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‘A Gleam of Happiness’
The Faith of Thomas H. Jones
'Despised and Desolate Bondsman'
Thomas was born in 1806 in Wilmington North Carolina near Cape Fear. He was owned by a certain Mister Jones. Mrs. Jones complained that Thomas was not eager enough to serve, so Mister Jones employed him as a clerk in his store. He swept the floor, prepared the goods for the day’s business, and hauled salt and sugar and other commodities for customers. His age is unclear, though he was certainly not yet into puberty.
The store was run by a Mister David Cogdell. Mister C. was kind to Thomas and other slaves. This earned him the ire of Mister Jones, who dismissed him. Mister Jones did not, however, have the patience and industry to work in the store, and soon removed himself, hiring a white boy named James Dixon to run it. James was learning how to read through a book. While he and Thomas did not get along, Thomas learned, through James’ boasting, that learning to read was the key to a fruitful life of ease, rather than one of drudgery like Thomas was destined to lead.
'My Constant Friend'
From that point on Thomas devoted himself to learning how to read. This involved many adventures, and eventually a strong interest in Christianity, centered as the services were upon a book. Thomas wished to elevate himself above the status of a ‘despised and desolate bondsman.’ He referred to his spelling book as ‘my constant friend’. He was tireless in his attempts to learn to read and write and his attendance at church meetings, called ‘The Love Feast’.
These transgressions brought down the wrath of Mister Jones.
His first beating ran to 90 lashes. His back was cut so bad that his coarse shirt caused him constant pain and had to be extracted from the wounds in his back, by being ‘ripped off’, causing him more pain than the actual whipping.
He was whipped again for ‘church-going’ with a whip that was still clotted with old blood when it was taken down to discipline him.
Again Thomas was whipped for going to church, and still he persisted with his desire to join in the ‘Love Feast’, despite the fact that ‘patrollers’ would attack the churchgoers.
Mister Jones finally tried to break Thomas with a whipping that brought him nearly to death, forbidding him to pray or go to church. Mister Jones was scolded by his wife for the savage beating and she saw to Thomas’ care. But Thomas still kept praying.
Mister Jones told Thomas that he would whip him again if he prayed and went to church. Thomas persisted with his belief in Jesus and told Mister Jones that he still wanted to go to heaven. He was whipped again for this back-talking and forbidden, on pain of more whippings, to pray or go to church.
Mister Jones found out from white friends that Thomas had gone to church again. The white men interceded on his behalf and reprimanded Mister Jones, a Mister McCauslin even stating that Christians made better slaves. Mister Jones persisted with the worst whipping yet, telling Thomas, “I swear that I will whip you to death.”
Thomas indicated that he would keep praying until he was whipped to death. Mister Jones then whipped him again—and then lost the stomach for it.
Mister Jones did not whip Thomas again. Thomas would go on to make enough money as a dockhand to buy a wife, raise a family, and pay for the freedom of his elderly parents. In 1848 he shipped his family north. A year later he finally made his escape, and wrote about his experiences in his book Experience of Uncle Tom Jones Who Was a Slave for Forty-three Years.
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