Anti-Slavery Act Victims – Fugitive Slave Law

Washington, Indiana. In April, 1853, George, a negro man, was arrested and claimed by a Mr. Rice, of Kentucky, as his slave. Judge Clemens ordered his surrender to Rice, who took him to Louisville, and there sold him to a slave-trader, who took him to Memphis, Tennessee. Here a man from Mississippi claimed that George was his slave, obtained a writ of replevin, and took possession of him.

Joshua Glover, colored man, claimed as the slave of B.S. Garland, of St. Louis County, Missouri, was arrested near Racine, Wisconsin, about the 10th of March, 1854. Arrest made by five men, who burst suddenly into his shanty, put a pistol to his head, felled him to the ground, handcuffed him, and took him in a wagon to Milwaukee jail, a distance of twenty-five miles. They swore that if he shouted or made the least noise, they would kill him instantly. When visited, says the Milwaukee Sentinel, “We found him in his cell. He was cut in two places on the head; the front of his shirt and vest were soaking and stiff with his own blood.” A writ of habeas corpus was immediately issued; also a warrant for the arrest of the five men who assaulted and beat him in his shanty. Thousands of people collected around the jail and court-house, “the excitement being intense.” A vigilance committee of twenty-five persons was appointed to watch the jail at night and see that Glover was not secretly taken away. The next day, at about five o’clock, P.M., a considerable accession of persons being made to the crowd, and it appearing that every attempt to save Glover by the laws of Wisconsin had been overruled by United States Judge Miller, a demand was made for the man. This being refused, an attack was made upon the door with axes, planks, &c. It was broken in, the inner door and wall broken through, and Glover taken from his keepers, brought out, placed in a wagon, and driven off at great speed.

S.M. Booth, editor of the Milwaukee Free Democrat, Charles Clement, of the Racine Advocate, W.H. Waterman, and George S. Wright were arrested for aiding and abetting the rescue of Glover. Booth was subsequently discharged by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, on the ground that the Fugitive Slave Law is unconstitutional. He was, however, re-arrested, and held to answer in the United States Courts, on the same charge; the offered bail was refused, and he was lodged in jail. The case was subsequently tried before the District Court of the United States, at Milwaukee, on the question as to the right of a State judiciary to release prisoners under a writ of habeas corpus, who may be in the lawful custody of United States officers; and also to determine the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law. (Washington Star, September 20, 1854.) The Attorney General, Caleb Cushing, made himself very active in pushing forward this case. Mr. Booth, early in 1855, was fined one thousand dollars and sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. John Ryecraft, for same offence, was sentenced in a fine of two hundred dollars and imprisonment for ten days. All for acts such as Christianity and Humanity enjoin. On a writ of habeas corpus, Messrs. Booth and Ryecraft were taken before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, sitting at Madison, and discharged from imprisonment. This, however, did not relieve them from the fines imposed by the United States Court. The owner of the slave brought a civil suit against Mr. Booth, claiming $1,000 damages for the loss of his slave. Judge Miller decided, July, 1855, that the $1,000 must be paid.

Edward Davis, March, 1854. As the steamboat Keystone State, Captain Hardie, from Savannah, was entering Delaware Bay, bound to Philadelphia, the men engaged in heaving the lead heard a voice from under the guards of the boat, calling for help. A rope was thrown, and a man caught it and was drawn into the boat in a greatly exhausted state. He had remained in that place from the time of leaving Savannah, the water frequently sweeping over him. Some bread in his pocket was saturated with salt water and dissolved to a pulp. The captain ordered the vessel to be put in to Newcastle, Delaware, where the fugitive, hardly able to stand, was taken on shore and put in jail, to await the orders of his owner, in Savannah. Davis claimed to be a free man, and a native of Philadelphia, and described many localities there. Before Judge Bradford, at Newcastle, Davis’s freedom was fully proved, and he was discharged. He was again arrested and placed in jail on the oath of Captain Hardie, that he believed him to be a fugitive slave and a fugitive from justice. After some weeks’ delay, he was brought to trial before United States Commissioner Samuel Guthrie, who ordered him to be delivered up to his claimant on the ground that he was legally a slave, though free-born. It appeared in evidence that Davis had formerly gone from Pennsylvania to reside in Maryland, contrary to the laws of that State; which forbid free colored persons from other States to come there to reside; and being unable to pay the fine imposed for this offence (!) by the Orphan’s (!) Court of Harford County, was committed to jail and sold as a slave for life, by Robert McGaw, Sheriff of the County, to Dr. John G. Archer, of Louisiana, from whom he was sold to B.M. Campbell, who sold him to William A. Dean, of Macon, Georgia, the present claimant. Thus a free-born citizen of Pennsylvania was consigned, by law to slavery for life:

In May, 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was enacted.

Anthony Burns, arrested in Boston, May 24, 1854, as the slave of Charles F. Suttle, of Alexandria, Virginia, who was present to claim him, accompanied by a witness from Richmond, Virginia, named William Brent. Burns was arrested on a warrant granted by United States Commissioner Edward Greeley Loring, taken to the court-house in Boston, ironed, and placed in an upper story room under a strong guard. The hearing commenced the next morning before Mr. Loring, but was adjourned until Saturday; May 27, to give the counsel for A. Burns time to examine the case. On Friday evening, (26th,) an attack was made upon the court-house by a body of men, with the evident design of rescuing Burns; a door was forced in, and one of the marshal’s special guard, (named Batchelder,) was killed, whether by the assailants or by one of his own party is uncertain, it being quite dark; upon the cry of Batchelder that he was killed, the attacking party retreated and made no further attempt. The trial of the case proceeded on Saturday, again on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, when the Commissioner said he would give his decision on Friday. During the trial, Burns was continually surrounded by a numerous body-guard, (said to be at least one hundred and twenty-five men,) selected by Watson Freeman, United States Marshal, from the vilest sinks of scoundrelism, corruption, and crime in the city to be Deputy Marshals for the occasion. These men, with every form of loathsome impurity and hardened villainy stamped upon their faces, sat constantly around the prisoner while in the court-room, the handles of pistols and revolvers visibly protruding from their breast pockets. A company of United States troops, from the Navy Yard, occupied the court-house, and guarded all avenues to the United States court-room. The testimony of numerous highly respectable witnesses was adduced to show that Anthony Burns was in Boston a month earlier than the time at which he was said to have left Richmond. R.H. Dana, Jr. and Charles M. Ellis, counsel for Burns, made very eloquent and able arguments in his behalf. Seth J. Thomas and E.G. Parker were the counsel for Suttle, the case being constantly watched and aided by the United States District Attorney, Benjamin F. Hallett, who was in regular telegraphic communication with the President of the United States, (F. Pierce,) at Washington. An effort was made, and followed up with much patience, to buy Burns’s freedom, Suttle having offered to sell him for $1,200. The money was raised and tendered to Suttle, when difficulties were interposed, especially by Mr. Attorney Hallett, and the attempt failed. Suttle afterwards declared he would not sell Burns for any sum, but that he should go back to Virginia. On Friday morning, June 2d, Commissioner Loring gave his decision, overriding all the testimony in Burns’s favor, using certain expressions which fell from Burns in the first heat and confusion of his arrest, as testimony against him, and concluding with ordering him to be delivered up to the claimant. Some four hours were consumed in getting Court Street, State Street, &c., in a state of readiness for the removal of the prisoner. A regiment of Massachusetts Infantry had been posted on Boston Common, under command of Col. Benjamin Franklin (!) Edmands, from an early hour of the day, in anticipation of the Commissioner’s decision. These troops, which had been called out by the Mayor, Jerome V.C. Smith, were marched to the scene of the kidnapping, and so placed as to guard every street, lane, and other avenue leading to State Street, &c., the route through which the slave procession was to pass. No individual was suffered to pass within these guards; but acts of violence were committed by them on several individuals. Court Square was occupied by two companies of United States troops, (chiefly Irishmen,) and a large field-piece was drawn into the centre. All preparations being made, Watson Freeman (United States Marshal) issued forth from the court-house with his prisoner, who walked with a firm step, surrounded by the body-guard of criminals before mentioned, with drawn United States sabers in their hands, and followed by United States troops with the aforesaid piece of artillery. Preceded by a company of Massachusetts mounted troops, under command of Colonel Isaac H. Wright, this infamous procession took its way down Court Street, State Street and Commerce Street, (for the proprietors of Long Wharf refused to allow them to march upon their premises, through a public highway in all ordinary cases,) to the T Wharf, where the prisoner was taken on board a steam tow-boat, and conveyed down the harbor to the United States Revenue Cutter Morris; in which he was transported to Virginia.

It may not be amiss to have given, in a single instance, this somewhat detailed account of the process of seizing, trying, and delivering up a man into slavery, whose only crime was that he had fled from a bondage “one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which our fathers rose in rebellion to throw off,” Thomas Jefferson, the Virginian slaveholder, himself being witness.

Anthony Burns, having been sold into North Carolina, was afterwards purchased with money subscribed in Boston and vicinity, for the purpose, and returned to Boston.

The illegality of the Mayor’s conduct in ordering out the military, and giving to the Colonel of the regiment the entire control of the same, was fully shown by different and highly competent writers, among whom was P.W. Chandler, Esq., whose two articles, in the Boston Advertiser, deserve to be remembered with respect. The Mayor’s excuse was that he desired to keep the peace. But these Massachusetts troops received pay for their day’s work from the United States Government. Judge Hoar, in a charge to the Grand Jury, declared the act of the Mayor, in calling out the militia, to be an infraction of law.

Stephen Pembroke, and his two sons, Robert and Jacob, 19 and 17 years of age, were arrested in New York almost simultaneously with the seizure of Burns in Boston; claimed as the slaves of David Smith and Jacob H. Grove, of Sharpsburg, Washington County, Maryland. They escaped May 1st, and came to New York, followed closely by their masters, who discovered their retreat in Thompson Street, and pounced upon them by night. At 8-1/2 o’clock, next morning, they were taken before United States Commissioner G.W. Morton, “where the case came up for the most summary and hasty hearing that has ever characterized our judicial proceedings.” Dunning and Smith were counsel for the masters, but the fugitives had no counsel; and the hearing was finished, and a warrant granted to the slave claimants before the matter became known in the city. When Mr. Jay and Mr. Culver hastened to the court-room to offer their services to the prisoners, as counsel, they were assured by officers, and by Commissioner Morton himself, that the men wanted no counsel, and were not in the building. On search, however, it was found they were in the building, locked up in a room. They said they desired counsel and the aid of friends. A writ of habeas corpus was obtained, but before it could be served the three men had been removed from the State, and were on their way to Baltimore. [See the published. Card of E.D. CULVER, Esq.] Stephen Pembroke was the brother, and his sons the nephews of Rev. Dr. Pennington, of New York City, Pastor of a Presbyterian (colored) Church. Stephen Pembroke was purchased and brought back to New York, ($1,000 having been contributed for that purpose,) and related his experience of the slave’s life, at a public meeting, held in the Broadway Tabernacle, July 17, 1854. His sons had been sold, and remained in slavery.

James Cotes, free man of color, residing in Gibson County, Indiana, went to Jeffersonville, (Ind.,) to take the cars for Indianapolis. On going to the depot, at 6, A.M., for the morning train, he was knocked down, “beat over the head with a brick-bat, and cut with a bowie-knife, until subdued. He was then tied, and in open daylight in full view of our populace, borne off bleeding like a hog.” He was undoubtedly taken to the jail, in Louisville. On crossing the river to Louisville he met the captain of a steamboat, who knew him to be a free man. (About June 1, 1854.) The kidnapper was arrested and held to bail in the sum of $1,000, to take his trial at next Circuit Court.

Near Cedarville, Ohio, May 25, 1854, about noon, “a colored man, of middle age and respectable appearance, was walking on the Columbus and Xenia turnpike. He was alone. A man in a buggy overtook him, and invited him to ride, saying he was a friend to the colored man, and promising to assist him in obtaining his liberty.” He took the colored man to the house of one Chapman, “three miles south of Selma, in Greene county.” There Chapman and the other, (whose name was William McCord,) fell upon the colored man, struck him with a colt upon the head, so that he bled severely, and bound his hands behind him. “Soon after the negro got loose and ran down the road; McCord ran after him, crying ‘Catch the d——d horse thief,’ &c., Chapman and his son following; negro picked up a stone, the man a club and struck him on the head, so that he did not throw the stone. He was then tied, and helped by McCord and Chapman to walk to the buggy. McCord asked Chapman, the son, to accompany him to Cincinnati with the colored man, promising to give him half the reward ($200) if he would. They then started, driving very fast.” “We had not gone over two or three miles,” said Chapman, “before the negro died, and after taking him two or three miles further, put him out, and left him as now discovered,”—viz. in a thick wood, one mile south of Clifton. The above facts are taken from the testimony given at the coroner’s inquest over the body. “The jury gave in substance the following verdict:—Deceased came to his death by blows from a colt and club in the hands of one William McCord, assisted by the two Chapmans.” Chapman, the son, said that McCord made him a proposition to join and follow kidnapping for a business, stating that he knew where he could get four victims immediately. McCord was taken and lodged in Xenia jail. The Chapmans bound over to take their trial for kidnapping.—Wilmington (Ohio) Herald of Freedom.

Columbus, Indiana. A Kentuckian endeavored to entice a little negro boy to go with him, and both were waiting to take the cars, when mischief was suspected, and a crowd of people proceeded to the depot, and made the kidnapper release his intended victim. (June, 1854.)—Indiana Free Democrat.

_______ Brown, a resident of Henderson, Kentucky, was arrested for aiding four female slaves to escape from Union County, Kentucky, to Canada. United States Marshal Ward and Sheriff Gavitt, of Indiana, made the arrest. He was lodged in Henderson jail.—Evansville (Ind.) Journal, June 2, 1854.

Several Kentucky planters, among them Archibald Dixon, raised $500 in order to secure Brown’s conviction and sentence to penitentiary.

[box]Transcriber’s note: The following note appears as a footnote to this section without specific reference to any of the cited cases. 1 [/box]

Nine slaves left their masters in Boone County, Kentucky, on Sunday, June 11, 1854, having three horses with them. Arrived at the river, they turned the horses back, and taking a skiff crossed at midnight to the Ohio shore. After traveling two or three miles, they hid during Monday in a clump of bushes. At night they started northward again. A man, named John Gyser, met them and promised to assist them. He took them to a stable, where they were to remain until night. He immediately went to Covington, Kentucky, learned that $1,000 reward was offered for their apprehension, and gave information of their place of concealment. At evening a strong band of Kentuckians, with United States Deputy Marshal George Thayer, assisted by three Cincinnati officers, surrounded the stable and took the nine prisoners, on a warrant issued by United States Commissioner Pendery. They were all given up to their claimants, and taken back to Kentucky.

A New Orleans correspondent of the New York Tribune, in a letter dated July 3, 1854, writes, “During a recent trip up the river I was on several steamers, and on every boat they had one or more runaway slaves, who had been caught and were being taken in irons to their masters.”

On the Steamer Alvin Adams, at Madison, Indiana, a man was arrested as a fugitive and taken to Louisville, Kentucky. He was claimed as the slave of John H. Page, of Bowling Green. The Louisville Journal, edited by a Northern man, stigmatised him as a “rascal,” for his attempt to be free. (July, 1854.)

Two colored men, on their way to Chicago, were seized and taken from the cars at Lasalle, Illinois, by three men, who said they were not officers. The colored men were known to be free; one was “a respectable resident of Chicago.” Some of the passengers interfered; but it being night, and very dark, and the cars starting on the colored men were left in the hands of their kidnappers.

Chicago, Illinois. Three men from Missouri, with a warrant from the Governor of that State, to take a certain fugitive slave, seized a man whom they met in the street, bound him with a handkerchief, and to quicken his steps beat him with the butt of a pistol. He succeeded in shaking off his captors and fled, a pistol-bullet being sent after him, which did not hit him. He made good his escape. The men were arrested and held to trial for assault with deadly weapons. By an extraordinary conspiracy on the part of District Attorney Hoyne, Sheriff Bradley, and others, these men were taken from jail to be carried to Springfield, Illinois, two hundred miles distant, to appear before Chief Justice Treat, that he might inquire “whether said alleged kidnappers were justly held to bail and imprisoned.” It was so suddenly done that the counsel for the kidnapped man and for the State of Illinois had not time to reach Springfield before the men were discharged and on their way to Missouri. The Grand Jury of the County (in which Chicago is) had found a true bill against them, of which the Sheriff professed to be ignorant, (which was deemed hardly possible,)—under which bill they would probably have been convicted and sentenced to the State Prison. Thus the omnipotent Slave Power reaches forth its hand into our most Northern cities, end saves its minions from the punishment which their lawless acts have justly merited.—Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 21, 1854.

The three kidnappers published a statement in the St. Louis Republican of September 26.

Henry Massey, at Philadelphia, September, 1854, was brought before United States Commissioner E.D. Ingraham, claimed by Franklin Bright, of Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, as his slave. Arrested in Harrisburg.

Harvey, arrested near Cumminsville, Ohio,—escaped,—taken again in Goshen, about ten miles from Cincinnati, and lodged in the jail of that city. An investigation of the case was had before United States Commissioner Pendery, and the slave remanded to the custody of his master.—Cincinnati Commercial, September 22, 1854.

Byberry, Pennsylvania, September 18, 1854. A carriage load of suspicious looking men came to this place in the afternoon. They waited until nightfall, when they burst into the house of a colored family, “seized the man in presence of his wife and another woman, threatening to shoot them if they interfered—dragged him out, beating him over the head with a mace. The poor fellow continued to scream for help until his voice was stifled by his groans; they forced him into their carriage and drove off, before any effectual assistance could be offered.” He was a sober and industrious man, and much respected. His wife was left heartbroken, with one child.—Norristown (Pa.) Olive Branch.

The Frankfort (Ky.) Yeoman, of November 18, 1854, said:—”Kidnapping free negroes in Ohio, and deluding our slaves from their masters to recapture and sell them, is an established profession of a gang located upon the borders of the Ohio River, combining with negro-traders in the interior of this State.” The names of some employed in this business are given, two of whom, having been arrested and imprisoned, threatened to burn the city of Frankfort for interrupting their business.

Jane Moore, a free colored woman, at Cincinnati, November, 1854, seized in the house of her sister, (Sycamore Street,) beaten, and with the help of a deputy marshal from Covington, Kentucky, carried over to Covington, and lodged in jail, on pretence of her being a fugitive slave. She was taken before the Mayor of Covington, “who heard the case with impartiality.” Her freedom was established, and she released.

At Indianapolis, Indiana, December, 1854, Benjamin B. Waterhouse was indicted for harboring fugitive slaves, contrary to the provisions of the Fugitive Law. He was found guilty, but the jury recommended him “to the favorable consideration of the Court, and stated that the evidence was barely sufficient to convict.” He was fined fifty dollars and to be imprisoned one hour, and the government to pay the costs.—-Chicago Tribune.

A Proposition for Kidnapping, on a large scale, was made by John H. Pope, “police officer and constable,” in a letter dated “Frederick, Maryland, United States of America, January 1, 1855,” and addressed to Mr. Hays, Sheriff of Montreal, Canada. “Vast numbers of slaves,” says Mr. Pope, “escaping from their masters or owners, succeed in reaching your Provinces, and are, therefore, without the pale of the ‘Fugitive Slave Law,’ and can only be restored by cunning, together with skill. Large rewards are offered and will be paid for their return, and could I find an efficient person to act with me, a great deal of money could be made, as I would equally divide. * * * The only apprehension we have in approaching too far into Canada is the fear of being arrested; and had I a good assistant in your city, who would induce the negroes to the frontier, I would be there to pay the cash. On your answer, I can furnish names and descriptions of negroes.”

This letter was published, doubtless at the Montreal Sheriff’s request, in the Montreal Gazette, January 13, 1855.Citations:

  1. The case of Solomon Northup, though not under the Fugitive Law, is so striking an illustration of the power which created that law, and of the constant danger which impends over every colored citizen of the Northern States, fast threatening to include white citizens also, that it must not he passed over without mention. He was kidnapped in 1841, from the State of New York, and kept in slavery twelve years. Two men, named Merrill and Russell, were arrested and tried as his kidnappers, and the fact fully proven. But the case was got into the United States Courts, and the criminals went unpunished.[]


American Anti-Slavery Society. The Fugitive Slave Law, and its Victims. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society. 1856.

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