Thomas Hamilton was a successful and respected black journalist and antislavery activist during the mid-1800s. His publications the Anglo-African Magazine and the Weekly Anglo-African informed and uplifted black Americans. Periodicals such as these that supported the antislavery movement were crucial to the political and social strategy of blacks. Hamilton's role as editor, publisher, and activist greatly influenced the actions and reaction of blacks during this difficult period.
Thomas Hamilton was born in New York City on April 26, 1823, and was the youngest of two sons born to William Hamilton, a black abolitionist. His mother's name and occupation are not known. The elder Hamilton, who was a carpenter by trade, was well known as an activist both on a local and national level. He was one of the original trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination and attended the four national conventions for blacks held annually between 1831 and 1835. When William Hamilton died in 1836, he was eulogized as an active and effective member of organizations who supported moral and intellectual elevation for his people. Thomas Hamilton received a rudimentary education in African Free Schools and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, but it was the Hamilton household, which was alive with abolitionist ideas and reform press, that made a lasting impression on him. With the death of his father in 1836 Hamilton went to work in 1837 for the Colored American, a local African American weekly. Hamilton was a carrier for the paper, which was read in many black communities in the North. He later worked as a bookkeeper and mail clerk for the religious journal the New York Evangelist; the official periodical of the American Anti-Slavery Society, the National Anti-Slavery Standard; and the leading Congregationalist weekly, the Independent.
Establishes the People's Press
In October 1841 Hamilton started his own paper, the People's Press. He learned a lot from his early experiences with the black press and sought to support the movement for equal rights. Hamilton's paper was said to replace the Colored American, which had been discontinued in the spring of 1841. For two years the paper was edited by Hamilton, and he received support from his brother Robert, as well as from Samuel I. Wood and John Dias. The paper, although reaching a limited black audience, was considered almost militant in its tone. The paper called for independent efforts toward the abolition of slavery, along with the organized efforts of other groups. It also went so far as to question black allegiance to the United States.
- Born in New York City on April 26
- Goes to work for the Colored American
- Establishes the newspaper People's Press
- Closes the newspaper People's Press
- Marries Catherine Anne Leonard of New York; Leonard dies shortly thereafter
- Marries Matilda Ann Africanus of Brooklyn
- Publishes the Anglo-African Magazine and the Weekly Anglo-African
- Last printing of the Anglo-African Magazine
- Sells the paper Weekly Anglo-African to the Haitian Emigration bureau; re-inaugurates Weekly Anglo-African five months later
- Dies in Jamaica, Long Island on May 29
When the People's Press was closed down in 1843, Hamilton decided to go back to a supporting role in the black press and again worked for the New York Evangelist and the National Anti-Slavery Standard. He also worked for the Independent and supplemented his income by becoming a bookseller. He distributed anti-slavery, cultural, and temperance literature. He operated out of the Anti-Slavery Society offices in New York. His brother Robert, after leaving the People's Press, earned recognition as a spokesman for black issues in the com-munity between the 1840s and 1850s. In 1844 Hamilton married Catherine Anne Leonard, who died not long afterward. In 1852 Hamilton married Matilda Ann Africanus of Brooklyn, and they had a daughter.
In 1859 Hamilton inaugurated the two publications that established his reputation as a journalist. The goal of his publications was to give a black view of what was happening in America because the coverage of white journalists was often racist. In January 1859 Hamilton launched the Anglo-African Magazine, which was printed monthly. Hamilton at this time lived in Brooklyn with his family, and his publication office was in New York, at the same address as the National Anti-Slavery Standard, 48 Beekman Street. The magazine was to function like the Atlantic Monthly, consisting of printed articles, essays, short stories, and poetry by up-and-coming African Americans along with those who were already well established in their area. Some of the well-known contributors were Frederick Douglass, Sarah Douglass, John Mercer Langston, and Alexander Crummell. Francis Ellen Watkins Harper had her short story "The Two Offers" printed, and Martin R. Delaney's novel Blake was serialized in the publication. The magazine gave detailed accounts of John Brown's Raid and the confessions of Nat Turner. The Anglo African Magazine lasted for fifteen printings; its last issue appeared in March 1860.
On July 23, 1859, Hamilton launched the Weekly Anglo-African. The periodical became one of the most influential journals of its time. The publication's motto was "Man must be Free!—if not through Law, why then above Law." Hamilton organized many unpaid writers from Boston to San Francisco to report on black life and culture. The paper presented issues that confronted the African American community, and Hamilton's editorials further explored the ramifications of these issues, which encompassed topics from slavery and secession to Darwinism. The scope of his journal gave it national appeal. Because of financial problems Hamilton sold the paper in March 1861 to the Haitian Emigration Bureau. This organization advocated and resettled American blacks to Haiti. The paper was subsequently renamed the Pine and Palm.
With the coming of the Civil War and concern about activities in Haiti, Hamilton and his brother Robert, only five months after selling their paper, began a second run of the Weekly Anglo-American. For the next four years, Hamilton worked behind the scenes, and his brother Robert took the role of editor. There was optimism about the possibilities of equality for blacks. The war was a frequent topic of the paper's editorials, but overall, the paper had a pro-Union slant. When blacks became eligible to enlist in 1863, Hamilton made sure the paper encouraged enlistment. To help bolster black pride and show blacks as positive and capable, Hamilton became a book publisher and seller. He published A Pilgrimage to My Motherland: An Account of a Journey Among the Egbas and Yorubas of Central Africa, in 1859–60 by Robert Campbell; The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (1861); and a collection of biographical sketches (1863) by William Wells Brown.
Hamilton died in 1865 from typhoid fever at his residence in Jamaica, Long Island. Although a quiet and modest man, Hamilton was well known and respected. According to Penelope L. Bullock in The Afro-American Periodical Press, 1838–1909, his friends in New York spoke of him as "one of those untiring heroes, who, however quietly they labor, lift the people as they lift themselves."
Bullock, Penelope L. The Afro-American Periodical Press, 1838–1909. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981.
Finkenbine, Roy E. "Hamilton, Thomas." In American National Biography. Vol 9. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Ripley, C. Peter, ed. The Black Abolitionist Papers. Vol. 5. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
Lean'tin L. Bracks