Saturday, June 3, 2023
Anti-slavery campaigner to be honoured with blue plaque

Anti-slavery campaigner to be honoured with blue plaque

SWANSEA woman Jessie Donaldson who bravely fought slavery in America around 170 years ago is to be honoured by her home city.

A blue plaque is to be put up in the city centre to celebrate the actions of the campaigner.

Jessie travelled to Ohio in the 1850s to operate a safe house, risking fines and prison sentences for offering shelter and protection for slaves as they tried to escape from the southern states to the north of America.

Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said: “Jessie Donaldson was a great ambassador for Swansea.

“We’re proud to recognise her achievements as a woman who stood for emancipation, education and freedom for all.

“It’s especially fitting that the city celebrates her life and achievements now as we embark on regeneration and the consideration of our heritage and notable characters that have shaped our understanding of the city’s history.

“The city’s blue plaques are an accolade held in particularly high esteem.

“It’s especially rewarding to announce one for Jessie this month – the UK’s Black History Month. We hope it will encourage more people to understand and to be inspired by her story and those she helped here in Swansea and further afield.”

Jessi Donaldson

This blue plaque nomination was submitted to the council by Swansea cultural historian Professor Jen Wilson, founder of Jazz Heritage Wales which is based in the city’s Dylan Thomas Centre as part of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

Professor Wilson, who has researched Jessie’s life over many years, said: “Jessie Donaldson, at the age of 57, left Swansea to embark on an extraordinary life of international politics on a grand scale.

“Her house on the banks of the Ohio river was the third of the Welsh safe houses for runaway slaves.

“Jessie’s friends in the anti-slavery movement were freed slave Frederick Douglass, fugitive slaves Ellen and William Craft, fiery campaigner William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

“Throughout the American Civil War Jessie worked alongside her friends, enabling fugitives from the plantations across the river to seek freedom. Jessie returned home to Swansea in 1866.”

Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD Swansea, said: “We are delighted that Jessie’s extraordinary efforts are being recognised in this way.

“It’s also a tribute to Professor Wilson’s tireless research in unearthing this truly inspirational story of selfless commitment to justice and liberty.”

Professor Wilson’s book Freedom Music: Wales, Emancipation and Jazz 1850-1950 tells how Jessie emigrated to Cincinnati and helped fleeing slaves during the civil war. In subsequent years choirs and bands of freed slaves visited Swansea to perform abolitionist campaign songs, spirituals and gospel music.

Jessie was born in 1799, the daughter of lawyer Samuel Heineken and mother Jennet. She lived in a three-storey terraced house in Dynevor Place, Swansea, for 41 years with sister Mary and brother Samuel.

In the 1820s she opened a school in Wind Street.

At the age of 41 in 1840 Jessie married Francis Donaldson. They set up home in a three-storey terrace in Grove Place where they lived for 16 years.

In 1854 the couple emigrated to Cincinnati and lived there throughout the American Civil War (1861-65) which began primarily as a result of the controversy over slavery. They ran their safe house for fleeing slaves; it was part of the famous Underground Railroad escape network.

The couple returned to Swansea in 1866 and lived briefly at 2 Phillips Parade before moving to Ael-y-Bryn, Sketty. Jessie died in 1889.

The plan is for the blue plaque in her honour to be placed on the UWTSD’s Dynevor Building near Jessie’s first home and for it to be unveiled early next year.

Nominations for blue plaques go to the council from members of the public and are considered according to specific criteria. They can be made online –

For more information on Swansea activities celebrating black history this month and during the year please see the council’s website and social media channels.

Black History Month –

Image Slavery abolitionist Jessie Donaldson.

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