Warrants issued for Slaves – Fugitive Slave Law

A warrant was issued in Boston, January 10, 1855, by United States Commissioner Charles Levi Woodbury, for the arrest of John Jackson, as a fugitive from service and labor in Georgia. Mr. Jackson, who had been for some time in the city, was nowhere to be found.

Rosetta Armstead, a colored girl, was taken by writ of habeas corpus before Judge Jamison, at Columbus, Ohio. Rosetta formerly belonged to Ex-President John Tyler, who gave her to his daughter, the wife of Rev. Henry M. Dennison, an Episcopal clergyman of Louisville, Kentucky. Mrs. D. having deceased, Rosetta was to be sent back to Virginia in care of an infant child, both being placed in charge of a Dr. Miller, a friend of Mr. Dennison. Passing through Ohio, the above writ was obtained. Rosetta expressed her desire to remain in freedom in Ohio. The case was removed to Cincinnati, and was delayed until Mr. Dennison could arrive from Louisville. (Ohio State Journal, March 12, 1855.) The girl was set free; “but was again arrested by the United States Marshal upon the same warrant which Judge Parker had declared illegal; thereupon another habeas corpus was issued, which the Marshal refused to obey; when he was fined $50, and imprisoned for contempt.” Even United States Commissioner Pendery, before whom the case was brought as that of a fugitive slave, pronounced the girl free, and she was placed in the care of a guardian. The United States Marshal being taken by habeas corpus before Judge McLean, of the United States Supreme Court, was set at liberty, Judge McL. alleging that the proceedings in the State Court were null and void!

George Clark, a colored boy, eighteen years of age, in Pennsylvania, was decoyed into the house of one Thompson, (February 23, 1855,) where he was seized by three men, one of whom was Solomon Snyders, a well known ruffian and kidnapper in the neighborhood, who said to him, “Now, George, I am going to take you to your master.” The screams of George fortunately brought deliverance to him. The three men were arrested, tried, and sentenced to imprisonment for kidnapping, by the Court of Dauphin County.—Norristown (Penn.) Olive Branch.

The Norristown (Penn.) Olive Branch, (in connection with the last named case,) speaks of a case which had occurred a short time before, under the Fugitive Law, before United States Commissioner McAllister, at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and which has not yet been mentioned in this record. A colored man and his wife, with their infant child, were taken, “one morning, very early,” before Commissioner Richard McAllister, and before any counsel could reach the spot the case had been decided against the man and woman; but the babe, having been born in Pennsylvania, they did not “dare to send that” into slavery; “so the only alternative was to take it away from its mother,” which was done, and that evening the man and woman were taken South. No time had been allowed to bring forward witnesses in their behalf, and there was only a single witness against them, and he a boy about seventeen years old, and a relative of the slave-claimant. The woman’s sufferings, on account of the separation from her child, seemed greater than for her own fate. The article from the Norristown paper is in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, June 2, 1855.

George Mitchell, a young colored man, at San Jose, California, arrested and taken before Justice Allen, April, 1855, “charged with owing service and labor to one Jesse C. Cooper, of Tennessee.” Mitchell was brought into California by his then owner, in 1849, the year before the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law. His arrest was made, under a Fugitive Slave Law of California. By habeas corpus the case was carried before Judge C.P. Hester, of the District Court. Mitchell was discharged on the ground (we believe) that the California Law was unconstitutional; also that the proceedings were “absolutely void.” On the 21st April (or May) “another attempt was made to reduce George to slavery at San Francisco.” He was brought before the United States District Court, Judge Hoffman presiding, claimed under the United States Fugitive Law as the property of the above-named Cooper. [The result of the trial not known.]—San Jose Telegraph.

At Dayville, Connecticut, June 13, 1855, an attempt was made to seize a fugitive slave; “but the citizens interfered and the fugitive escaped.” He was claimed by a resident of Pomfret, who said he had bought him in Cuba.—Hartford Religious Herald.

At Burlington, Iowa, a colored man, called Dick, was arrested and taken before United States Commissioner Frazee. “Much excitement was caused.” He was claimed as belonging to Thomas Ruthford, Clark County, Missouri. Dick was discharged as not being the man claimed. (June, 1855.)

A white girl, fourteen years of age, daughter of Mr. Samuel Godshall, of Downingtown, Chester County, Pennsylvania, while walking upon the road, was seized by two men, a plaster put upon her mouth, and she taken in a close carriage in the direction of Maryland. After going twelve miles, they put her out of the carriage, “in a secluded and woody portion of the country, threatening to kill her if she made any alarm, when they drove away as fast as they could.” Some colored people met her, got the plaster off her mouth, and aided her home. It was supposed the kidnappers mistook her for a mulatto girl; but discovering their blunder dismissed her.— Philadelphia Ledger, July 9, 1855.

The Norristown (Penn.) Herald relates a case similar to the preceding. Benjamin Johnson, a white lad of fifteen, on his way from his father’s, at Evansburg, to S. Jarrett’s, near Jeffersonville, was invited to ride by a man in a carriage. The man took him by an unusual route; night coming on, the boy was alarmed and attempted to escape, “when the villain caught him and drove off at full speed, and by threats and blows prevented him from making any alarm.” He drove to a distance of fifteen miles beyond Jeffersonville, when the boy succeeded in making his escape. (July, 1855.)

Jane Johnson, and her two sons, (colored,) brought into Philadelphia (on their way to New York and thence to Nicaragua) by John H. Wheeler. Stopped to dine at Bloodgood’s Hotel. Jane there made known her desire to be free. Information of the same was conveyed to Passmore Williamson, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, an old association founded by Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and others. Mr. Williamson went to the hotel, and found that the party had gone to the steamboat, at the foot of Walnut Street. He proceeded thither, found them, and told the mother that she and her sons had been legally made free by being brought by their master into a free State. After some delay, Jane rose to leave the boat. Wheeler endeavored to detain her. Williamson held Wheeler back, and the woman went on shore, a number of colored persons taking up the boys and carrying them from the boat. They were enabled to escape. (July 18, 1855.)

The celebrated case of Passmore Williamson followed, before Judge Kane, of the United States District Court. (See “Case of Passmore Williamson,” reported in full, and published in Philadelphia, by Uriah Hunt & Son, 1856.) On the 27th July, Mr. Williamson was committed to Moyamensing Prison, by Judge Kane, “for a contempt of the court in refusing to answer to the writ of habeas corpus;” Mr. W. having answered that he had not, and never had had, the custody of the three alleged slaves, and therefore could not produce them in court. Mr. Williamson was kept in prison until November 3d, when he was discharged by Judge Kane, the technical “contempt” having been removed.

Celeste, a mulatto woman, claimed as a slave, before Judge Burgoyne, Cincinnati, Ohio. It appeared that she was brought to Cincinnati by her master, and she was set free.—Cincinnati Gazette, July 7, 1855.

Two fugitives, in Indiana, (September, 1855,) requested aid of the conductor of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad. The aid given was to take them back to Madison, whence they were conveyed over the river to Kentucky. Before leaving that State they had been hunted and attacked by dogs. These they had dispatched with their knives. The conductor was dismissed from his position. An agent of the express company was said to have aided him in the surrender of the men.—Madison Courier.

Jack, a colored boy, nine years of age, “claimed by Joseph Tucker, of Mobile, as his slave, was sent back to his master from Boston, in the brig Selma, Captain Rogers, on the 18th inst.” (October, 1855.)—Boston Times.

Jacob Green, a colored man, was seized near Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, by one Parsons, as a fugitive slave. Parsons could show no authority for detaining Green, who, with the help of some bystanders, released himself and escaped.—Hollidaysburg Standard, October 24, 1855.

Four men indicted for kidnapping at Greensburg, Indiana, in the Spring of 1855. Their names—David and Thomas Maple, Morrison, and McCloskey. Charged with kidnapping two men, whom they conveyed to a slave state, and sold as slaves. The two Maples, fearing the indictment, absconded. The other two were arrested, and brought to trial in October, 1855, at the State Court, before Judge Logan. “Defendants’ counsel moved to quash the indictment, for the reason that the section of the statute of Indiana against kidnapping was in violation of the acts of Congress, and, therefore, void; and the Court accordingly quashed the indictment. – “—Indianapolis Journal.

Eight fugitives from Kentucky reached Adams County, Ohio, closely followed by several Kentuckians, who attempted to search the houses of several of the citizens. “The people, indignant at this outrage, assembled with arms, and placed an injunction upon these summary proceedings.” “The men-hunters then offered $2,000 to any traitor who would betray the fugitives into their hands. But, so far as we have learned, the bribe was as unsuccessful as the attempted search.” (November, 1855.)— Carroll Free Press.

At Wilson’s Corner, Bensalem, Buck’s County, Pa., Dec. 13, 1855, a colored man in the employ of John Henderson was seized by three men, who tied him, threw him into a wagon, and drove off at full speed. They were seen, and quickly followed by men on horseback. After two hours’ hard riding, the kidnappers were overtaken. A fight ensued—the black man was released; when three pistol-shots were fired by the kidnappers, killing a horse, and wounding one of the rescuing party severely. A statement of the facts was published, as an advertisement, in the Philadelphia Ledger, signed by William Williams and John Henderson.

“Two very bright mulatto girls,” says the Staunton (Va.) Spectator, “one belonging to Mr. John Churchman, and the other to the estate of Colonel Crawford, deceased, took the cars at Staunton, on the morning of December 30, 1855, and made their way successfully to Baltimore, en route for a free State. At Baltimore they were detected just as they were about to take the train for Philadelphia, and information of their arrest was immediately forwarded to D. Churchman, of this place.” On the following Friday they were taken back to Virginia. “They were so nearly white that their success in imposing upon the conductors of the cars is not astonishing, and the only wonder is that they were detected at all. Since their return, the negro girls have been sold—Mr. Churchman’s for $1,050, and the other for $950.”

Fanny, a colored child of fire years old, was taken from Chicago, Illinois, into Tennessee, and sold for $250. A man named F.M. Chapman, with his servant William R. Tracy, were arrested as the kidnappers, and taken before Justice DeWolf. Chapman claimed to have owned the child in Arkansas, and to have brought her to Illinois [thereby making her free.] He procured Tracy to take the child to Tennessee and sell her. The result of the case not known. (January, 1856.)

Two fugitives, passing through Ohio, (January, 1856,) were closely pursued and nearly overtaken at Columbus, Ohio. “Ten minutes previous warning only saved the fugitives from their pursuers.” Deputy Marshal J. Underwood, being called on to act in the case, refused, and resigned his office, saying, he did not expect to be “called upon to help execute the odious Fugitive Slave Law.”—Cincinnati Commercial.

The following may, not improperly, find a place here.

The House of Delegates of Virginia, early in 1856, adopted the following:—”Be it resolved by the General Assembly, That our Representatives in Congress are requested, and our Senators be and are hereby instructed, to secure the passage of a law making full compensation to all owners whose slaves have or may hereafter escape into any of the non-slaveholding States of this Union, and there be withheld from those to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Fourteen persons of color, held at Los Angelos, California, early in 1856, as the servants of one Robert Smith, were brought before Judge Benjamin Hays, on a writ of habeas corpus. Smith alleged that he formerly resided in Mississippi, where he owned these persons; was now about to remove to Texas, and designed to take these persons with him as his slaves. Judge Hays decided that they were all free, and those under twenty-one years of age were placed in the charge of the sheriff, as their special guardian.—Los Angelos Star. The opinion of Judge Hays (who was said to be a native of South Carolina,) is a very able one, and under the circumstances, of much interest. It may be found in the Standard, of April 5, 1856.

Two colored lads, named Ralls and Logan, living in Cincinnati, were kidnapped thence by two men, named Orr and Simpkins, and taken to St. Louis, Missouri, where the men tried to sell them. The men were arrested as kidnappers. (March, 1856.)

The Decatur (Illinois) Chronicle states that “a man charged with being a fugitive slave was recently arrested at that place and carried off, no one knows where. The sheriff of the county was the willing instrument in the hands of the claimants; no attempt to appeal to the law was made, the negro being carried off as if he were a stray horse or dog.” The Chicago Tribune says: “If this is a true statement of the affair, that sheriff has laid himself liable to the charge of kidnapping, and should at once be proceeded against with such rigor as his offence demands.” (April, 1856.)


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

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