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Jessie Donaldson

The amazing story of Jessie Donaldson was re-discovered in 2020 by Professor Jen Wilson.  Prof. Wilson is Head of Practice at University of Wales trinity St David's and founder of Jazz Heritage Wales.

Jessie Donaldson (1799 - 1889) was a Welsh teacher and abolitionist.  While many campaigned for the abolition of slavery, both in Britain and the United States, Jessie took action.

Jessie was the daughter of prominent abolitionist Samuel Heineken and was born in Bristol.  She became teacher at a school in Swansea, but always campaigned for the abolition of slavery.

In 1854, however, Jessie (right, image courtesy of Jen Wilson, Jazz Heritage Wales) decided to take action.

She moved to Ohio with her husband Francis, setting  up a safe house for escaped slaves trying to .find freedom in the northern non-slave States or in Canada.

This was part of the famous "Underground Railroad", not a railway, but a network of safe houses and routes set up by abolitionists to help runaway slaves achieve their freedom in the north.

Jessie Donaldson's safe house, called Clermont, was near to the Ohio River, where she could help slaves to cross. It was one of three such houses set up by her family.  She became acquainted with many of the leaders of the abolitionist movement including the orator and writer Frederick Douglass.

Jessie and Francis returned to Swansea in 1866 after the American Civil War.  Their work had been done.

One of their safe houses, called Penmaen after a farm the family owned in Wales, is still standing today.

 

For more information on Jessie Donaldson and  on Wales, abolition and its musical connections, here is a link to Prof. Jen Wilson's book Freedom Music: Wales, Emancipation and Jazz 1850 - 1950

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