December 1, 2010
The Man with the Branded Hand
Hopedale in November
Hopedale Pond on November 14, 2010 Hopedale Pond on November 17
Hopedale Pond video, taken about mid-way up the pond.
Work on the dam at Hopedale Pond.
Bridges over Hopedale Pond (Freedom Street, Trolley, Cutler, Rawson’s, Rustic)
Hopedale center, taken from Unitarian Church steeple. Work on the steeple.
Who are they? Main Office workers.
Hull Forest Products - Hull is the company that will soon be starting a ten year program of tree
cutting in the Parklands.
Uxbridge tree cutting job, similar to what’s planned for the Parklands.
The Man with the Branded Hand
“…but I was too young to appreciate the ideas that were being advanced, that were afterwards the
occasion of national dissention and civil war. I was more interested when a man arose on the
platform and showed branded in the palm of his uplifted hand the letters SS. He had labored
among the slaves to aid them to escape from slavery and as a punishment was burned SS for
Slave Stealer. He afterwards married Dr. Emily Gay's sister and lived in Hopedale.” Anna Thwing
Field, Hopedale Reminiscences
Anna Thwing Field’s lines from a chapter in Hopedale Reminiscences titled Anti-slavery and Other
Visitors to the Community was all I knew about “the man with the branded hand” until I ran across
Rachel Day’s account at the Bancroft Library recently. Here it is.
In the pageant commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Hopedale, the
appearance of the man with the letters SS burned into the palm of his right hand revealed the days
of anti-slavery agitation. “Slave stealer” was the stigma intended by the henchmen of slave-
owners, but John Greenleaf Whittier in his poem dedicated to this martyr to the Abolitionist cause,
titled “The Branded Hand,” called this a “brand of the highest honor,” standing for the noble words,
“Salvation to the Slave.”
Captain Jonathan Walker, born in 1799 in Harwich, Massachusetts, and master of a sailing
vessel, become well-known before the Civil War as “the man with the branded hand.” Aroused by
the wrongs suffered by the slaves, he was one of the many lesser known workers who prepared
the way for their freedom. While on the coast of Florida in the year 1844, Captain Walker attempted
to help a party of slaves escape to one of the Bahama islands in an open boat. He suffered
sunstroke, his party was overtaken by pursuers, and he was made a prisoner and put in the pillory.
His right hand was then branded and a heavy fine and long term of imprisonment imposed. After
two years friends in the North secured his release. His return from Florida was the occasion of
great anti-slavery excitement, a large meeting in his honor being held in Providence, Rhode Island.
Thereafter Jonathan Walker devoted his time to Underground Railway activities in New England
and also was one of the most fervent abolitionist speakers. At anti-slavery meetings, stanzas from
Whittier’s poem about the “brave seaman,” set to music and sung with thrilling effect, intensified
the interest in Walker’s personal appearance. A young girl who listened to him lecture in Hopedale
was afterward to write of the great impression he made upon her. An old engraved portrait testifies
to the zeal that burned in his eyes while his wide firmly set mouth suggests strong human
Captain Walker lived in Hopedale during the years 1858-59, marrying the sister of Dr. Emily Gay, a
well-known character of early day. An undated newspaper clipping records the death of Captain
Walker, once so well known as “the man with the branded hand,” in Muskegon, Michigan, “in great
poverty.” Rachel C. Day
Well, that seemed rather interesting when I first found it. Whittier wrote a poem about a man who
had lived in Hopedale. However, as I started looking for more on Walker, there were things that
didn’t add up. I don’t know where Rachel Day found that he was living in Hopedale in 1858-59, but I
haven’t found that anywhere else. A number of online sources say that he moved to Michigan in
1850 and remained there until he died in 1878. Here’s one:
From Rootsweb - JONATHAN WALKER born Mar. 22, 1799, Harwich, MA, Died Apr. 30, 1878, Lake
Harbor, MI. Married JANE GAGE May 2, 1878, Harwich, MA. Jane Gage born Jun. 28, 1803, Dennis,
MA. Died Sept. 28, 1871, Lake Harbor, MI. Jane was the daughter of Mayo Gage and Zerviah Ellis.
Evidently there was a typo on the marriage date. Here's more from Rootsweb. “His wife, Jane Gage
Walker, died in Lake Harbor in 1871, and according to some family tradition, he remarried, but
unable to substantiate it.” So it’s possible that he married Emily Gay’s sister after Jane died, but
that doesn’t really fit with the other information given on him. There was a Richard Walker who lived
in Hopedale during the Community days. I’m wondering if, writing about those days more than fifty
years later, Anna Thwing Field remembered seeing Jonathan Walker at an antislavery meeting,
remembered that Emily’s sister married a Walker and put the two things together and came up with
the wrong conclusion. I’d say that we can be sure that Jonathan Walker spoke in Hopedale, but
beyond that, who knows?
"Then lift that manly right hand, bold ploughman of the wave,
Its branded palm shall prophesy 'Salvation to the Slave.'
Hold up its fire-wrought language that whoso reads may feel
His heart swell strong within him, his sinews change to steel.”
John Greenleaf Whittier
To read the complete poem, go to http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Branded_Hand
Anti-slavery and other Visitors to the Community, Anna Thwing Field
Wilbur Henry Siebert’s history of the Underground Railway – a source cited by Rachel Day.
Jonathan Walker, Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Walker_%28abolitionist%29
Jonathan Walker in Florida
Jonathan Walker, Pensapedia
One of the few sites that mentions the name of Walker’s wife, Jane Gage Walker.
Hopedale History Email Stories HOME
Jonathan Walker's branded hand.
(brand at lower left)
Walker monument in Michigan.