The Liberator

Boston, October 1, 1858

Kidnapping at Oberlin! – The People Excited.

(Correspondence of the N.Y. Tribune.)

Oberlin, Ohio, Sept. 14, 1858.

      I was in one of the bookstores about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, when a gentleman came rushing in, pale with excitement, and cried out, ‘They have carried off one of our men in broad daylight, and are an hour on their way already!’

      ‘They can’t have him!’ we all screamed together, and rushed into the street. The news was only just getting out, having come from a gentleman who chanced to meet the fleeing party, a mile or two south of the village. Brief words were spoken, and then a rush to the livery stables. But nearly all the horses were out. Such as could be obtained were speedily on their way. Farmers’ wagons, private carriages, and every back in town were chartered as fast as they could be. In fifteen minutes the square was alive with students and citizens armed with weapons of death. Revolvers slid quietly into their place, rifles were loaded and caped, and shot-guns, muskets, pistols and knives bristled or peeped on every side. The great difficulty experienced in getting conveyances, however, was a serious hindrance, and it was a full hour before I could get started.

      This side of Pittsfield our tire ran off, but in ten minutes we had it on again. So far as we could learn, the kidnappers had taken the road to Wellington, which would be their nearest station on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad; and we knew that if they waited there for the train, they could not get away till 5 o’clock. We pressed on hard, and made the nine miles in a trifle over an hour. Passing through Pittsfield, we hallooed to a group at the store, and bade them join us. Some lying fellow responded, ‘We’re all democrats here!’ Lay that away against election. When we had arrived within two miles of Wellington, a young man met us, driving furiously, and begged us to push on with all possible haste, as the rascals were already overtaken and surrounded! You may guess that no grass grew under our feet. Arrived at last, we dismounted a little outside, and forming in order marched up with arms in sight. Quite a crowd were collected, but only a few seemed resolute, though all were intensely anxious and excited. They received us with great cheering, as they did also the companies that kept constantly arriving thereafter. The parties of whom we were in pursuit were in the second story of the Brick Hotel; but eh landlord, who was a faithful Buchaneer, determined to keep every one out. A Justice of the Peace and his assistants, however, could not be kept out, and went up to make official inquiries. After them also a few of our own company by some means gained admittance, and learning the facts reported them to us.

      It seems that a young colored boy, 18 or 20 years of age, had been wicked enough to run away from somewhere down South, having that disposition to better his circumstances, if possible, than which nothing could be more laudable. Correspondence had been going on with reference to said boy, similar to that I informed you of a few days since, by which means somebody had come for him, but whether it was his master or not, I did not positively learn, and do not care. A man, calling himself U.S. Marshal Lowe, had forms of papers with him, purporting to have been issued by U.S. authorities at Columbus, but mysteriously lacking a seal! There was no assurance whatever, therefore, that these persons had even the shadow of the Great Pirate Act to shield them, and the crowd began to get very ominously restive. By this time the alarm had spread widely, the accessions from Oberlin had become formidable, and the square was nearly full. Hundreds of ladies crowded the sidewalks, the stores, all adjacent windows, and nearest roofs. The crowd began to cry fiercely, ‘Bring him out!’ ‘Bring out the man!’ ‘Out with him!’ ‘Out!’ ‘Out!’ Companies of men, fully armed, repeatedly neared the door, ready for their work; but were met as frequently by the local officials before mentioned, with the solemn assurance that if they would only be patient, the Marshal and his men should be arrested for kidnapping, and be judged by the letter of the law.

      But minutes lengthened into half hours, and half hours, added to each other, drew on the night. The prospect was getting dark. The rumor was rife, and scarcely questioned, that a telegram had been sent to the United States Marshal at Cleveland for military succor, and although they could not come in by the 5 o’clock train, they might charter an extra. The men would wait no longer, and prepared again for the assault. The poor fellow’s pleading face at the attic window stirred the blood too deep for quiet, and the word went round again that he must be brought out! The local officials now withdrew, promising not to interfere in any way. Just now, too, the Marshal approached, under the protection of a constable and one of our party, and, going a few doors one side, drew half the crowd after him to read his papers. He thought that his papers, when exposed to view, would frighten everybody home. Poor man! His simplicity was to be pitied. The warrant of a company of pirates, though they sit in Columbia’s capitol, has no right in it; and the power of Democracy was weakness that day. While the Marshal was reading, the front door was thrown open, and the crowd rushed up, headed by persons who carried no illegal weapons.

      The landlord soon appeared here, however, and seriously hindered those who sought entrance. In a twinkling, therefore, a ladder was placed against the balcony, guarded at both ends by the right me, and all went up who desired. Some picked men were marshaled and led up the second flight of stairs to the attic door. Two or three men were inside to guard the prey, and one or more who had better motives. But resistance was not thought of, for although the assailants would not have harmed the guard so long as they were quiet, the first shot or stroke of resistance would have been answered in kind. After a moment’s hesitation, the door was unfastened from within, opened from without, and the next instant, while the crowd rushed down the front way, huzzaing at the top of their lungs, the prisoner was borne out through a rear door, to a carriage in waiting, and immediately took his departure for the North, amid the shouts of his friends I am informed by an eye-witness, that the slave-holder and his assistant were in the hall, during the ascent to and the descent from the attic, quietly standing aside out of every one’s way, and having no weapons at all in sight.

      Nobody here believes that land-pirates have nay more right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ than water-pirates.

      As soon as the first burst of rejoicing was over, Marshal Lowe appeared at the attic window beside the gentleman who had protected him among the crowd, and begged through his protector to know if his life would be safe now that the black man was given up and gone. The cry was, ‘Yes.” Some one shouted, ‘They will be safe now, if they are never to come again; but if they come again, no one will be accountable for their lives a moment!’ The ‘Aye,’ ‘Aye,’ ‘Aye,’ that indorsed this must have made the gentlemen in question feel queer all the way from their hats to their boots.

      Since writing the above, I am told that the Marshal’s papers were all right, having whatever seal was necessary; but the coward did not serve them, and is there, de facto, at any rate, nothing better than a kidnaper. The fugitive had been sick for some time, and was still weak. But not daring to lay hands on him in Oberlin, they hired a boy to offer him a ride but into the country and back again, and when he drew up to their carriage, tow miles outside the village, they obliged him to change conveyances, and at once hurried him off. They selected the daytime and the diner hour for their work for the obviously good reason that every one was then least suspicious. The conduct of Marshal Dayton had put every one upon their guard at sight, and it would have been almost impossible to have succeeded in any other method beside that chosen. The Marshal’s papers were returnable in Columbus, where, of course, every thing would have been quietly settled. It was unmitigated kidnapping, so far as it went; but, bless God, it didn’t go far. No one was hurt, not a shilling’s damage was done, not a shot fired, and the boy saved!

      The Kentucky officer appeared upon the balcony, under protection, and said be ‘had come to execute the laws, but we had been too much for him!’ A gentleman instantly sprang upon a box, and begged him to carry back to Kentucky, ‘That no one need come here ot carry off our citizens, for they would find us too much for ‘em every time! We believe in State Sovereignty, and the moment a slave touches Ohio soil he is free, and all the South combined cannot carry him back, if we say No!’ The Kentuckian begged through his protector, in imitation of the redoubtable Marshal, to know if his life would be graciously spared, and received the same assurance that was given before. I have just this moment learned that the use these rascals are making of the indulgence granted them, is to tarry quietly in their quarters, and plot further mischief. Tow students of yesterday’s party, returning to-day for a missing gun, were pursued by the Marshal, and by the hardest driving only escaped him. We shall not totlerate this. If they do not leave soon, we shall send a Committee to see them off. Had they not appeared to realize most fully their hair-breadth escape last evening, we should have insisted upon seeing them on board the next train, without compromise.

      But to conclude, the whole line of our return march was triumphal. Nearly every farm-house had emptied its occupants into the road to cheer and bless us, and we returned their greetings in the warmest style. At h9ome, the whole town was out. In front of the Post-Office they joined us in three terrific groans for Democracy, and three glorious cheers for Liberty. In front of the Palmer House these were repeated, and then one standing up, commanded silence, and spoke as follows: ‘Gentlemen, we know not what may hereafter be attempted. But we want to know who can be relied on. So many of you as will here solemnly pledge yourselves to rally on the instant of an alarm, armed and ready to pursue and rescue, say ‘Aye!’

      The response was enough to make a man’s hair stand up. It was repeated three times. Three groans were given for Marshal Dayton, through whose voluntary correspondence the fugitive’s retreat was discovered, as there are the best reasons for believing. He wisely left town, and kept away from Wellington. When he returns, if he dare return at all, he must either come penitent, or he may have serious groanings to do for himself. The populace are almost furious at him. Finally, it was voted with deafening unanimity that whoever laid hands on a black man in this community, no matter what the color of authority, would do so at the peril of his life! If the occasion comes, it will be seen that this was no empty talk. We to the slaveholder or Marshal that comes prowling about Oberlin hereafter! A fugitive cannot be taken from here. A number of speeches kept the crowd together until a late hour.                                                 R.