Near the entrance to Muskegon’s historic Evergreen Cemetery is a monument with the words Captain Walker’s Branded Hand carved into it. It also has a hand with the letters SS carved on it. It is a rather curious stone obelisk and begs the question, Why was his hand branded and what does the SS mean?
In 1799 Jonathan Walker was born in Harwich, Massachusetts where he learned to sail fishing vessels. By the 1830s he moved to Florida and sailed ships as a railroad contractor. Disgusted with slavery in the south he aided several slaves in escaping by sailing them to the British West Indies where slavery had been abolished. On his voyage, Captain Walker became gravely ill. His crew not as adapted to sailing allowed the ship to be captured where Captain walker was taken to prison and chained to the floor in a small dark room for months. After his conviction, he was sentenced to be publicly branded and thrown in prison. Captain Walker had the letters SS branded into his right hand which indicated he was a slave stealer.
After five years in prison, he was released when northern abolitionists paid for his freedom. After his release he toured the northern states giving lectures on the evils of slavery and proudly showed people his branded hand. Eventually, he moved to the Muskegon area where he died in 1878. He was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery and a monument was erected in his memory still stands in the entrance proudly showing visitors Captain Walker’s branded hand.
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