Thomas and Jane Leonard of Syracuse

Jane and Thomas Leonard were part of the small African American community of Syracuse. Likely they came from Maryland, seeking freedom and settled in Syracuse. To hide their origin they gave in different census different places as their birthplace (New York in the 1855 census, Virginia in the 1860 census; and Maryland in the 1865 census). They came to Onondaga County about 1830 just after the end of slavery in New York State. Barring a few years in the 1850s, they worked and lived in Syracuse until they died. Thomas Leonard worked variously as a waiter, cartman, boatman, and laborer. Jane Leonard worked as a cook at the Exchange Hotel and probably elsewhere. She may also have been a member of the AME Zion Church. Leonard was a member of the Freedom Trail network, helping others escape, including Harriet Powell in 1839. They lived on the south side of the Erie Canal, in the center of the Eighth Ward, where many freedom seekers settled and purchased property. He and Jane probably also offered their home as a safe house to freedom seekers.

Thomas went to Canada right after the rescue of William "Jerry" Henry in 1851. He returned sometime before 1855. In the 1850s, African Americans William and Martha Sidney lived close to the Leonards, at 179 East Fayette Street.

In 1865, the Leonard household included African American boarders who listed their birthplaces as Canada, South Carolina, and Virginia. Nearby was his siter Matha Sidney who listed her birthplace in the 1855 census as Canada .In 1855, two of Martha and William Sidney's children (Helen and Sarah) lived with the Leonards. In the 1850s, William and Martha Sidney lived close to the Leonards, at 179 East Fayette Street. Matha was Thomas Leonard's sister. In 1855, two of Martha and William Sidney's children (Helen and Sarah) lived with the Leonards.

Jane Leonard died on March 9, 1873, aged 67 years. After a funeral at Zion's Methodist Church, she was buried in Rose Hill on March 11, 1873. As noted in the Syracuse Journal, May 1, 1877, Tom's funeral was at the home of his sister "Mrs. Sidney," at 226 E. Water Street.

Slave Story of September, 1839, Which Awakened Many Abolition Feelings
(Reprinted from the Sunday Times, published June 10, 1877)

"There recently died in the Eighth Ward a man-poor and in the lowly walks of life, but in many respects a hero. He belonged to a race which had been despised and downtrodden, but he was nevertheless a man, every inch of him, and his death recalls to mind one affair in which he took a humble part, but from the risk he ran . . .he showed the stuff that heroes are made of."

Leonard worked as a waiter at the Syracuse house, Syracuse's most important hotel, on the southeast corner of Clinton Square, where most of the servants of both sexes were African American. He helped in the escape from slavery of Harriet Powell, a young African American woman brought to Syracuse with the Davenport family. Trying to find out what had happened to Harriet, her owners had Leonard arrested for stealing her clothes, but all charges were dropped. Harriet was spirited away, after narrow escapes, to Gerrit and Ann Smith's home in Peterboro, and from there she went to Kingston, Ontario. When abolitionists discovered a plot to
kidnap Harriet Powell from Canada, Tom Leonard was sent over to warn her about it.

"A few words more about the venerable colored individual, Leonard. Little is known of his early life. He was industrious and accumulated some property. After the date of our narrative he became the proprietor of a horse and dray and did business in that line until the Jerry excitement, when he, with others of his race, fearful of their safety here, fled to Canada, where he remained a year or two. He was one of the few colored citizens who were able to avail themselves of the $250 privilege of voting.

"When the Rebellion broke out and a colored regiment was being recruited in Massachusetts, he was one of the first of the squad to go from here to join it. But greatly to his disappointment and grief, he was rejected by surgeon as too old (he was more than 70 then). He was always an energetic worker on election day among his people, when the franchise was extended to them, until decrepitude confined him to the home of a friend, where he died at the age of 88."

Back to African American History of Western New York 1830 to 1865.