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Untold Lowell Stories : Black History

Freedom Seeker – John Taylor

print of nineteenth century church

St. Anne’s Church, 1845, The Lowell Offering, UMass Lowell Libraries, Center for Lowell History.


Freedom Seeker: John Taylor

Assistant: Rev. Theodore Edson, St. Anne’s Church, Lowell, Massachusetts

On March 19, 1839, freedom seeker John Taylor, who had been called Robert when enslaved in Kentucky, came to Rev. Theodore Edson’s home in Lowell, Massachusetts. Taylor had been sold and sent to New Orleans, he told Edson, but while there had escaped among the free black crew members of a Mississippi steamboat to Cincinnati and then into Ohio. There he was apprehended, but then rescued and sent “on from town to town toward the North to Pittsburgh and thence to Philadelphia.” Philadelphia abolitionists sent Taylor north to Gerrit Smith at Peterboro, New York, near Utica, and Smith sent him to James Gillespie Birney, a Kentucky native and abolitionist then living in New York City. Edson noted that Birney knew Taylor’s “old master well.”

Rev. Theodore Edson’s Diary, 1839: Lowell Historical Society Collection, housed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History

“Thro N York he came to Boston where he was very sick of pleurisy from exposure in traveling lying out in the woods day and night in northern climate. Mr. Garrison befriended him But one day in Boston Cornhill he met unexpectedly Kentuckian slaveholder whom he knew James Coburn and who recognized him at once saying “Aye Bob what are you doing here” He made himself strange–But he felt that he must leave Boston. A Mr. Leonard from Ludlow, VT had seen him in Boston and had said to him that if he would come to him he would take care of him and he gave him some directions. Mr. William L. Garrison sent him to Salem, MA to a Mr. William A. Dodge. But his story getting wind he was afraid to stay there and came on to Andover where he was directed to Smiths the Scotchmen’s at Frye Village. Smiths directed him to come to me, which he did by the railroad (ed: Boston and Lowell Railroad)."

Related Resources:

Rev. Theodore Edson Diaries (1822-1841) Transcribed by Walter Hickey. Lowell Historical Society Collection, UMass Lowell Libraries, Center for Lowell History.