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Jonathan Walker (abolitionist)

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Title: Jonathan Walker (abolitionist)  
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Subject: People from Barnstable County, Massachusetts, Key Biscayne, Harwich, Massachusetts, Muskegon, Michigan, Underground Railroad
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Jonathan Walker (abolitionist)

1845 Daguerreotype of Walker's branded hand by Southworth & Hawes.

Jonathan Walker (1799 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts – May 1, 1878 near Norton Shores, Michigan), aka "The Man with the Branded Hand", was an American reformer who became a national hero in 1844 when he was tried and sentenced as a slave stealer following his attempt to help seven runaway slaves find freedom. He was branded on his hand by the United States Government with the markings S.S. for "Slave Stealer".


  • Biography 1
  • References 2
  • Further reading 3
  • External links 4


During his youth, Walker was captain of a fishing vessel, but in early 1837, he went to Florida and became a railroad contractor. He was interested in the condition of the slaves, and in 1844 aided several of them in an attempt to make their escape in an open boat from the coast of Florida to the British West Indies. After doubling the capes, he was prostrated by illness; the crew, being ignorant of navigation, would all have been drowned if they had not been rescued by a wrecking sloop that took Walker to Key West. From there, he was sent in chains aboard USS General Taylor to Pensacola, where he was put in prison, chained to the floor, and deprived of light and proper food. Walker later wrote about the degrading conditions inside the jailhouse and the brutality shown toward slaves there.

Upon his trial in a United States court, Walker was convicted, sentenced to be heavily fined, put on the pillory, and branded on his right hand with a hot iron with the letters "S. S." for "slave-stealer". But to some he was "slave savior". A United States marshal executed the sentence. He was then returned to jail, where he was confined eleven months, and released only after the payment of his fine by northern abolitionists. For five years after his release, he lectured on slavery in the northern and western states. He moved to Michigan about 1850, where he lived near Muskegon until his death. A monument was erected to his memory on August 1, 1878.

Walker was the subject of John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "The Man with the Branded Hand". Whittier heard about Walker's actions after reading a book about him called Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker. The poem praised Walker's actions.[1]


  1. ^ Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 264. ISBN 0195031865

Further reading

  • Jonathan Walker: The Man with the Branded Hand by Alvin F. Oickle
  • Branded Hand by Elmer Koppelmann
  • Wilson, Henry, The History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America. Boston, 1874.
  • "Trial and Imprisonment" by Jonathan Walker
  • Jonathan Berger, "White Suffering and the Branded Hand", Mirror of Race.

External links

  • Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Walker's personal account of his ordeal.
  • Portrait & Signature
  • Jonathan Walker article at Pensacola wiki
  • Woodcut of Walker's branded hand
  • Portrait of Captain Walker {reference only}
  • Odd Wisconsin Archive-The Man with the Branded Hand
  • John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Branded Hand,” a poem.
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