One of the most well known AME Zion ministers preaching at the AME Zion Church in New Paltz was the Reverend Thomas James. In 1833, he chose the name "Thomas James" as his name from the names "Tom", his slave name, and "Jim," his nickname while working in a warehouse.
Below are some highlight of his life as written in his memior: Wonderful Eventful Life of the Rev. Thomas James, by Himself, 1887.
Born: 1804 - Canajoharie, New York
Died: April 18, 1891 - Rochester, New York
Family: One of four
Enslaved by: Asa Kimball of Canajoharie; Cromwell Bartlett of Canajoharie; and George H. Hess of Fort Plain.
Escapes bondage: 1821, at the age of 17, fleeing to Canada while the Erie Canal was being constructed. Takes ferry from Youngstown into Canada.
Emplyment in Canada:
- Employed for three months on the Deep Cut on the First Welland Canal.
- The First Welland Canal was completed on November 30, 1828 and ran from Allanburg, Ontario to the Welland River in Thorold, Ontario at Port Robinson.
- The canal was designed to bring water from the Welland River to create a navigation route to the Niagara River.
- The canal required an initial cut 26 feet deep through sandy moraine. Canal workers cut stone about 2 miles long.
- On November 9th, 1828, two weeks before the completion of the “Deep Cut”, the banks of the cut near Port Robinson collapsed into the canal and killed an unknown number of workers below. More landslides followed and it became evident that getting water from the Welland River would not be possible. Water was instead used from the Grand River.
- The “Deep Cut” was incorporated in all the Welland Canals.
- The First Welland Canal used 40 wooden locks which had the capability to life shifts up to 125 tonnes, six to eleven feet.
Returns to USA:
- Youngstown area as a woodchopper for Mr. Rich.
- Rochesterville for Lawyer Talbert.
- Rochesterville for Orlando Hastings.
- Hudson & Erie line, initially as a laborer and then supervises the freight business and boats landing.
Early Education: He was self-educated with some help from clerks he works with and a Sunday School teacher, Mr.John Freeman
Career/ Religious Life/ Abolitionist Life:
- 1823- Thomas becomes a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Society.
- 1828- Teaches a school for colored children on Favor Street
- 1829- Formally begins preaching. Also, marriage to ___ who died in 1841, leaving four children.
- 1830- Buys a site as a religious edifice.
- May 1833- Ordained by Bishop Rush.
- Summer 1833- Presents Anti-Slavery series in the town court house.
- 1835- Leaves Rochester to form a Black church in Syracuse. Stationed there for nearly three years.
- Transfers to Ithaca where he buys a church edifice for them and witnesses its construction during his two year stay in Ithaca.
- 1839 (ish) - Transfers to Sag Harbor, Long Island, and then on to New Bedford, Mass.
- Meets Frederick Douglass in New Bedford. Licenses Frederick Douglass to preach in 1839.
- After two years in New Bedford takes charge of the Boston church.
- Leaves Boston to devote his time to presenting anti-slavery lectures and addresses.
- 1856- Returns to Rochester, NY and takes charge of Rochester Church
- 1862- The American Missionary Society appoints Thomas to labor among the Black people of Tennessee and Louisiana. He never made it there as he was stopped in Louisville, KY and is given charge by the US Government of the freed and refugee colored people. His duties involve visiting the prisons of the commonwealth, and freeing all people of color people found confined without charge of crime. He establishes a Sunday school and a day school in the camp. This school held religious services two days a week and on Sunday. He also rescued enslaved individuals and brought them back to the camp.
- June 1868- Elected General Superintendent and Missionary Agent by the General Conference of the AME Connection.
- 1868- Takes part in a peaceful political revolution in Washington, D.C. which places the local government of the District of Columbia in loyal hands.
- 1874-1875- From New Paltz newspaper records we know that he is mentioned as a minister at the New Paltz AME Zion Church.
- 1878- Appointed by Bishop Wayman a missionary preacher of colored churches in Ohio.
- 1880- When the exodus from the South begins he labors under the direction of the Topeka Relief Association on behalf of the homeless colored people who flocked to Kansas. Discontinues in 1881.
- 1881- Creates and becomes General Agent of the Agricultural and Industrial Institute in southern Kansas.
- Minister in Lockport for four years until his eyes fail him.
- Thomas remarries 16 years prior to his memoir being written. This marriage produces two children. ___ was formerly enslaved in Atlanta and was sent north to Pennsylvania as a refugee.
Grave of the Rev. Thomas James, Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, Monroe county, NY.