View the Letters

View The Letters

About The Thomas Jackson Collection

New Letters Discovered

This site is based on the trove of all the Thomas Jackson letters that had been discovered and transcribed by the end of 2012.

Then only a few days before we had decided to launch this website, we came across another old box full of even more un-read letters from Thomas Jackson and his relatives!

All the illustrations in this column are from this new, previously lost collection!

Sent in mid March 1863

Rebecca, Augusta and Rosa.
Emancipated slaves from New Orleans

In the early days, letters were simply folded and sealed with wax

By January 1856, Thomas Jackson was going full steam ahead in his new building.

This cross stitching can make it hard work to transcribe this new collection of letters

Great Aunts outside Caleb Slater's rope walk

Thomas Jackson collecting money for his ancient, invalid aunt who was still in England

Thomas Jackson still giving us new material in 1874

Another previously unknown letter

The Original Collection

Some of these letters on this website are more like a chapter in a book. This one from of August 20th 1863 extends for 14 pages and is packed with first hand observations and details about the Civil War.

Here you will find a unique collection of previously unpublished letters describing facts and feelings about slavery and the civil war as seen from the grass roots level in Reading, Pennsylvania. These detailed, authentic, contemporary reports, most in excellent condition, have all been left to us in the letters of rope-maker Thomas Jackson.

The author had been born and spent his early years in England but emigrated to USA in 1829 and spent the rest of his life in Reading. He became a fervent abolitionist and, as the war progressed, wrote back to his cousins asking that they try to get his letters published in the English newspapers. For this reason, many of the letters contain virtually no reference to family matters but concentrate instead on reporting his first hand experiences of the civil war and the injustices of slavery. By following Thomas Jackson’s passionate descriptions, you can now re-live a little history and become a witness through his eyes to some of the key events of the American civil war.

In one way, you might see these letters as propaganda seemingly intended to help persuade the English people to not give their support to the southern confederate states despite the massive importance of Southern cotton to the British economy. His viewpoint was clearly one sided and did not give the slightest consideration to the southern case for secession and state's rights. His support for the abolition of slavery dominated every aspect of his political life. His obituary in the Reading Times-Dispatch, August 7 1878 declared him to be “an original abolitionist and a warm friend and admirer of Horace Greeley and Thurlow Weed, and other (nationally known) antislavery agitators.”

The Scope of the Collection
Here you will find 28 complete Thomas Jackson documents covering the period from 1856 to 1874. (In addition, we are aware of several unassigned pages and about 40 other family letters covering about the same historical period but they are far more difficult to read and not included in this website)

Each letter has been scanned in high resolution and is presented in its entirety in the original manuscript. The state of preservation of the letters is remarkable and Thomas Jackson’s handwriting is so beautiful and elegant that we predict many visitors to this site will prefer to read the documents in their original form as they were created by his pen. That way, it is easier to imagine yourself actually living through those tumultuous times. All in all, we have done our best to make this rich source of historical knowledge available to all who are interested in this period of history. Reading these letters lets you share the personal experiences of those days better than reading a history book. Those violent and uncertain years are reflected by these laboriously written words expressing one man's tortured heart as the civil war unfolded.

Because of the quality of the paper that Thomas Jackson used and the care with which he wrote late into the night with very few corrections, it is difficult not to believe that he knew he was actually writing for the history books of later generations. If so, 150 years after he penned his thoughts and feelings, we are now fulfilling his true intentions by making his letters available to the world.

What Others Say about The Thomas Jackson Collection
The opinion of Mr Michael Knight of the US National Archives Administration

I am intrigued by the author of the letters. He is a fire breathing unionist who did not serve yet he was extremely well acquainted with military detail and military ordnance (his detailed description of the various artillery pieces caught my eye). He also seems to have more than a passing knowledge of Pennsylvania civics and budgetary issues/procedures, suggesting he served in some civic capacity at some point.

His detailed reporting of the capture and return to bondage of numerous African Americans in Pennsylvania is significant. This has become an area of intense interest in recent years, yet the number of primary sources on this aspect of the campaign have been limited. For that alone the letters are unique.

Additionally, the study of Lincoln has undergone a renaissance in recent years and his description of the reaction to the news of the president's death is both poignant and historically important. In reporting the death of Lincoln as well as the early information on Lee's movements during the Gettysburg campaign his information is remarkably accurate-for a man living during these events.

Many other letters of that period have rumors and disinformation with only a few details that stand the test of time.

Acknowledgments And Thanks

Thomas Jackson sought the help of his English cousins Caleb & William Slater to get his words heard across the miles during the civil war.

Now in order to get his words also heard across the years, Thomas would want us to thank those who contributed their expertise to allow his spirit and his fierce commitment to abolish slavery and to promote freedom to be heard again. In particular

  • Irvin Rathman and his colleagues - Historical Society of Berks County, Irvin took a chaotic collection of photocopies of many of these letters and meticulously transcribed them and thus gave life to this whole project. He has continued to add astonishing depth to our understanding ever since.
  • Neil Scheidt also from Reading who has provided extensive assistance in discovering the genealogy of Thomas Jackson and Caleb Slater and their relatives as well as unearthing important details of his life in Reading.
  • Frank Ward whose encouragement and endless enthusiasm for the project matches that of the Ambassadors.
  • Phil Whiddon, Livewire Web Design for enthusiastic and persistent efforts to do the very best to convey Thomas Jackson's message through the medium of modern technologies.

In addition, here are just some of the others who gave significant support

  • Lisa Adams and Kimberly R. Brown of Historical Society of Berks County, Reading PA.
  • George M. Meiser & Gloria Jean Meiser. Authors “The Passing Scene” series of books on the history of Reading and Berks, PA
  • Michael Knight (US National Archives & Records Administration)
  • Marilyn Mundy (US National Archives & Records Administration)
  • Jamison Davis (Virginia Historical Society)
  • Stephen Spears (author)
  • Michelle Krowl, Civil War and Reconstruction Specialist, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress
  • Jan Swanbeck (Documents Librarian, University of Florida)
  • Joe Aufmuth & Carol McAuliffe (Also librarians, University of Florida)
  • John Huddleston (Collaborator)
  • Kathryn McCaffrey (Collaborator)
  • Judith Comeau (Collaborator)
  • Robert Elliott (long enduring and generous supporter)
  • James Lazarus (constant enthusiast and constant optimist for life)
  • Alexia Fernandez for help in transcribing letters.