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Thomas Smallwood, b. 1801
A Narrative of Thomas Smallwood, (Coloured Man:) Giving an Account of His Birth--The Period He Was Held in Slavery--His Release--and Removal to Canada, etc. Together With an Account of the Underground Railroad. Written by Himself
Toronto: Smallwood; James Stephens, 1851.


Thomas Smallwood, born in 1801 in Prince George's County, Maryland, grew up a slave in the household of Reverend J. B. Ferguson, who taught him to read and write. After being freed at age 30, he worked as a servant to the McLeod family, where he continued to improve his education. For several years, Smallwood served as an advocate for the African Colonisation Society. He became disillusioned with its mission and methods, however, and began to work closely with organizers of the Underground Railroad around Maryland and Washington, D.C. Because his anti-slavery work was causing growing suspicion, Smallwood and his family were forced to seek refuge in Canada and he used an alias when writing about slavery. When several prominent black citizens in Toronto met in April 1863 to promote emancipation and elevation of American blacks, Thomas Smallwood and his son, Thomas W. F. Smallwood were two of seven leaders selected to be on a committee that drafted a pro-Union "Address to the Colored Citizens of Canada."

While his narrative does include some personal information, Smallwood focuses on the African Colonisation Society, the Underground Railroad, life for former slaves in Canada, and personal insights into slavery in America at large. In his preface to the narrative, Smallwood includes anti-slavery quotations from influential European writers that substantiate his own feelings about the subject. He also includes a short sketch about David Walker, a former slave whose story he thinks has been wrongly overlooked. After explaining the reasons for his disenchantment with the African Colonisation Society, Smallwood describes his experiences helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad. In so doing, he criticizes the American treatment of blacks, both slave and free, questions the trustworthiness of some Underground Railroad workers, and mentions some of the conflicts he experienced with others of his race. Smallwood then launches into a lengthy diatribe against the United States, calling it "the most hypocritical, guileful, and arrogant nation on the face of the earth" because of the way blacks are persecuted and oppressed.

Work Consulted: Ripley, C. Peter, et al., eds, The Black Abolitionist Papers, Vol. II: Canada, 1830-1865, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Monique Prince

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