The Reverend Thomas A Pinckney (1809-1887) first appears in Southampton in 1870. The Southampton Directory of 1871 (published on 1 January 1871) lists him at Torquay Villa, Millbrook Road, Freemantle. The 1871 census (taken in April) finds him and his wife, Elizabeth, at Brent Cottage, Avenue Road in Bevois Mount. Both take about four years off their ages: Thomas claiming to be 58 and Elizabeth to be 50 years old. They continue to live quietly in Brent Cottage until their respective deaths, Thomas on 15 December 1887, aged 70 years, and Elizabeth on 10 March 1889, aged 72 years. Thomas told the 1871 enumerator that he was an "Episcopal Clergyman without cure of souls", a naturalized British subject born in Pennsylvania: a further misrepresentation for he was born, in 1809, in South Carolina. Dates and place of birth were given correctly to the 1881 census enumerator.

Thomas Pinckney's life had been devoted to the care of his fellow negroes. He grew up in the black community of Charleston, in the heart of the southern slave states. He was ordained in 1852 in Philadelphia, by the Bishop of Pennsylvania, into the Episcopalian Church of America. Shortly afterwards he sailed for the Episcopal mission in Liberia, a free state created by the American Colonization Society in 1823 to establish a home for American negroes who had gained their freedom. He accompanied a group of African American colonists returning to their native roots. Ill health obliged Thomas to return to the United States in 1856.

Two years later he was in England. Here he obtained from the Colonial Church and School Society, based in London, a posting in one of its sections: the Mission to Fugitive Slaves in Canada. The Earl of Shaftesbury, at the society's annual meeting in April 1858, described him as "the representative of the much-wronged coloured race". He was sent to Chatham in Quebec province. Approximately one-third of its 5,000 population were fugitive slaves from the United States, an exodus that had been stimulated by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which effectively removed legal protection from runaway slaves in the United States. In Chatham, Thomas established a school, with learning based on biblical principles, and worked with powerful black abolitionist families. On 29 February 1860 he married Elizabeth King, a white English missionary, born in Ashford (Kent). Formerly a teacher in the Colonial Church and School Society's school in London (Canada West), she transferred in 1859 to work in Thomas's school in Chatham. Many in the white community were scandalised at such an interracial marriage. Handbills were issued urging legislation to prevent what was stigmatised as "this violation of the law of God, and our common nature" (quoted in Sharon A Roger Hepburn, Crossing the border: a free black community in Canada, 2007). Finding their position untenable, the couple resigned their missionary posts and left Chatham. It was the eve of the American Civil War.

We next find the Pinckneys, ten years later, in Southampton. It was clearly not a poor exile. Elizabeth Pinckney left a personal estate of £1,148.4s.6d. It is probable that the money came from her side of the family. We know that a brother, Jonas King, Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and Licentiate of the Apothecaries' Company, was in the censuses of 1871 and 1881 a physician in Lambeth. He had, as his sister, an interesting past. In the 1840s he had been a surgeon, apothecary, accoucheur, chemist and druggist in Middlesex and Kent (including Tonbridge Wells). Insolvency in November 1845 led to five months in prison. He had been assistant secretary to the Syrian Medical-Aid Association, suggesting an internationalism shared by her sister. He was an executor under Elizabeth's will.

See also The Promised Land Project.

Brent Cottage, Avenue Road, Bevois Mount

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Source: Bevois Mount History


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