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Slavery in Pennsylvania and Surrounding States

  NEW!!   Abduction of the Butler Family of Cumberland County


Bill Concerning Fugitive Slaves

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Feb 22, 1826

Harrisburg, Feb. 13

Fugitive Slaves

The bill that has grown out of the application of the Legislature of Maryland relative to fugitive slaves was the leading topic of Debate in the House of Representatives of this State during the last week. Messrs. Maclean, Scroggs, Brown, Heston, Petrikin, Waln, Anderson and Ellis opposed the bill. Messrs. Roberts, Irwin, Baker, Huling, Middleswarth, Blythe and Meredith supported it.


Freed Slaves from Virginia sail to Liberia (1832)

Star and Republican Banner (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)

August 14, 1832

The brig America sailed from Norfolk for Liberia on the 25th ult., having on board 127 free people of color – 102 of them liberated slaves, whose former owners have furnished them with an ample stock of clothing, groceries, agricultural and household utensils and tools of every kind necessary to assist them on their arrival in Africa to furnish their settlements. 16 of those, who are very valuable, were emancipated by Mrs. Page of Jefferson county, Virginia, the sister of Bishop Mead.


Death Before Slavery

The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
July 22, 1833
Page 3 Column 1

A few days since, as the laborers employed on the Providence Aqueduct were at work in excavating the earth in the rear of Dyer’s Block, Broad street, they fell upon the bones of a human being, apparently belonging to a man of the age of thirty or forty years. The finding of the bones elicited a variety of conjecture, and whilst one was of opinion, that they belonged to some poor creature who fell a victim to Masonic vengeance, another was decidedly impressed with the belief, that they were the bones of one who had been murdered for his money.

In the midst of all this speculation, the venerable Captain Turpin Smith, from the stores of his memory shed a flood of light on the subject. According to Captain Smith, the bones unquestionably belonged to an unfortunate negro, who preferred the repose of the grave to a life of suffering and bondage. Thus was Capt. Smith’s story:

About the year 1758, seventy-five years ago, a sloop came to this port, from the Island of Curacoa, commanded and manned by three men of color, descended from the fathers of Africa. The sloop, in consequence of some informality in her papers, was seized, and the companions of her voyage were adjudged to be "contraband goods:, and it was decreed by the colonial courts, that they should be sold in perpetual bondage, for the benefit of his Majesty of England.

The day of the sale at length arrived, and the unoffending negroes were offered for sale at public auction "at the foot of the hill" near the place where the bones of which we have spoken were found. – When the Auctioneer had commenced the sale, one of the blacks stepped forward, and in the presence of the throng that had assembled, said, that if he were sold, he would kill himself on the spot, and thus escape that slavery to which he was not entitled. The Auctioneer considered the avowals of the black were rant and bravado, and in a few minutes sold him to a speculator in "bones and sinews." The moment the auctioneer had declared the sale, the indignant and despair-stricken negro, thrust a dagger to his heart, and instantly died on the spot! A hole was soon dug, into which he was thrust without ceremony, and there he has probably reposed until removed by the excavation a few days since. – City Gazette.


Abduction of the Butler Family of Cumberland County

A brief paragraph was published in your paper last week stating the fact that a gross outrage had been perpetrated in Cumberland County, in this State, by the abduction of a colored family therefrom [sic] into slavery. I am in correspondence with a highly respectable gentleman in the town of Carlisle, who has put me in possession of the particulars of the case, the chief of which I propose to give you, and they are as follows:

The family abducted consisted of a man named Butler, his wife and one child. They lived on the southern border of Cumberland County, near to a place known as Weakley's saw mill, which is within 12 or 15 miles of the Maryland line. They had come there from Adams County, and were highly esteemed by their neighbors—so says the Carlisle American—`for their industry, sobriety and general good behavior.'

This unoffending and meritorious family was on the night of the 10th inst., as appears from subsequent developments, stealthily seized and forcibly carried into Maryland as slaves. The next morning the family were missing, and the house was found empty. Articles of clothing were strewn around in confusion. The bread which had been put to rise for Saturday's baking stood on the hearth ready to be worked for the oven. The bed in which the little girl had been wont to sleep showed by its rumpled state that it had been robed of its occupant. Outside, a carriage track was discovered, leading first to the house and thence to Paper Town, a village on the Baltimore Turnpike, where it was lost. The whole affair had been conducted with profound secrecy. Four or five white families live within a stone's throw of the house, but they heard nothing of the occurrence, and knew not what had transpired till the next morning. It was evident that the parties were well acquainted with the neighborhood, and well skilled in their business.

The people in the vicinity are much excited by the outrage, and the greatest indignation pervades the whole township. The leading men of the district, including such as the Peffers, Woods, Morrisons, Sterretts, &c., ex press themselves determined, at any cost, to bring the perpetrators to punishment. They have taken the matter vigoriously [sic] in hand, and already have arrested and lodged in jail two of the offenders; one proves to have been a resident of the neighborhood, the other lived in Littletown, Maryland. The latter was the chief actor in the nefarious business. His name is Myers. He admits that he carried off the negroes, and claims to have acted under legal authority. He came, he says, about two weeks since, with papers duly made out, authorizing him to arrest the parties in question.

He called on the United States Commissioner, Thomas M. Biddle, who informed him that he had resigned his office. He then went back to Frederick—where the reputed owner lives—and got authority from the Court to come and carry them off by force, which he did. He professes to stand upon the law, and appears to have no scruples as to the character of the transaction. He doesn't hesitate to say that he follows the business of hunting up runaways, and expresses himself as confident that he will be released in a few days on bail. He is said to be an ill-conditioned fellow, with a hang-dog look that well befits his calling. He formerly had his abode in Adams County, but that he might be more convenient to his business, and more secure in its prosecution, he moved across the line.— His house is quite close to the boundary.

The manner in which this miscreant was caught is worth relating. When his connection with the abduction was ascertained, the services of Sheriff McCartney were put in requisition for his arrest; a more competent person could hardly have been found, for Mr. Cartney, from a long experience in the same line of business, was well up to the ways of border negro catchers. It is a comfort to think that the skill thus acquired is to be employed hereafter against rascals with whom he used to co-operate.

Myers, if taken on a Pennsylvania process, had to be caught this side of the Maryland line. Of this McCartney was well aware. Myers's house is within thirty or forty yards of the boundary, close to the public road. A Justice of the Peace living in the neighborhood was persuaded by the Sheriff to co-operate in making the arrest. He sent word to Myers—McCartney lying in wait—that he wanted him to come over and witness an affidavit. The bait did not take; word was brought back that Myers was `not well.'

Another expedient was adopted. McCartney crossed the line, unobserved, and took the stage which was coming to Pennsylvania, past Myers's house, which stands on the side of a hill. He enlisted the driver in his service, and gave him his cue. Handing him a large printed bill, headed `Reward for Runaways,' he said: `Put your horses briskly down the hill; pretend, until you get over the line, that you can't hold them; as you pass Myers's house, hold up the handbills, and hallo, “Letter from the Sheriff,” and seem as though you had more to say if your horses would only stop.'

The driver followed directions, and the ruse succeeded. Myers followed the stage to the place where it stopped across the line; McCartney, jumping from his seat inside, seized him, saying, `You are my prisoner.' The prisoner made fight, grabbing for the Sheriff's neck. A scuffle ensued, in which the former was thrown upon his back, and with the aid of one of the passengers whose help was invoked, was handcuffed and made secure. He was brought to the county jail at Carlisle, in which he is now a prisoner. His intended victims are in the jail at Frederick. It is alleged by some that they are really slaves, and that `Butler' is an assumed name. Their story is that he, Butler, was legally entitled to his freedom after serving two more years; that the daughter, who is now 13, was to be free at 28; and that his wife is a free woman.

The facts of the case have not yet been fully assertained,[sic] but the men who have taken it in hand are determined, so far as it may be in their power, to see that full justice is done to all parties, innocent and guilty. Some of the Carlisle lawyers express the opinion that if these people should be proved to be slaves, as alleged, Myers will have been guilty of no legal offence; that it is the right of the slave- holder, under the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Prigg vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to seize his property wherever he may find it. This falls in with opinions expressed here, at the time of the decision in the Daniel Webster case, by some of the Vandyke partisans. It was proposed to re-arrest Daniel and carry him off summarily, under the Prigg decision. The Fugitive Slave law of 1850 these men said was cumulative, and did not set aside other methods authorized for the rendition of slaves. They did not try the expedient; but it is not improbable that their Southern brethren have been advised that there was no use of attempting to recover their runaways under the act of 1850, and that they had best fall back on the club law laid down in the Supreme Court in the Prigg case, and successfully acted upon in several instances in this State.

Well are we satisfied that this should be the resort hereafter. It will hasten the final issue If force is to be the word, the slave- holders will find that that is a game at which two can play. They had better remember the fate of Gorsuch. Besides, Pennsylvania has laws made and provided for the preservation of the peace and of the rights of her citizens in such cases, and it will not be easy for Frederick County Courts or other slave- holding tribunals to override these laws.

—Grave questions of jurisdiction will be raised, by no means favorable to Slavery.

I propose, if there should be nobody else to do it better, to keep you informed of what may transpire in this case in the course of its progress.

[Douglas Monthly, July 1, 1859 - Contributed by Candi Horton]


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