George Thompson (died 1893) Pens Praise Poems in Prison

Detail of the title page of George Thompson’s account of his imprisonment in Missouri. George Thompson, Prison Life and Reflections (Oberlin: James Fitch, 1847)

George Thompson, a seminary student and abolitionist at the Mission Institute in Quincy, Illinois, joined with friends Alanson Work and James E. Burr in an effort to liberate black slaves in Missouri. The slaves betrayed the trio to their masters with the result that all three were arrested around July 1st, 1841. Taken to Palmyra, they were incarcerated until their trial.

George served four years and eleven months in Missouri prisons. While in prison he maintained praise services morning and night and kept a journal which became the nucleus of his Prison Life and Reflections. He also wrote a good deal of doggerel verse which he published under the title The Prison Bard. We present an example of each.

Excerpts from Chapter VI of Prison Life and Reflections.

August 28. “Remember them in bonds as bound with them.” —Heb. xiii. 3.

Those who have never been bound can better sympathize with those who are, by imagining themselves in the same condition. They will then feel for them. We here can, in a small degree, “remember them in bonds as bound with them,” from experience.

1st. We know how the chain feels.

2nd. We know what it is to be at the will of another; to do as others say; receive what they see fit to give; eat and drink what their will supplies, and await their pleasure.

3rd. We understand what it is to be forcibly separated from wife, children, parents, and friends, and denied the sweetness of their society.

4th. To live in uncertainty—not knowing today what they will do with us tomorrow.

5th. To be looked down upon with scorn, reproach, and contempt, by men, women, and little children.

6th. What we now suffer is for trying to benefit the poor, down-trodden slave.

O, that we may feel for them more than we should have done had we not been placed here. I do. I believe I shall.

….

On the 6th of Sept., court commenced, but our case did not come up till the 10th. There were three reasons for its delay. First: it took some time for the Sheriff to hunt up men for jurors. Second: Confident of the weakness of their case, they had sent to St. Louis for one Crockett, who was paid a large sum, by the voluntary contributions of individuals—and our trial must be delayed till he arrived. But the third, and perhaps most prominent reason was, they could not, for a long time, find any indictment against us, for it had become universally acknowledged, by friends and foes, that we had broken NO LAW of Missouri! And what to do they knew not. To send us to the penitentiary they were determined, but the how puzzled them for a time…

My Cell No. 2 from The Prison Bard

Come ye who love the Savior’s name,
  And joy His praise to swell;
Attend, while I His grace proclaim,
  In this, our “hallowed cell.”

The God of comfort to our hearts,
  Our glory and delight,
A joy unspeakable imparts,
  And new, increasing light.

‘Tis here, we read and sing and pray
  Before the mercy seat;
‘Tis here, we find from day to day,
  With God, communion sweet.

….

The hoary-headed, hard in sin
  Just bending o’er the grave
Do here, their real lives begin,
  For Him, who died to save.

….

But O, to hear the converts sing,
  And shout with joyful voice—
To hear them pray, and praise their King,
  The angels must rejoice.

….

The little band increases fast,
  And sinners crowd the door;
The glorious time has come at last—
  O, Lord, we plead for more.

I love in such a place to dwell—
  These lambs to me are dear.
Glory to Jesus! for my cell
  Hosannah! that I’m here.

O! what is liberty to me
  Or friends, however near?
Since scenes like these I here may see,
  And things like these can hear.

Let those who wish, seek worldly fame,
  And warriors wonders tell;
But give to me, reproach and shame,
  With Jesus and MY CELL.