Although Black author and activist Osborne Anderson’s account of the Harpers Ferry Raid and the Chatham Convention, as published in A Voice From Harper’s Ferry: A Narrative of Events at Harper’s Ferry (1861) was described as “a most valuable witness account,” there are discrepancies between it and other sources regarding the names of who attended the convention and signed the minutes [1].

To find out more about lesser-known members of the Chatham Convention, it’s best to use both Anderson’s list of members of the convention and the one provided by the West Virginia Archives and History. Here is a comparison of the two lists of names.

Anderson’s list:

  • A.J. Smith
  • M.F. Bailey
  • James M. Buel
  • L.F. Parsons
  • Thomas M. Stringer

West Virginia Archives and History’s List:

  • Addison J. Smith
  • Matisen F. Bailey
  • James Madison Bell
  • Luke F. Parsons
  • Thomas W. Stringer

Many of those who signed the minutes signed using their initials, such as: A.J. Smith, I.D. Shadd, and L.F. Parsons. The list provided by West Virginia Archives and History (WV A&H) includes the full names: Addison J. Smith, Isaac D. Shadd, and Luke F. Parsons.

WV A&H also provides information on where convention members lived and from where they traveled. Comparing the names using initials in the minutes with the full names and locations published by WV A&H offers more information on convention members.

For example, A.J. Smith (Addison J. Smith) was a self-liberated person from Tennessee who fled to Canada. He was also married to Osborne P. Anderson’s cousin, Mary Anderson [2].

Smith also helped to establish the school Shrewsbury SS13 in Canada: “it was an integrated school and its first teacher was Mrs. Emeline Shadd” [3].

I.D. Shadd (Isaac D. Shadd) was Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s brother and an ally of John Brown. Once we have identified delegates by their full name, we can identify their social, professional, family, and activist networks as well [4].

L.F. Parsons (Luke F.) Parsons came from Kansas and fought alongside Brown at the Battle of Blackjack and the Battle of Ossawatomie, both of which took place during the Bleeding Kansas Period [5], [6].

Using both lists allowed researchers to search for more information on delegates and participants. This leads to sites, such, as the Shrewsbury Community Association and the Kansas Historical Society. Using multiple sources always unveils more complete information than only accessing one, such as the names in Anderson’s book.

Below is a compiled list of the sources used in this research:

  • Buxton Museum
  • Anderson’s 1861 book
  • West Virginia Archives & History
  • Shrewsbury Community Association
  • Kansas Historical Society

Not only did some of the members of the Chatham Convention only use their first and middle initials along with their last names, sometimes these names were misspelled or spelled differently, as in the case of Thomas W. Stringer (listed in the Minutes as Thomas M. Stringer) and James Madison Bell (listed in the Minutes as James M. Buell) [7][8].

Using the spellings of the names provided by WV A&H led me to sites such as the Buxton Museum, which has information on Stringer, and, which has a profile of Bell [9], [10].

Rev. Thomas W. Stringer was the founder of the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Churches in Buxton and Chatham, Canada. So, it is not surprising that a Canadian Black community leader such as Stringer attended the convention [11].

James Madison Bell was a Black “poet, orator, and activist” from Ohio who lived in Chatham. It is also not surprising that someone who was a part of various Black cultural and political circles such as Bell attended the convention [12].


Created by Jessica Thelen, PhD student in English, for P. Gabrielle Foreman’s ENGL/HIST 677 class, Spring, 2019. Edited by P. Gabrielle Foreman.


[1] These discrepancies are seen in the list of “Chatham Convention Delegates, May 1858,” published by the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History as part of West Virginia Archives and History’s online exhibit “‘His Soul Goes Marching On’: The Life And Legacy Of John Brown.” Paul, Heike. “Out of Chatham: Abolitionism on the Canadian frontier,” Atlantic Studies, vol 8, no. 2, 2011, p. 180.

[2] Blount, Catherine Meehan. “Addison Smith,” Shrewsbury Community Association,

[3] “Heritage,” Shrewsbury Community Association,

[4] West Virginia Archives & History. “Chatham Convention Delegates: May 1858,”

[5] “Luke F. Parsons.” Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society,

[6] West Virginia Archives & History. “Chatham Convention Delegates: May 1858,”

[7] Anderson, Osborne P. A Voice From Harper’s Ferry: A Narrative of Events at Harper’s Ferry, p. 13. Print.

[8] “Rev. Thomas W. Stringer (1815-1897).” Buxton Museum,

[9] Larsen, Julia. “James Madison Bell (1826-1902),”

[10] “Rev. Thomas W. Stringer (1815-1897).” Buxton Museum,

[11] Larsen, Julia. “James Madison Bell (1826-1902),”