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The branding of Jonathan Walker from Trial and Imprisonment...


University of Miami Law School. Law Library. Coral Gables, Florida.

The Law School Library is one of the leading legal research libraries in the state. Its collection of almost 400,000 volumes has special subject strengths in areas of Anglo-American and international law. In addition, the Law Library is widely recognized as an important resource for Caribbean studies and possesses an extensive collection of Caribbean and Latin American legal materials. The University of Miami offered law classes in its founding year of 1926 and established the School of Law in 1928.


Jonathan Walker. Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker, at Pensacola, Florida, for Aiding Slaves to Escape from Bondage. With an Appendix, containing a Sketch of his Life... Boston: Published at the Anti-Slavery Office, 25 Cornhill, 1845.

The letters SS - Slave Stealer - were burned onto the right hand of Jonathan Walker in Pensacola in 1844. This single event catapulted Walker from obscurity to the forefront of the antislavery movement in the United States. Walker, a man of modest means, was convicted in a Pensacola court of helping slaves escape. He had agreed to take several blacks to Nassau by boat. The ill-fated boat trip to Nassau encountered extremely rough weather and Walker, feeling the effects of sunstroke, became delirious. The boat and its crew were captured off Key West, and upon his return to Pensacola for trial the local paper charged Walker's effort as "The most daring and impudent outrage upon the peace and dignity of the territory..." Walker stood trial, pleading not guilty on the grounds that "assisting men to escape from slavery was not a crime."

A guilty verdict led to a fine, fifteen days imprisonment, one hour's time in the pillory, and the branding of his hand. The use of a red hot branding iron on the ball of his hand required, according to eye- witnesses, about twenty seconds. The glowing iron made a splattering noise as it burned into the flesh the SS mark that Walker carried to his grave. This severe sentence outraged Northerners and Southerners alike. Walker, now an abolitionist martyr and the "scarred veteran of the liberty war," was immediately championed on the anti- slavery lecture circuit. John Greenleaf Whittier immortalized the hand in a poem, and newspapers across the country printed the poem and a picture of the hand. Countless schoolchildren learned to recite the poem. The poem, The Branded Hand, was set to music and became a popular rallying cry at anti-slavery gatherings.

Walker described his experiences in this volume, published in Boston in 1845. Critics compared it to Frederick Douglass' autobiography, and his simple story proved important to the antislavery movement.


Great Britain. Acts of Assembly, Passed in the Island of Barbadoes [sic]; from 1717-18, to 1738, inclusive. London: Printed by John Baskett... 1739. Part II only.

This volume offers an interesting history of colonial legislation in Barbados during the early eighteenth century. This compendium of laws provides an insight into the initial development of many of the laws that are still in place today. In addition to the more obvious historical implications for the study of laws and legislation, the work includes information on the political, social, and economic history of Barbados and the surrounding region.