John Andrew Jackson was born into slavery on a plantation in Sumter County, South Carolina. His mother was named Betty, and his father was called “Dr. Claven” for his skill in alternative medicine in the slave community. Jackson begins his slave life acting as a scarecrow in cornfields. He later moves on to being a field hand, and was owned by a Quaker family. Jackson was very harshly treated, and witnessed many cruelties to others throughout his life. Many of the masters and mistresses, including his own, claimed to be Christians, yet still mistreated their slaves in unimaginable ways. They would whip slaves just for practice, and hand this practice down to their children, making them vicious slave owners as well. Jackson tells of the “American Camp-Meetings” slaves were allowed to attend on Saturday evenings and parts of Sunday in order to be influenced to be obedient to their masters. Yet here, he saw vile Methodist ministers who would steal beautiful slave girls for sexual abuse.This left a terrible taste in Jackson’s mouth. When Jackson was separated by sale from his wife and child in 1846, he decided to escape the shackles of slavery. He briefly worked as a Charleston dockhand and then stowed away on a vessel bound for Boston. Jackson
settled in Salem, Massachusetts, and worked as part-time sawmill operator as well as a leather tanner. When Jackson mailed a letter to his master asking to purchase his family members, a slave agent was sent to go to Boston and return him. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which called for any escaped slave to legally be returned to his master, rekindled Jackson’s fear of being returned to slavery. Assisted by Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Jackson fled to Canada.
Jackson then settled in St. Johns, New Brunswick, where married a former slave from North Carolina, and worked as a whitewasher. In 1856, still seeking to purchase family members that were in slavery, and hoping to add to the funds he had saved for that purpose, Jackson returned to Boston to obtain references from Stowe and other businessmen. He had heard that a war had broken out back home, which would allow slaves to be free. If this were true, Jackson and his wife wished to open a chapel in Canada for free slaves. In 1857, he went to Britain and Scotland to solicit donations. There, they became members in Rev. C.H. Spurgeon’s church, who became Jackson’s life long friend and mentor. He and his wife lectured in Scotland and England, with other antislavery leaders and the Reverend, regarding the evils of slavery. Jackson and his wife established a residence in London and remained abroad until after the Civil War but eventually returned to live in South Carolina. Jackson concludes his narrative by writing down some of what he considers more important “Negro songs” in an attempt to preserve them, and by doing so, preserving his culture and identity.
Jackson, John Andrew. The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862. Print.