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March 13, 1851
Fugitive Slave Excitement at Wilkesbarre
Several Slave hunters have recently visited Wilkesbarre, in pursuit of their human game, but though officially aided and cheered on, by the Slave Catching Commissioner, one Eleazer Carey, they returned empty to chew and digest their defeat as they might. On account of some of their heroic adventures, is given by the Wilkesbarre Advocate from which we quote:
"At one time it was said about 200 blacks were congregated together, and part of them armed. A military company was called out by the commissioner. They paraded making a fine appearance, and march to the appointed place. Their object was to protect the officer in the execution of the Commissioner's writ. Finding no colored men, the military returned and were dismissed.
At another time some patriotic young men readily responded to the call of an officer appointed by the commissioner, and formed a posse to aid in searching for fugitive slaves. They repaired to the appointed place, but found no men, only a few women, most of whom were without means of defense, except two or three, who had a few butcher knives and a pot or two of hot water, neither of which were used. The young gentlemen were resolute, and made the necessary search without molestation and finding a fugitive."
The Advocate also says that two Southerners, in search of a fugitive, went to the residence of Mr. Jameson Harvey, in Plymouth township, Luzerne county, where they understood the fugitive was employed.
"They met with him as he was returning to Mr. Harvey's with a team. The black swung his whip, when the horses sprung forward, and the man holding one of them fell, and rolled down the hill they were ascending. The black thus made the escape. The pursuers mounted their own wagon and made chase. Ascending another hill, one of their own horses fell down, and rolling over broke the wagon, and thus the black made good his retreat to the house of Mr. Harvey. As he entered, the two Southern men approached hastily, with cocked pistols in hand. The black, we understand, aided by a female who happened to be there at the time, fastened the doors. He then fled to his bed room, where he armed himself with two loaded pistols".
Mr. Harvey, being absent at the time, was sent for. This was not in his power to comply with, as the man was armed, and threatened that he would not be taken. The pursuers being also armed, Mr. Harvey objected to any bloody work about his residence, and the men returned to town without the black, and made preparations to prosecute Mr. Harvey at Williamsport. Afterwards learning that the slave was valued at $600, Mr. Harvey, not knowing whither he had gone, offered to give the men $600 if they would manumit the slave. This they refused to take, preferring to pursue Mr. Harvey with the law. (Pennsylvania Freeman - Newspaper Article)
June 27, 1851
A Fugitive Slave from Eastern Pennsylvania
Yesterday, at noon, George H. Roset, Esq., Assistant U. S. Marshal for the Western District of Pennsylvania, reached this city in the Reading cars, from Wilkesbarre, having in custody Jesse Whitman, a fugitive slave, whom he arrested at Wilkesbarre on Saturday last. Marshal Roset was accompanied by Messrs. W. H. Beaumont, Jacob Cooper, and George Fell, who assisted in Whitman's capture.
Marshal Keyser having been telegraphed to meet the parties at the depot, was promptly on the spot with an efficient police force, and accompanied the United States officers and their charge to the Baltimore boat, on which they took passage for Maryland at two o'clock.
Whitman is a large, powerful negro, and fought desperately before surrendering himself. He struck Marshal Roset twice upon the head with a heavy cart whip, and drew a large sheath knife, for which he doubtless have used has it not been for the timely and efficient aid of Messrs. Beaumont, Fell, Cooper and Seaman. Whitman belongs to John Conrad, Esq., of Loudon County, Virginia.
The matter was managed so quietly, as far as Philadelphia was concerned, that very few persons heard of either the arrival or departure of the fugitive. Some of the colored porters, wood sawyers, stevedores, and other employees along the wharves, indulged in threats, but they were overawed by the presence of officers of the law, and made no attempt at rescue. An effort was made to detain the slave by a writ of Habeas Corpus, but the boat shoved off before it could be executed. - Philadelphia Gazette, 24th. (Daily Atlas - Newspaper Article)
September 16, 1853
From the New York Tribune
A Scene of Cruelty and Bloodshed
Wilkesbarre, Pa., Sept. 3, 1853
A most disgraceful and brutal occurrence took place here this morning, which I shall take the liberty of communicating to you, thinking it probable that no other person here may take the trouble. Being an eye-witness, I have given nothing but what you may rely upon as facts.
About 7 o'clock this morning, an attempt was made by a person calling himself 'Deputy Marshall Wynkoop' (a brother to Colonel Wynkoop), another answering to the name of 'Joe Jenkins', and three other assistants from Virginia, to arrest as a fugitive slave a colored waiter, in the dining room of the Phoenix Hotel, in this place.
Immediately after receiving their breakfast at the hands of 'Bill', the unsuspecting fugitive, who is a tall, noble-looking, remarkably intelligent and active mulatto, they suddenly, from behind, knocked him down with a mace, and partially shackled him; but, by a desperate effort, and after a most severe struggle, with the whole five upon him, he shook them off, and with the aid of his handcuffs, which were only fast upon his right wrist, he inflicted some hard wounds on the countenances of some of the Southerners, the marks of which they will probably carry to their graves.
But, notwithstanding the fearful odds against him, he managed to break from their grasp, and with the loss of everything upon him but a part of his shirt, and covered with blood, he rushed from the house, and plunged into the river close by, exclaiming, 'I will be drowned rather than taken alive'. His pursuers fired twice at him on his way to the river, without checking his speed, and, on reaching the bank, they presented their large revolvers, and called on the fugitive, who stood up to his neck in the water, to ' come out and surrender himself, or they would blow his brains out'. He replied, 'I will die first'. They then deliberately fired at him four or five different times, the last ball supposed to have struck on his head, for his face was instantly covered with blood, and the poor fellow sprang and shrieked out in agony, and no doubt would have sunk, but for the buoyancy of the water holding him up. The people around, who had by this time collected in large numbers, were becoming excited, and could no longer refrain from crying out 'Shame, shame!' which had the effect of causing the Southerners to retire short distance, in evident consultation.
The slave, not seeing his pursuers, came to the shore; but not being able to support himself in the water, he lay down on the edge, completely exhausted, became senseless, and was supposed to be dying, on hearing the slave-catchers remarked coolly, that 'Dead niggers were not worth taking South'. Some one shortly brought a pair of pantaloons and put on the fugitive, who, in a few minutes, unexpectedly revived, and was walking off from the river, partly held up by another colored man, named Rex; on seeing which, his pursuers again headed him, drew and presented their revolvers, and called upon him to stop, threatening to shoot any one who assisted the fugitive. The white friends of Rex instantly shouted, 'Stand away! Stand away, Rex! You'll get shot, too.' This was bad advice, as they would not have dared to shoot at that time, and it had the effect of encouraging the pirates, who kept advancing toward the fugitive, and at the same tie intimidated Rex, who drew back, exclaiming to the slave, ''Put., Bill, to the water again; don't be taken alive'.
The poor fellow, seeing himself alone, for there was a general drawback on the revolvers being presented, turned and plunged into the river again, where he remained upward of an hour, with nothing above water but his head, covered with blood, and i full view of the hundreds who lined the high banks. His claimants dared not follow him into the water, for, as he afterward remarked, 'He would have died contented could he have carried two or three of them down with him'. In the mean time, some of the citizens, thinking there was no law justifying such barbarity, were taking means to have the kidnappers arrested.
Judge Collins, one of our most respected citizens, and several others, questioned them as to their names and authority, to which they replied, ' He was more like a lunatic than a Judge', etc. They soon, however, saw the sentiment of the community was strong against them, and drove off before an officer could be found to arrest them. A telegraphic dispatch to the constable in Hazleton caused their detention there; but he was overawed by such pompous U. S. officers, and they were allowed to go again.
After their departure, the fugitive, afraid to come out there again, waded some distance up stream, and got out above, and was found by some colored women, flat on his face in a corn field. The women carried him to a place of safety, dressed his wounds, and at night he will be far on his way towards Canada.
Such are the plain, unvarnished facts. you cannot overstate the barbarity of the scene, the excitement of the people, or the ferocity of the slave-catchers, but having recently felt the rigors of the Fugitive Slave Law here, there was a general fear of the officers, who bullied and browbeat any one who ventured to speak above his breath, exclaiming occasionally, 'Gentleman, you can have him for $1,000; but we are U. S. officers; resist us at your peril".
We felt ashamed of our country, and almost longed to be in Austria or Russia, where human rights are more respected.
Nothing in Mrs. Stowe's work equaled this in brutality displayed by this Pennsylvania Marshal and the Virginia slave-hunters. Had some bold spirit led the way, the citizens would have demolished them on the spot. As it is, the result has been good.
The bloodthirsty villains were baffled, the 'property' escaped, (though probably a cripple for life, if indeed he does live, for he was quite light-headed during the day,) and there has been more anti-slavery feeling excited, and more hatred to the Fugitive Slave Law aroused, then could have been done with years of lectures or addresses. (Liberator - Newspaper Article)
October 13, 1853
The Wilkesbarre Slave Case
Arrest of the Deputy Slave Catchers
On Tuesday afternoon of last week, after our form was made up, a warrant issued by a magistrate of Wilkebarre, on the oath of Mr. William C. Gildersleeve, a highly respectable citizen of that borough, was served by the High Constable of Wilkesbarre, upon John Jenkins and James Creisson, two of Commissioner Ingraham's slave catching deputies, charging them with a riot, and an assault and battery on Bill Thomas, an alleged fugitive slave with an intent to kill him. The warrant also included the name of George Wynkoop, but Mr. Wynkoop being absent from the city, it was not served upon him. Soon after their arrest, upon petition of certain friends of these deputies, Judge Grier granted a writ of habeus corpus to bring the High Constable and his prisoners before the U. S. circuit Court, and on Wednesday morning the case came up before Judge Grier. The Bulletin, which will not be suspected of any wish to represent the Judge's conduct in an unfavorable light, thus reports the proceedings of the Court:
Mr. Jackson, for the High Constable of Wilkesbarre, read his answer to the Court, in which he admits that he held the Deputy Marshal in custody, but alleged that he did so by legal authority, having arrested them on a warrant issued by Gilbert Burrows, a magistrate of Wilkesbarre, on the action of William C. Gildersleeve, a citizen of Wilkesbarre.
Judge Grier, sternly: Who is William C. Gildersleeve?
Marshal Wynkoop: Your honor, he is an abolitionist of Wilkesbarre.
Mr. Jackson: He is a respectable storekeeper of that borough.
Judge Grier: Was the assault and battery committed on him?
District Attorney Ashmead: No, sir; he did not allege it.
Judge Grier: Oh! Oh!
District Attorney Ashmead said he would now read the petition for the habeas corpus... (petition read)
Judge Grier: I take it for granted that the facts set forth in the petition are true, and I shall rely upon them, unless they are shown to be false.
Mr. Brown: We rely upon the warrant of the magistrate, issued upon the oath of a citizen.
Judge Grier: If you deny what is set forth in the petition, I will hear the facts in the case. I will not have the officers of the United States harassed at every step in the performance of their duties by every petty magistrate who chooses to harass them, or by any unprincipled interloper who chooses to make complaints against them, for I know something of the man who makes the complaint. The laws of the United States arte binding against me, and I will not take the warrant issued in this case as sufficient to hold these officers.
Mr. Brown: Your honor will perceive, that if murder had been committed, we could not prosecute in a United States court for it.
Judge Grier: There has been no murder committed here. They were acting under a process of the United States, legally issued.
District Attorney Ashmead said that the case was free from difficulty. He called upon the court to vindicate the laws of the United States and its own officers, who were constantly subjected to the most harassing conduct on the part of the men disposed to set the laws of the Union at defiance.
Judge Grier: I shall act as if I had the evidence before me, unless the other side are prepared to deny the facts set forth in the petition. In that case, I shall put the matter off, to give them a chance to submit their testimony. The officers, I suppose, arrested the fugitive, and he resisted; they then used force, to hold him in custody.
Mr. Brown: We deny this. We say that he did not resist, and that he was cruelly beaten. We shall show such a case of barbarity as will appall your Honor.
District Attorney Ashmead: They allege that the officers executed their duties in a riotous manner. They went to the borough, of course, to serve the process which was put into their hands by a U. S. Commissioner, upon the oath of a competent party, countersigned by a Judge of the U. S. Court. They executed their process, and were resisted by their prisoner even to the drawing of a knife upon them, which was put into his hands by one of the bystanders. They were compelled to use sufficient force to secure him, and this the opposite party called rioting. It is not Bill who sues here. They well know he has fled beyond the jurisdiction of this court. To hold the officers to answer, there must be some excess of authority shown in what they did, and the proof is upon them. every officer is prima facie supposed to act in a legal manner. Is every magistrate in the State, numbering probably two thousand, to have power to issue his warrant of arrest against the officers of the United States upon the intervention of any interloper who has the manlihood to swear that the officers exceeded their authority! If this is to be the case, the Marshal himself may be arrested under their warrant, for an alleged improper exercise of his duties, or even the Judges of this Court or the U. S. District Attorney may be subjected to the same annoyance.
Mr. Brown: Your Honor, there was no resistance at all. we put our case upon the excess of authority on the part of the officers. If your honor is determined to go behind the warrant of the Magistrate, we asked to be permitted to show the facts in the case, which will be found to be of the most horrible nature.
District Attorney Ashmead asked the officers be discharged from custody.
Judge Grier: If this man Gildersleeve fails to make out the facts set forth in the warrant of arrest, I will request the Prosecuting Attorney of Luzerne County to prosecute him for perjury. I know that the United States have a limited authority; but where they have it, it is clear, undoubted and conclusive, that theirs is the sovereign authority. If any tuppenny magistrate, or unprincipled interloper can come in, and cause to be arrested, the officers of the United States, whenever they please, it is a sad state of affairs. After a man against whom the U. S. warrant was issues has run away, some fellow intervenes and runs to a State Judge for his interference, and has the U. S. officers arrested. There was a case recently of this kind and to that I now allude. If habeas corpuses are to be taken out after that manner, I will have an indictment sent to the U. S. Grand Jury against the person who applies for the writ, to see whether the United States officers are to be arrested and harassed, whenever they attempt to serve a process of the United States. I speak of what is daily done to thwart the United States in the exercise of her lawful authority. I will see that my officers are protected. When will you be ready with your proofs in this matter, Mr. Brown?
Mr. Brown: This day one week.
Judge Grier: Then upon that day I will hear your proof.
The case then went over until that time.
(Pennsylvania Freeman - Newspaper Article)