Victims of the Fugitive Slave Law – Fugitive Slave Law

The remainder of this Tract will be devoted to a record, as complete as circumstances enable us to make, of the Victims Of The Fugitive Slave Law. It is a terrible record, which the people of this country should never allow to sleep in oblivion, until the disgraceful and bloody system of Slavery is swept from our land, and with it, all Compromise Bills, all Constitutional Guarantees to Slavery, all Fugitive Slave Laws. The established and accredited newspapers of the day, without reference to party distinctions, are the authorities relied upon in making up this record, and the dates being given with each case, the reader is enabled to verify the same, and the few particulars which the compass of the Tract allows to be given with each. With all the effort which has been made to secure a good degree of completeness and exactness, the present record must of necessity be an imperfect one, and fall short of exhibiting all the enormities of the Act in question.

James Hamlet, of New York, September, 1850, was the first victim. He was surrendered by United States Commissioner Gardiner to the agent of one Mary Brown, of Baltimore, who claimed him as her slave. He was taken to Baltimore. An effort was immediately made to purchase his freedom, and in the existing state of the public feeling, the sum demanded by his mistress, $800, was quickly raised. Hamlet was brought back to New York with great rejoicings.

Near Bedford, Penn., October 1. Ten fugitives, from Virginia, were attacked in Pennsylvania—, one mortally wounded, another dangerously. Next morning, both were captured. Five others entered a mountain hut, and begged relief. The woman supplied their wants. Her husband went out, procured assistance, captured the slaves, and received a reward of $255.

Harrisburg, Penn., October. Some slaves, number not stated, were brought before Commissioner M’Allister, when “the property was proven, and they were delivered to their masters, who took them back to Virginia, by railroad, without molestation.”

Detroit, 8th October. A negro was arrested under the new law, and sent to jail for a week, to await evidence. Great numbers of colored people armed themselves to rescue him. Result not known.

Henry Garnett, Philadelphia, arrested as the slave of Thomas P. Jones, of Cecil County, Maryland, and taken before Judge Grier, of the United States Supreme Court, October 18, 1850, who declared his determination to execute the law as he found it. The Judge said that the claimant had not taken the course prescribed by the fugitive act, and proceeded to explain, in a detailed manner, what the course should be in such cases. As the claimant thus failed to make out his case, the prisoner was ordered to be discharged.

Boston, about 25th October. Attempt to seize William and Ellen Craft. William Craft armed himself, and kept within his shop. Ellen was concealed in the house of a friend. Their claimants, named Hughes & Knight, were indicted for defamation of character, in calling W.C. a slave, and brought before a magistrate. The feeling excited against them was so great, that they at length fled from the city. Shortly after, it being considered hazardous for Mr. and Mrs. Craft to remain in the country, they were enabled to escape to England.

In a letter, dated Macon, Georgia, Nov. 11, John Knight gives a particular account of the proceedings and experiences of himself and his friend Hughes, on their then recent visit to Boston for the purpose, to quote his own language, “of re-capturing William and Ellen Craft, the negroes belonging to Dr. Collins and Ira Taylor.” Willis H. Hughes also published his statement.

New Albany, Indiana. A woman and boy given up, and taken to Louisville. They were so white that, even in Kentucky, a strong feeling arose in their favor on that ground. They were finally bought for $600, and set free.

Adam Gibson, Philadelphia, December 21, 1850. Surrendered by Edward D. Ingraham, United States Commissioner. The case was hurried through in indecent haste, testimony being admitted against him of the most groundless character. One witness swore that Gibson’s name was Emery Rice. He was taken to Elkton, Maryland. There, Mr. William S. Knight, his supposed owner, refused to receive Gibson, saying he was not the man, and he was taken back to Philadelphia.

What compensation has the United States Government ever made to Adam Gibson, for the injurious act of its agent, Ingraham? Had not the Slaveholder been more honorable than the Commissioner or the makers of the Fugitive Law, Gibson would have been in Slavery for life.

Henry Long, New York, December, 1850. Brought before Commissioner Charles M. Hall, claimed as the fugitive slave of John T. Smith of Russell County, Virginia. After five or six days’ proceedings, there being some doubt of the Commissioner’s legal right to act, the alleged fugitive, Long, was taken before Judge Judson, District Judge of the United States. The Castle Garden Union Safety Committee retained Mr. George Wood in this case, as counsel for the slave claimant. Long was surrendered by Judge Judson, and taken to Richmond, Virginia. Judge J. was complimented by the Washington Union as “a clear-headed, competent, and independent officer, who has borne himself with equal discretion, liberality, and firmness. Such judges as he,” continues the Union, “are invaluable in these times of turmoil and agitation.” At Richmond, Long was advertised to be sold at public auction. On Saturday, January 18th, he was sold, amid the jeers and scoffs of the spectators, for $750, to David Clapton, of Georgia. The auctioneers (Pullam & Slade), in commencing, said there was one condition of the sale. Bonds must be given by the purchaser that this man shall be carried South, and that he shall be kept South, and sold, if sold again, to go South; and they declared their intention to see the terms fully complied with. Long was subsequently advertised for sale at Atlanta, Georgia.

Near Coatsville, Chester County, Penn. On a writ issued by Commissioner Ingraham, Deputy Marshal Halzell and other officers, with the claimant of an alleged fugitive, at night, knocked at the door of a colored family, and asked for a light to enable them to mend their broken harness. The door being opened for this purpose, the marshal’s party rushed in, and said they came to arrest a fugitive slave. Resistance was made by the occupant of the house and others, and the marshal’s party finally driven off—the slave owner advising that course, and saying, “Well, if this is a specimen of the pluck of Pennsylvania negroes, I don’t want my slaves back.” The master of the house was severely wounded in the arm by a pistol shot; still he maintained his ground, declaring the marshal’s party should not pass except by first taking his life.

Marion, Williamson County, Ill., about December 10, 1850. Mr. O’Havre, of the city police, Memphis, Tennessee, arrested and took back to Memphis a fugitive slave, belonging to Dr. Young. He did so, as the Memphis paper states, only “after much difficulty and heavy expense, being strongly opposed by the Free Soilers and Abolitionists, but was assisted by Mr. W. Allen, member of Congress, and other gentlemen.”

Philadelphia, about January 10, 1851. G.F. Alberti and others seized, under the Fugitive Slave Law, a free colored boy, named JOEL THOMPSON, alleging that he was a slave. The boy was saved.

Stephen Bennett, Columbia, Penn., arrested as the slave of Edward B. Gallup, of Baltimore. Taken before Commissioner Ingraham; thence, by habeas corpus, before Judge Kane. He was saved only by his freedom being purchased by his friends.

The Huntsville (Ala.) Advocate, of January 1, 1851, said that Messrs. Markwood & Chester had brought back “seven of their Slaves” from Michigan.

The Memphis (Tenn.) Eagle, of a later date, says that within a few weeks “at least five fugitive slaves have been brought back to this city, from free States, with as little trouble as would be had in recovering stray cows.” The same paper adds, “We occasionally receive letters notifying us that a slave, said to be the property of some one in this vicinity, has been lodged in jail in Illinois or Indiana, for his owner, who will please call, pay charges, and take him away.”

In Boston, end of January, 1851. A colored man, lately from North Carolina, was sought by officers, under Marshal Devens, aided by a lawyer, named Spencer, provided by the New York Union Safety Committee. The arrest was not attempted. It was found that the colored man was too strongly guarded and protected.

Mrs. Tamor, or Euphemia Williams, Philadelphia, February, 1851, mother of six children, arrested and brought before Commissioner Ingraham, as the slave Mahala, belonging to William T.J. Purnell, of Worcester County, Maryland, admitted to have been absent since 1829—twenty-two years. Children all born in Pennsylvania; oldest about seventeen—a girl. Her husband also in custody, and alleged to be the slave of another man. Under writ of habeas corpus, Mrs. Williams was taken before Judge Kane, of the United States Circuit Court. After a full hearing, she was discharged, as not being the woman alleged.

Shadrach, in Boston, February 15, 1851. Arrested in Taft’s Cornhill Coffee House, by deputies of United States Marshal Devens, on a warrant issued by George T. Curtis, United States Commissioner, on the complaint of John Caphart, attorney of John De Bree, of Norfolk, Va. Seth J. Thomas appeared as counsel for Caphart. After a brief hearing before G.T. Curtis, Commissioner, the case was adjourned to the following Tuesday. Shortly after the adjournment, the court-room was entered by a body of men, who bore away the prisoner, Shadrach. After which he was heard of in Montreal, Canada, having successfully, with the aid of many friends, escaped the snares of all kidnappers, in and out of Boston. The acting President, Millard Filmore, issued his proclamation, countersigned by Daniel Webster, Secretary of State, requiring prosecutions to be commenced against all who participated in the rescue.

Shawneetown, Illinois. A woman was claimed by Mr. Haley, of Georgia, as his slave; and was delivered up to him by two Justices of the Peace, (early in 1851.)

Madison, Indiana. George W. Mason, of Davies County, Kentucky, arrested a colored man, named Mitchum, who, with his wife and children, lived near Vernon. The case was tried before a Justice of the Peace, named Basnett, who was satisfied that Mitchum was Davis’s slave, and had left his service nineteen years before. The slave was accordingly delivered up, and was taken to Kentucky, (Feb. 1851.)

Clearfield County, Penn., about 20th January, 1851. A boy was kidnapped and taken into slavery.—Mercer (Pa.) Presbyterian.

Near Ripley, Ohio. A fugitive slave, about January 20, killed his pursuer. He was afterwards taken and carried back to slavery.

Burlington, Lawrence County, Ohio, near the end of February, 1851, four liberated slaves were kidnapped, re-enslaved, and sold. Efforts were made to bring the perpetrators of this nefarious act to punishment, and restore the victims to freedom.

At Philadelphia, early in March, 1851, occurred the case of the colored woman Helen or Hannah, and her son, a child of tender years. She was taken before a Commissioner, and thence, by writ of habeas corpus, before Judge Kane. An additional question arose from the fact that the woman would soon become the mother of another child. Judge Kane decided that she was the property of John Perdu, of Baltimore, together with her son, and her unborn child, and they were all surrendered accordingly, and taken into slavery.

Pittsburg, March 13, 1851. Richard Gardiner was arrested in Bridgewater, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, claimed as the property of Miss R. Byers, of Louisville, Kentucky. Judge Irwin, of the United States District Court, “remanded the fugitive back to his owner.” He was afterwards bought for $600, and brought into a free State.

The Wilmington (Del.) Journal, in March, 1851, says kidnapping has become quite frequent in that State; and speaks of a negro kidnapped in that city, on the previous Wednesday night, by a man who had been one of the city watchmen.

Thomas Sims, arrested in Boston, April 4, 1851, at first on pretence of a charge of theft. But when he understood it was as a fugitive from slavery, he drew a knife and wounded one of the officers. He was taken before Commissioner George T. Curtis. To guard against a repetition of the Shadrach rescue, the United States Marshal, Devens, aided by the Mayor (John P. Bigelow) and City Marshal (Francis Tukey) of Boston, surrounded the Court House, in Boston, with heavy chains, guarded it by a strong extra force of police officers, with a strong body of guards also within the building, where the fugitive was imprisoned as well as tried. Several military companies also were called out by the city authorities, and kept in readiness night and day to act against the people, should they attempt the deliverance of Sims; Faneuil Hall itself being turned into barracks for these hirelings of slavery. Every effort was made by S.E. Sewall, Esq., Hon. Robert Rantoul, Jr., and Charles G. Loring, Esq., to save Sims from being returned into slavery, and Boston from the eternal and ineffaceable disgrace of the act. But in vain. The omnipotent Slave Power demanded of Boston a victim for its infernal sacrifices. Millard Fillmore, Daniel Webster, and their numerous tools, on the Bench, in Commissioners’ seats, and other official stations, or in hopes of gaining such stations bye and bye, had fallen upon their faces before the monster idol, and sworn that the victim should be prepared. Thomas Sims was ordered back to slavery by Commissioner G.T. Curtis, and was taken from the Court House, in Boston, early on the morning of April 11th, [1851,] to the Brig Acorn, lying at the end of Long Wharf, and thence in the custody of officers, to Savannah, Georgia.

There, after being lodged in jail, and severely and cruelly whipped, as was reported, he was at length sold, and became merged and lost in the great multitude of the enslaved population. The surrender of Sims is said to have cost the United States Government $10,000; the City of Boston about as much more; and Mr. Potter, the claimant of Sims, about $2,400, making a total of some $22,000, directly expended on the case.

Vincennes, Indiana, April, 1851. Four fugitive slaves were seized, claimed by one Mr. Kirwan, of or near Florence, Alabama. The magistrate, named Robinson, gave up the fugitives, and they were taken into slavery.

In Salisbury Township, Penn., April, 1851, an elderly man was kidnapped and carried into Maryland.

Near Sandy Hill, Chester County, Penn., in March, 1851, a very worthy and estimable colored man, named Thomas Hall, was forcibly seized, his house being broken into by three armed ruffians, who beat him and his wife with clubs. He was kidnapped.

Moses Johnson, Chicago, Illinois, brought before a United States Commissioner, discharged as not answering to the description of the man claimed.

Charles Wedley, kidnapped from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and taken into Maryland. He was found, and brought back.

Cincinnati, Ohio, June 3, 1851, an attempt to arrest a fugitive was made. But a scuffle ensued, in which the man escaped.

Cincinnati, Ohio. About the same time, some slaves, (number not stated,) belonging to Rev. Mr. Perry and others, of Covington, Kentucky, were taken in Cincinnati, and carried back to Kentucky.

Philadelphia, end of June, 1851, a colored man was taken away as a slave, by steamboat. A writ of Habeas Corpus was got out but the officer could not find the man. This is probably the same case with that of Jesse Whitman, arrested at Wilkesbarre.

Frank Jackson, a free colored man in Mercer, Penn., was taken, early in 1851, by a man named Charles May, into Virginia, and sold as a slave. He tried to escape, but was taken and lodged in Fincastle jail, Virginia.

Thomas Scott Johnson, free colored man, of New Bedford, was arrested near Portsmouth, Virginia, and was about to be sold as a slave; but, by the strenuous interposition of Capt. Card, certificates were obtained from New Bedford, and he was set at liberty.

Elizabeth Williams, West Chester County, Penn., delivered into slavery by Commissioner Jones. (July, 1851.)

Daniel Hawkins, of Lancaster County, Penn., (July, 1851,) was brought before Commissioner Ingraham, Philadelphia, and by him delivered to his claimant, and he was taken into slavery.

New Athens, Ohio, July 8, 1851. Eighteen slaves, who had escaped from Lewis County, Kentucky, were discovered in an old building in Adams County, Ohio. Some white men, professing to be friendly, misled them, and brought them to a house, where they were imprisoned, bound one by one, and carried back to Kentucky. [The enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law is the direct stimulating cause of all these cases of kidnapping.]

Buffalo, August, 1851. Case of Daniel ——. D. was a cook on board the steamer “Buckeye State.” He was engaged in his avocation, when Benj. S. Rust, with a warrant from United States Commissioner H.K. Smith, went on board the boat. Daniel was called up from below, and as his head appeared above the deck, Rust struck him a heavy blow, upon the head, with a large billet of wood, which knocked him back into the cook-room, where he fell upon the stove and was badly burned. In this state, he was brought before the Commissioner, “bleeding profusely at the back, of the head, and at the nose, and was moreover so stupefied by the assault, that he fell asleep several times during the brief and very summary proceedings.” For most of the time he was unable to converse with his counsel, and “sat dozing, with the blood slowly oozing out of his mouth and nostrils.” After a very hurried form, and mockery of a trial, Daniel was ordered to be delivered to Rust, the Agent of George H. Moore, of Louisville, Kentucky. By a writ of Habeas Corpus, Daniel was brought before Judge Coakling, of the United States Court, at Auburn, who gave a decision that set Daniel at liberty, and he was immediately hurried by his friends into Canada. Rust was indicted, in Buffalo, for his brutal assault on Daniel. It was fully proved; he afterwards plead guilty, and; was let off with the paltry fine of fifty dollars.

John Bolding, arrested in Poughkeepsie, New York, claimed as the property of Barret Anderson, of Columbia, S.C. Bolding was a young man, of good character, recently married, and had a small tailor’s shop in P. He said he was told, when a boy, that he was the son of a white man. He was tried before United States Commissioner Nelson, who ordered him to be delivered up to his claimants, and he was taken quietly from the city to Columbia, S.C. The sum of $2,000 was raised in New York, and paid to Bolding’s owner, who had consented to take that sum for him, and Bolding returned to his family in Poughkeepsie.

Christiana, Lancaster County, Penn., Sept. 1851. Edward Gorsuch, (represented as a very pious member of a Methodist Church in Baltimore,) with his son Dickinson, accompanied by the Sheriff of Lancaster County, Pa., and by a Philadelphia officer named Henry Kline, went to Christiana to arrest certain slaves of his, who, (as he had been privately informed by a wretch, named Wm. M. Padgett,) were living there. An attack was made upon the house, the slave-holder declaring (as was said) that he “would not leave the place alive without his slaves.” “Then,” replied one of them, “you will not leave here alive.” Many shots were fired on both sides, and the slave-hunter, Edward Gorsuch, was killed.

At a subsequent trial, a number of persons (nearly forty) were committed to take their trial for “treason against the United States, by levying war against the same, in resisting by force of arms the execution of the Fugitive Slave Law.” Castner Hanway was of the number. After suffering imprisonment and being subjected to great loss of time and heavy expenses, they were all discharged.

Syracuse, October 1, 1851. Jerry, claimed as the slave of John McReynolds, of Marion County, Missouri, was brought to trial before Commissioner J.F. Sabine. He was rescued by a large body of men from the officers who had him in custody, and was next heard of in Canada.

James R. Lawrence, a lawyer of Syracuse, acted as counsel for James Lear, attorney of McReynolds.

[N.B. Daniel Webster’s prophecy was not fulfilled.]

Columbia, Penn., (fall of 1851.) Man named Henry, arrested as the slave of Dr. Duvall, of Prince George’s County, Maryland,—taken to Harrisburg, before United States Commissioner McAllister and by him consigned to slavery.

Judge Denning, of Illinois, discharged a negro brought before him as a fugitive slave, on the ground that the Fugitive Slave Law was unconstitutional.

Two alleged slaves arrested at Columbia, Penn., on warrant of United States Commissioner McAllister,—claimed as property of W.T. McDermott, of Baltimore. One was carried into slavery, one escaped. (November, 1851.)

Near New Philadelphia, Maryland, a woman, married to a free colored man, with whom she had lived ten years, was arrested as the slave of a Mr. Shreve, of Louisville, Kentucky. She was taken back to Kentucky.

Rachel Parker, free colored girl, kidnapped from house of Joseph S. Miller, West Nottingham, Penn., by the “notorious Elkton Kidnapper, McCreary,” Dec. 31, 1851. Mr. Miller tracked the kidnappers to Baltimore, and tried to recover the girl, but in vain. On his way home, he was induced to leave the cars, and was undoubtedly murdered,—it was supposed in revenge of the death of Gorsuch at Christiana. Mr. Miller’s body was found suspended from a tree. A suit was brought in the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, for the freedom of Rachel Parker, Jan. 1853. Over sixty witnesses, from Pennsylvania, attended to testify to her being free-born, and that she was not the person she was claimed to be; although, in great bodily terror, she had, after her capture, confessed herself the alleged slave! So complete and strong was the evidence in her favor, that, after an eight days’ trial, the claimants abandoned the case, and a verdict was rendered for the freedom of Rachel, and also of her sister, Elizabeth Parker, who had been previously kidnapped, and conveyed to New Orleans.

McCreary was demanded by Gov. Bigler, of Pennsylvania, to be delivered up for trial on a charge of kidnapping; but Gov. Lowe, of Maryland, refused to surrender him. See Standard, July 2, 1853.

James Tasker, New York City, (Feb. 1852,) arrested through the treachery of Police Officer Martin, and brought before United States Commissioner George W. Morton, as the slave of Jonathan Pinckney, of Maryland. He was given up, and taken back to slavery.

Horace Preston, arrested in Williamsburg, New York, as the slave of William Reese, of Baltimore, Maryland;—Richard Busteed, of New York, being Attorney for the slaveholder. He was brought before United States Commissioner Morton, 1st April, 1852; for several days previous he had been kept a prisoner, and his wife knew not what had become of him. He was given up by the Commissioner, and was carried into slavery. The same policeman, Martin, (who acted in the case of James Tasker,) was active in this case; being, doubtless, the original informant.

Preston was afterwards bought for about $1,200, and brought back


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

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