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Isaac Mason, b. 1822
Life of Isaac Mason as a Slave
Worcester, Mass.: [s.n.], 1893.


Isaac Mason was born a slave on May 14, 1822 in Kent County, Maryland to Sophia and Zekiel Thompson. Although Mason's father was a free man, his mother was enslaved to Hannah Woodland and worked as a house servant on one of her two farms. Separated from his family at an early age, Mason survived under several abusive masters until he made his escape to Delaware in 1847. Two years later he married and attempted to settle in Philadelphia. Fearing the Fugitive Slave Law, Mason moved his wife further north to Worcester, Massachusetts, while he traveled to Canada to look for steady work. Mason returned to Worcester in July 1851 with the intention of settling there permanently. However, in 1860 he traveled to Haiti as part of businessman James Redpath's emigration program, which claimed to transport and establish African Americans in Haiti. After suffering from hunger and illness, Mason returned to the United States to expose the true conditions of the settlement. He published his autobiography, The Life of Isaac Mason, A Slave, in 1893.

The Life of Isaac Mason, A Slave (1893) begins with one of Mason's earliest memories of slavery: his role as the personal servant of Mrs. Hannah Woodland. After Mrs. Woodland's death, the estate was divided. As several hundred slaves were being sold and traded off the Woodland property, Mason's father succeeded in purchasing his wife and daughter. However, Mason, now age fifteen, was hired out to a man named Dr. Hyde in order to make up the debt of his father's purchase.

Mason's life took a solitary turn while working under the Hydes. His family was forced to flee to Baltimore without him, and he learned to survive his master's abusive ways on his own, turning to God for support. Like his more famous contemporary, Frederick Douglass, Mason often found himself in situations that forced him to defend his manhood. He refused a severe beating from Mrs. Hyde, which led to his transfer to Mr. Mansfield's farm. Here he worked for five years as a farm hand, and generally remained out of harm's way until he infuriated the Mansfields by refusing to eat spoiled meat. This rebellious act was considered so egregious that Mr. Mansfield chased him down with a gun, the shots barely missing him. Shortly thereafter, Mason successfully planned and executed his escape to Delaware with the help of friends.

As the title of his narrative suggests, Mason felt that he had not fully escaped slavery, even when he reached the North. Although he fled from Maryland in 1847, the Fugitive Slave Law prevented him from settling and supporting his family until 1851. He spent his early years in the North struggling to secure an independent living, for as a runaway slave he was continually reliant on others' good will for shelter and work. Fearful of being captured, Mason describes leaving his wife behind in Worcester, Massachusetts for several weeks in order to seek employment in Montreal and Toronto. Following numerous unsuccessful attempts to find work there, he began the arduous trek back to Worcester. Insufficient funds forced him to cover most of the distance on foot. Mason closes his narrative with a description of his ill-fated emigration to Haiti in 1860. He provides a brief overview of the people, climate, and culture of the settlement; however, his description rapidly turns to a critique of the settlement's failures. After leaving Haiti, he settled permanently in Worcester.

Armistead Lemon
Harris Henderson

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