IT IS appropriate during Black History Month to consider the life of a black man who found refuge and, hopefully, tolerance in Bevois Mount, Southampton.

Thomas Anthony Pinckney was born in 1809 in South Carolina. He is thought to have been the son of a freed slave rather than having been born into slavery. One legacy of slavery that he was never to escape was his name because it was the practice for slaves to take the names of their owners.

The Pinckneys were a family of elite and politically powerful planters in Charleston who played a prominent role in the history of the USA.

Of course, they owned hundreds of slaves.

We know very little about Thomas’ early life except that he grew up in the black community of Charleston and acquired a good education, probably courtesy of the Episcopalian Church of America. It was into that church that he was ordained in 1852 in Philadelphia by the Bishop of Pennsylvania.

Shortly afterwards he set sail for Liberia.

The West African country was founded by free people of colour from the USA and these were later joined by former slaves.

Inevitably the colonists were attacked by the indigenous inhabitants despite their common ancestry and that, combined with the harsh climate, disease and poor housing conditions led to a very high mortality rate.

Thomas persevered with his missionary work for four years but his health suffered terribly and he returned to the United States in 1856.

Two years later he arrived in England.

Local newspaper reports give testament to his travels around the country, giving talks on behalf of the Colonial Church and School Society.

The climax to that was the society’s annual meeting in London where William Wilberforce, the Earl of Shaftesbury, described Pinckney as “the representative of the much-wronged coloured race”.

Through the society he obtained a posting to a small town in Ontario, Canada. Escaped slaves fled to Canada from the USA during the nineteenth century as slavery had been abolished in all British colonial possessions by 1834 and Canada offered the fugitives a chance to begin a new life. Chatham, in Ontario on the shores Lake Erie was one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad, a clandestine route to help escaped slaves and so many of them found refuge there that it became known as the ‘Black Mecca’.

Thomas was concerned that the lack of education of the ex-slaves would be a stumbling block for them and would lead to social inequality despite their apparent freedom. He used his mandate from the society to set up a school for them.

The transfer of Elizabeth King, a white British missionary, to the school in Chatham, was to prove a turning point for them both. They fell in love and were married by the Rev Francis Sandys.

Chatham, with a population of about 5,000 of which about a third were black, was a diverse society but not necessarily a tolerant one.

The marriage exposed some of the most deeply rooted prejudice of the white community.

A local newspaper trumpeted: “By PARSON SANDYS!! (mark him down!) was married - A NEGRO!! (hang your heads, ye sons of Albion!) to a WHITE WOMAN!! An Englishwoman!”

Unsurprisingly, Thomas and Elizabeth soon found their situation to be untenable.

1870 found them back in England and it seems they stayed for a short while in Millbrook before making a more permanent home at Brent Cottage, Avenue Road.

What happened to them in the intervening ten years is not known but Elizabeth’s family were quite well to do and would presumably have looked after them.

In the 1871 census Thomas described himself as an Episcopalian minister “without cure of souls”.

They both spent the rest of their lives in Avenue Road and died within two years of each other – Thomas in 1887 aged 70 and Elizabeth in 1879 aged 72 years.

They are buried together in Southampton Old Cemetery.

Ally Hayes is a tour guide with