Dorsey-Jones House, Florence Section of Northhampton, Massachusetts
Photo courtesy of Steve Strimer, David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and UGRR Studies
Between 1850 and 1859, the Dorsey-Jones House was the home of two escaped slaves, Basil Dorsey and Thomas H. Jones. Basil Dorsey, originally enslaved in Frederick County, Maryland, escaped slavery with his brothers after the denial of promised freedom by his slave owners. The Dorsey brothers fled to Bristol, Pennsylvania where Basil found work on Robert Purvis’s farm. Louisa Dorsey’s brother-in-law betrayed Dorsey’s escape to Thomas Saulers, Dorsey’s former owner in Maryland, causing local authorities to seize and jail Dorsey. Robert Purvis created local support for Dorsey by encouraging the local African American community’s presence at Dorsey’s trial. Prior to the trial, Dorsey said “I will cut my throat in the Court House, I will not go back to slavery.” Dorsey’s counsel won a dismissal of the case on the grounds that the prosecution was unable to supply authoritative documentation that slavery was legal in Maryland. After the trial, Dorsey traveled to New York City and was assisted by both David Ruggles and Joshua Leavitt, editor of The Emancipator.
Leavitt’s father, Roger Leavitt, later employed Dorsey at his farm. Roger Leavitt’s home was well-known for its hospitality to fugitive slaves. While living and working on the Leavitt farm, Dorsey married and had three children, though his wife died months after the birth of their third child. After the tragic death of his wife, Dorsey and his children moved to Florence in 1844. The family purchased a lot in 1849 and began building the Dorsey-Jones house, which was completed by 1850. The passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act threatened capture for Dorsey and his family, and Dorsey’s friends, concerned for the family’s safety, raised money to purchase Dorsey’s freedom. Their efforts were successful, and Dorsey officially became a free man in 1850.
Selah B. Trask purchased and briefly inhabited the home after Dorsey and his family moved to the William Warner house at 4 Florence Road in 1852. In 1854 Mary Jones, wife of former slave Thomas H. Jones, purchased the Dorsey-Jones house. Thomas H. Jones was born on a plantation near Wilmington, North Carolina to enslaved parents. Purchased by a shopkeeper at the age of nine, Jones worked as a clerk for many years. Jones married fellow slave Mary R. Moore in 1829, and purchased her freedom shortly thereafter. He attempted to purchase the freedom of her children as well and freed all but one, Mary’s son Edward. Jones arranged for Mary and her children to be sent to Brooklyn. While traveling by sea to meet them, Jones’s slave status was discovered onboard the ship. Jones escaped the ship, and his arrest, using a makeshift raft he crafted by hand.
Jones later settled in Boston and worked as a preacher. His steady income allowed his family to leave Brooklyn and join him. In 1849 he published the first edition of The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years. The threat of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act forced Jones to flee to the Canadian Maritimes while his family remained in Massachusetts. In 1852, the Jones’ received notice that Edward’s freedom could be purchased for $850, bringing hope of reunification to the Jones family. It is not known whether the Jones’ ever purchased Edward’s freedom. Mary Jones purchased the Dorsey-Jones house in 1854, and Jones lived there periodically between preaching and lecture tours until the family moved to Worcester in 1859 and by 1867 had settled in New Bedford where he died in 1890.
The Dorsey-Jones House is located at 191 Nonotuck Street in the Florence section of Northampton, Massachusetts. It is a private residence and is not open to the public. More information about the property and its history, including a walking tour of Florence, can be found at the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and UGRR Studies
| List of Sites | Home | Next