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Stories / Isaac Mason

Isaac Mason

Isaac Mason, an abolitionist, community leader, and autobiographer, was born enslaved in the town of George Town Cross Oats in Kent County, Maryland. He was the first of five children born to Zekiel Thompson, a  free African American farm hand and Sophia Thompson, who was enslaved. The death of Mason's first owner when Mason  was approximately fifteen years old marked the onset of his worst years in slavery. Although Zekiel  Thompson was able to secure freedom for his wife and infant daughter, Mason was originally hired out  to repay a small portion of his relatives' purchase price and subsequently sold to a new owner. In late December 1846, Mason fled his master's farm. Mason and two other male slaves, with assistance from  agents of the Underground Railroad, walked from Kent County to Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Mason worked in Chester County, Pennsylvania, until he found employment in Philadelphia. In 1849 he  married Annie (maiden name unknown), and the newlyweds remained in Philadelphia until Mason,  while working as a construction worker, saw his master's son in the city. Mason's fear of returning to  Maryland and bondage caused him to relocate further north in 1850. Mason and his wife journeyed to  Boston, where they stayed with the abolitionist Lewis Hayden and his family until William C. Nell , a  fellow abolitionist, encouraged the couple to move to Worcester, Massachusetts, where their first child, Eliza Jane, was born in 1851 and where Mason worked on a farm until 15 April of that same year.  Renewed fears of being captured led Mason to live in Canada until his wife's illness caused him to  return to Worcester. While traveling home, he encountered his former master, yet to Mason's immense  relief, the man did not recognize him. Mason returned to Worcester on 2 July 1851. Three years later, Samuel Mason was born. Over the years, Mason worked as a janitor at various municipal buildings. For  nearly five decades, Mason was one of Worcester's most prominent African American citizens. He was  active in the Anti-Slavery Movement, Republican Party, and A.M.E. Zion Church, as well as two  fraternal organizations: the Masons, where he was a member of King David Lodge No. 16 in Worcester;  and the Odd Fellows.

In May 1860 Mason, heeding the Scottish-American abolitionist James Redpath's plea for African  Americans to emigrate to Haiti, traveled there in search of better economic opportunities. However  Mason soon became disillusioned with Redpath's colonization efforts, returned to Worcester, and  publically voiced his opposition to the project. After the Civil War, Mason, no longer a fugitive slave,  returned to Kent County, Maryland, in 1866 as a member of his church's delegation. The group, led by  Reverend G. W. Offley, assisted former slaves. Mason published his narrative, Life of Isaac Mason as a  Slave in 1893. Five years later, he died on 28 August.

Read the original biography by Linda M. Carter in the African American National Biography.

View complete story (pdf)

Online Resources

Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave. 1893 Documenting the American South website, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/mason/summary.html

Bibliography


Mason, Isaac. Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave. 1893. (2009).

McCarthy, B. Eugene, and Thomas L. Doughton, eds. From Bondage to Belonging: The  Worcester Slave Narratives (2007).

Salvatore, Nick. We All Got History: The Memory Books of Amos Weber (1996).

Author

Linda M. Carter

Adapted by

Jennifer Mojica Santana

Isaac Mason Portrait. (Picture from Wikimedia Commons.)

Key Events

1822—c. 1837

Isaac Mason is born enslaved in George Town Cross Oats, Kent Count, Maryland; the first of five children born to Zekiel’s (a free Black man) and Sophia Thompson, who was enslaved. Around 1837, following the death of his first owner, the worst years of his enslavement ensue.

1846—1849

In December 1846, Mason flees his new owner's farm. Along with two other enslaved men, and with help from Underground Railroad agents, they walked from Kent County to the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania, the latter a free state. While in Philadelphia, PA, Mason marries Annie in 1849. They stay there until Isaac sees his owner’s son in the city.

1850—c. 1854

Fearing a return to captivity in Maryland, the couple relocates to Boston, MA, where they stay with abolitionist Lewis Hayden. In 1851, encouraged by abolitionist William C. Nell, Mason and Annie move to Worcester, MA. Their first child, Eliza Jane, is born. Still fearing capture, they relocate to Canada, but return to Massachusetts due to Annie’s illness. Mason encounters his former master, but the latter doesn’t recognize him. On July 2 of that same year, Mason returs to Worcester, MA. Around 1854, Mason’s and Annie’s second child is born.

1860—1866

In 1860, Mason travels to Haiti in search for better economic opportunities, following abolitionist James Redpath’s pleas for African Americans to relocate to the Caribbean country. However, disillusioned with Redpath’s colonization efforts, Mason returns to Worcester, and publicly voices his opposition to the former’s project. Post-Civil War, Mason returns to Kent County, MD, in 1866, no longer a fugitive slave. He becomes a member of the Church delegation where he assists former slaves.

August 28, 1898

Isaac Mason dies.