December 1, 2010
The Man with the Branded Hand
Hopedale in November
Hopedale Pond on November 14, 2010 Hopedale Pond on November 17
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
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 dissension 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 abouts “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
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 sympathy.
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, 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.