I had vainly endeavored to save from bondage'" (Clavin, 695-700).

Walker's case became the "cause célèbre of the transatlantic abolitionist movement… at a meeting of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in London, the organization's legendary leader Thomas Clarkson… led a public rally in support of him… Beyond stoking the flames of anti-abolitionism, his greatest contribution to the sectional crisis came after abolitionists secured his release from the Pensacola jail and published several autobiographical accounts. The first and most popular was Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker, at Pensacola… Walker's rare first-hand account of slave life on the Gulf Coast" electrified the anti-slavery cause, and the image of his branded hand offered the abolitionist movement "one of its most recognizable icons. In August 1845, just weeks after his release from jail," a daguerreotype was made of his branded hand that "printers committed immediately to an engraving… in the words of literary scholar Marcus Wood, the hand 'literally reached out to a mass audience across the free Northern states.'" He became a major figure on the abolitionist lecture circuit, where he moved through crowds to show his branded hand. "The effect on the assembly was profound" (Clavin, 700-6). Frederick Douglass later wrote, with his characteristic irony: "I well remember the sensation produced by the exhibition of the branded hand. It was one of the few atrocities of slavery that roused the justice and humanity of the North to a death struggle with slavery" (New England Magazine, November 1898). Walker's branded hand became a defining "emblem of the entire abolitionist movement and, perhaps inevitably, of the Underground Railroad" (Bordewich, Bound for Canaan, 292).

"Walker never again set foot in Pensacola; nevertheless the tracks of the Underground Railroad he helped lay across the city continued to operate." According to War of the Rebellion (1861-64), "the first fugitive slaves to seek refuge behind Union lines at the outbreak of the Civil War fled across Pensacola Bay to the federal-occupied Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island in March 1861… when Union forces stationed at the fort regained control over Pensacola in the second year of the war, they adopted the role of Underground Railroad employees by launching a full-scale assault on slavery… the efforts of fugitive slaves and their northern allies… contributed significantly to the Civil War's transformation from a limited war to save the union into a total war over freedom and equality." (Clavin, 707-712). Rare complete with three full-page engraved illustrations. Issued with front board gilt-stamped, "Narrative of Jonathan Walker" (this copy), or gilt-stamped, "The Branded Hand": no priority established. Preface by Marie Weston Chapman dated in print: "Boston, August, 1845." One of New England's most prominent white abolitionists, Chapman was a pivotal figure in William Lloyd Garrison's Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and edited his newspaper, The Liberator. She was, as well, a leading voice for women's rights. Blockson 10154. Dumond, 112. See Work, 338.

Interior quite fresh with mere trace of soiling, faintest edge-wear to bright gilt-stamped cloth. A splendid about-fine copy.

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