Photo by and courtesy of Steve Strimer
Located in Northampton, Massachusetts, the Dorsey--Jones House was the home of two escaped slaves, Basil Dorsey (1810-1872) and Thomas H. Jones (1806-1890). The escapes of both men were well known in their own time, and both stopped for a time in this small Massachusetts community dedicated to and shaped by a commitment to racial equality, which was a haven for those escaping through the assistance of the Underground Railroad.
Basil Dorsey purchased the lot in 1849, and built the house shortly thereafter. Dorsey escaped from slavery in Frederick County, Maryland, with three of his brothers around 1836. It is believed he relied on known Underground Railroad stops during his escape. The brothers took on Christian names, including Basil, while in Philadelphia, and from that city were aided by one of the most prominent black abolitionists in the country, Robert Purvis. Basil's wife, Louisa, a free black, joined him in Bristol, Pennsylvania, where he was working on Purvis's farm. Louisa's brother-in-law betrayed Basil's whereabouts and he was jailed. Purvis assisted Basil's brothers in fleeing before they were also captured. Dorsey's case was dismissed from the Pennsylvania court, and he moved on to New York and then Massachusetts, assisted by abolitionist Joshua Leavitt, editor of The Emancipator. Basil and Louisa lived for a time in Charlemont, Massachusetts, where Louisa died shortly after giving birth to their third child (two children had been born prior to Basil's escape in Maryland). Basil and the children moved to the industrial village of Florence in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1844. By the time he built his house around 1850, he had remarried a woman named Cynthia, and had three more children. Dorsey worked as a teamster and jobber for a cotton-mill. Perhaps because of the passage of the Fugitive Slave act in 1850, Dorsey and his friends decided to finally purchase his freedom. Dorsey sold the house a few years later.
Mary Jones, wife of Thomas H. Jones, purchased the house in 1858. Thomas Jones, born a slave on a Wilmington, North Carolina, plantation, had been sold to a storekeeper at the age of nine. His first wife and their three children had been taken from him when his wife's mistress moved to Alabama. Jones remarried Mary Moore, who had three children of her own. Jones purchased Mary's freedom, but then learned of plans to sell her children. Jones arranged for Mary and all but one of her children to be sent to Brooklyn, New York, in the summer of 1849. Later that summer, he stowed away on a ship and made it to Massachusetts. He was able to pay to bring his family to join him by preaching and contributions. The family moved to Salem, where Jones became known as a Reverend. Jones traveled to Canada in 1851, perhaps also because of the threat of the Fugitive Slave Act, and presented a series of anti-slavery lectures. He and Mary began working to purchase her last child, still a slave. The family lived at the home in Florence just a brief time from 1858 to 1859.
The Dorsey--Jones House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 25, 2005. A presentation about the house will take place at 7:00pm on February 21, 2006, at the Florence Civic Center on
Park St. in Florence, MA, co-sponsored by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Committee and the Northampton Historical Commission.
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