The person who assumed this name was called Notly, when he was a slave in Maryland
He was compelled to labor very hard, was scantily supplied with food and clothing, and lodged in a little ricketty hut, through which the cold winds of winter whistled freely.
He was of a very religious turn of mind, and often, when alone in his little cabin at midnight, he
prayed earnestly to God to release him from his sufferings.
In the year 1800, he found a favorable opportunity to escape from his unfeeling master, and made his way to Philadelphia
, where he procured employment in a lumber-yard, under the name of John Smith
He was so diligent and faithful, that he soon gained the good — will and confidence of his employers.
He married a worthy, industrious woman, with whom he lived happily.
By their united earnings they were enabled to purchase a small house, where they enjoyed more comfort than many wealthy people, and were much respected by neighbors and acquaintances.
Unfortunately, he confided his story to a colored man, who, for the sake of reward, informed his master where he was to be found.
Accordingly, he came to Philadelphia
, arrested him, and carried him before a magistrate.
Having brought forward satisfactory evidence that he was a slave, an order was granted to carry him back to Maryland
. Isaac T. Hopper
was present at this decision, and was afflicted by it beyond measure.
John's employers pitied his condition, and sympathized with his afflicted wife and children.
They offered to pay a large sum for his ransom; but his savage master refused to release him on any terms.
This sober, industrious man, guiltless of any crime, was hand-cuffed and had his
arms tied behind him with a rope, to which another rope was appended, for his master to hold.
While they were fastening his fetters, he spoke a few affectionate words to his weeping wife.
‘Take good care of the children,’ said he; ‘and don't let them forget their poor father.
If you are industrious and frugal, I hope you will be enabled to keep them at school, till they are old enough to be placed at service in respectable families.
Never allow them to be idle; for that will lead them into bad ways.
And now don't forget my advice; for it is most likely you will never see me again.’
Then addressing his children, he said, ‘You will have no father to take care of you now. Mind what your mother tells you, and be very careful not to do anything to grieve her. Be industrious and faithful in whatever you are set about; and never play in the streets with naughty children.’
They all wept bitterly while he thus talked to them; but he restrained his sobs, though it was evident his heart was well nigh breaking.
Isaac T. Hopper
was present at this distressing scene, and suffered almost as acutely as the poor slave himself.
In the midst of his parting words, his master seized the rope, mounted his horse, snapped his whip, and set off, driving poor John before him. This was done in a Christian country, and there was no law to protect the victim.
John was conveyed to Washington
and offered for sale to speculators, who were buying up gangs for the Southern
The sight of dejected and brutified slaves, chained together in coffles, was too common at the seat of our republican government to attract attention; but the barbarity of John's master was so conspicuous, that even there he was rebuked for his excessive cruelty.
These expressions of sympathy were quite unexpected to the poor slave, and they kindled a faint hope of escape, which had been smouldering in his breast.
Manacled as he was, he contrived to trip up his master, and leaving him prostrate on the ground, he ran for the woods.
He was soon beyond the reach of his tyrant, and might have escaped easily if a company had not immediately formed to pursue him. They chased him from the shelter of the bushes to a swamp, where he was hunted like a fox, till night with friendly darkness overshadowed him. While his enemies were sleeping, he cautiously made his way by the light of the stars, to the house of an old acquaintance, who hastened to take off his fetters, and give him a good supper.
Thus refreshed, he hastened to bid his colored friend farewell, and with fear and trembling set off for Philadelphia
He had several rivers to cross, and he thought likely men would be stationed on the bridges to arrest him. Therefore, he hid himself in
the deepest recesses of the woods in the day-time, and travelled only in the night.
He suffered much with hunger and fatigue, but arrived home at last, to the great astonishment and joy of his family.
He well knew that these precious moments of affectionate greeting were highly dangerous; for his own roof could afford no shelter from pursuers armed with the power of a wicked law. He accordingly hastened to Isaac T. Hopper
for advice and assistance.
The yellow fever was then raging in Philadelphia
, and the children had all been carried into the country by their mother.
Business made it necessary for
to be in the city during the day-time, and a colored domestic remained with him to take charge of the house.
This woman was alone when the fugitive arrived; but she showed him to an upper chamber secured by a strong fastening.
He had been there but a short time, when his master came with two constables and proceeded to search the house.
When they found a room with the door bolted, they demanded entrance; and receiving no answer, they began to consult together how to gain admittance.
At this crisis, the master of the house came home, and received information of what was going on up-stairs.
He hastened thither, and ordered the intruders to quit his house instantly.
One of the constables said, ‘This gentleman's slave is
here; and if you don't deliver him up immediately, we will get a warrant to search the house.’
‘Quit my premises,’ replied Friend Hopper
‘The mayor dare not grant a warrant to search my house.’
The men withdrew in no very good humor, and a message soon came from the mayor requesting to see Isaac T. Hopper
He obeyed the summons, and the magistrate said to him, ‘This gentleman informs me that his slave is in your house.
Is it so?’
The wary Friend replied, ‘Thou hast just told me that this man says
he is. Dost thou not believe him?’
‘But I wish to know from yourself whether he is in your house or not,’ rejoined the magistrate.
‘If the mayor reflects a little, I think he will see that he has no right to ask such a question; and that I am not bound to answer it,’ replied Friend Hopper
‘If he is in my house, and if this man can prove it, I am liable to a heavy penalty; and no man is bound to inform against himself.
These people have not behaved so civilly, that I feel myself under any especial obligations of courtesy toward them.
Hast thou any further business with me?’
‘Did you say I dared not grant a warrant to search your house?’
asked the mayor.
He answered, ‘Indeed I did say so; and I now
repeat it. I mean no disrespect to anybody in authority; but neither thou nor any other magistrate would dare to grant a warrant to search my house.
I am a man of established reputation.
I am not a suspicious character.’
The mayor smiled, as he replied, ‘I don't know about that, Mr. Hopper
In the present case, I am inclined to think you are a very
And so they parted.
The master resorted to various stratagems to recapture his victim.
He dressed himself in Quaker
costume and went to his house.
The once happy home was desolate now; and the anxious wife sat weeping, with her little ones clinging to her in childish sympathy.
The visitor professed to be very friendly to her husband, and desirous to ascertain where he could be found, in order to render him advice and assistance in eluding the vigilance of his master.
The wife prudently declined giving any information, but referred him to Isaac T. Hopper
, as the most suitable person to consult in the case.
Finding that he could not gain his object by deception, he forgot to sustain the quiet character he had assumed, but gave vent to his anger in a great deal of violent and profane language.
He went off, finally, swearing that in spite of them all he would have his slave again, if he was to be found on the face of the earth.
remained under the protection of Friend Isaac about a week.
Spies were seen lurking round the house for several days; but they disappeared at last.
Supposing this was only a trick to put them off their guard, a colored man was employed to run out of the house after dark.
The enemies who were lying in ambush, rushed out and laid violent hands upon him. They released him as soon as they discovered their mistake; but the next day Friend Hopper
had them arrested, and compelled them to enter into bonds for their good behavior.
On the following evening the same man was employed to run out again; and this time he was not interrupted.
The third evening, John Smith
himself ventured forth from his hiding-place, and arrived safely in New-Jersey
He let himself to a worthy farmer, and soon gained the confidence and good will of all the family.
He ate at the same table with them, and sat with them on Sunday afternoons, listening to their reading of the Scriptures and other religious books.
This system of equality did not diminish the modesty of his deportment, but rather tended to increase his habitual humility.
He remained there several months, during which time he never dared to visit his family, though only eight miles distant from them.
This was a great source of unhappiness; for he was naturally affectionate,
and was strongly attached to his wife and children.
At length, he ventured to hire a small house in a very secluded situation, not far from the village of Haddonfield
; and once more he gathered his family around him. But his domestic comfort was constantly disturbed by fear of men-stealers.
While at his work in the day-time, he sometimes started at the mere rustling of a leaf; and in the night time, he often woke up in agony from terrifying dreams.
The false friend, who betrayed him to his cruel master, likewise suffered greatly from fear.
When he heard that John had again escaped, he was exceedingly alarmed for his own safety.
He dreamed that his abused friend came with a knife in one hand and a torch in the other, threatening to murder him and burn the house.
These ideas took such hold of his imagination, that he often started up in bed and screamed aloud.
But John was too sincerely religious to cherish a revengeful spirit.
The wrong done to him was as great as one mortal could inflict upon another; but he had learned the divine precept not to render evil for evil.
The event proved that John's uneasiness was too well founded.
A few months after his family rejoined him, Isaac T. Hopper
heard that his master had arrived in Philadelphia
, and was going to New-Jersey
to arrest him. He immediately apprised him
of his danger; and the tidings were received with feelings of desperation amounting to phrensy.
He loaded his gun and determined to defend himself Very early the next morning, he saw his master with two men coming up the narrow lane that led to his house.
He stationed himself in the door-way, leveled his gun, and called out, ‘I will shoot the first man that crosses that fence!’
They were alarmed, and turned back to procure assistance.
John seized that opportunity to quit his retreat.
He hastened to Philadelphia
, and informed Isaac T. Hopper
what had happened.
His friend represented to him the unchristian character of such violent measures, and advised him not to bring remorse on his soul by the shedding of blood.
The poor hunted fugitive seemed to be convinced, though it was a hard lesson to learn in his circumstances.
Again he resolved to fly for safety; and his friend advised him to go to Boston
A vessel from that place was then lying in the Delaware
, and the merchant who had charge of her, pitying his forlorn situation, offered him a passage free of expense.
Kindness bestowed on him was always like good seed dropped into a rich soil.
He was so obliging and diligent during the voyage, that he more than compensated the captain for his passage.
He arrived safely in Boston
, where his certificates of good character soon enabled him to procure employment.
Not long after, he sent for his
wife, who sold what little property they had in Philadelphia
, and took her children to their new home.
When John left New-Jersey
, he assumed the name of Thomas Cooper
, by which he was ever afterward known.
He had early in life manifested a religious turn of mind; and this was probably increased by his continual perils and narrow escapes.
He mourned over every indication of dishonesty, profanity, or dissipation, among people of his own color; and this feeling grew upon him, until he felt as if it were a duty to devote his life to missionary labors.
He became a popular preacher among the Methodists, and visited some of the West India Islands
in that capacity.
His christian example and fervid exhortations, warm from the heart, are said to have produced a powerful effect on his untutored hearers.
After his return, he concluded to go to Africa
as a missionary.
For that purpose, he took shipping with his family for London
, where he was received with much kindness by many persons to whom he took letters of introduction.
His children were placed at a good school by a benevolent member of the Society of Friends; and from various quarters he received the most gratifying testimonials of respect and sympathy.
But what was of more value than all else to the poor harassed fugitive, was the fact that he now, for the first time in his life, felt entirely safe from the fangs of the oppressor.
He remained in London
about a year and a half.
During that time he compiled a hymn book which his friends published with his portrait in front.
He preached with great acceptance to large congregations: several thousand persons assembled to hear his farewell sermon on the eve of his departure for Africa
He sailed for Sierra Leone
, in the latter part of 1818, and was greeted there with much cordiality; for his fame had preceded him. All classes flocked to hear him preach, and his labors were highly useful.
After several years spent in the discharge of religious duties, he died of the fever which so often proves fatal to strangers in Africa
His wife returned with her children to end her days in Philadelphia