Boston, July 22, 1859
From the Cleveland Leader, July 13.
The Oberlin Rescuers at Home.
Enthusiastic Reception – Speeches and Spirit of the Joyous Occasion – Oberlin not ‘Subdued.’
Oberlin, July 7, 1859.
Editor of Leader:
You left the ‘Political Prisoners’ at the Depot, and gave them your hearty congratulation as they pursued their way ‘home again,’ amid the roar of cannon, the peals of martial music, and the echoing shouts which came from a multitude of earnest friends of freedom. You heard Judge Brayton’s eloquent speech in congratulation of the ‘prisoners,’ their friends, and the nation; and the ‘you missed it’ that you turned again to your labor and your sanctum. If you ever get an adequate idea of the glorious reception which awaited these humble and persecuted, but now famous friends of freedom on their arrival at Oberlin – despised, persecuted Oberlin – you will regret, to your dying day, that you had no’been ther to see.’
The wives of Peck, Plumb, Fitch and Watson met the company at Grafton, and here arose the first shout that was, in twenty minutes more, to be taken up, and borne along as ‘the sound of many waters, and the roar of mighty thunderings. If the conquerors of the old world have at any time had a more numerous reception, not one of them ever had a reception half so hearty as greeted threes ‘saints and sub saints’ on their arrival at their beloved Oberlin. The entire town was out to greet them. A sea of heads could be seen extending for a long distance on both sides of the track. Youth and beauty vied with men of venerable age, in their endeavors to catch a glimpse of these but recently contemptible, these reviled and abused men; and when they alighted from the cars, the heavens rang again with the united and prolonged huzzas of more than three thousand persons, who, though styled ‘fanatics,’ were not a whit behind the brightest ornaments of our country, in intelligence, purity, patriotism, and every excellence of which a nation should be proud. Joy beamed in every eye. Exultation marked every movement, and enthusiasm burst from every lip.
The eloquent Prof. Monroe was called out, and from the platform pronounced the following eloquent and thrilling speech in welcome of the prisoners:
PROF. MONROE’S SPEECH AT THE CARS.
My Friends: - In behalf of this vast assembly, I am requested to express, in a word, the unqualified satisfaction, the heartfelt joy which we feel, on welcoming you once more to the bosom of this community and to your homes. From that sad day when you left us to the present time, we have never, for moment, ceased longing for the sight of your faces among us, whenever you could return consistently with duty; and to-night we are glad, from the very bottom of our hearts, that that time has come. We rejoice, not only because you have come back to us, but also because you have come without the shadow of a stain upon that strict integrity which it is the duty and the privilege of a Christian Anti-Slavery man to cherish. You have made no compromises with slavery. There has been no bowing down of the body, no bending of the knee. Erect, as God made you, you went into prison; erect, s God made you, you have come out of prison. Welcome! Then, once more, to Oberlin. In behalf of the assembly, in behalf of Oberlin, in behalf of Lorain county, welcome! Thrice welcome! Friends of Liberty!
The procession then formed, with Father Keep and Father Gillett (Mathew Johnson will remember him) in advance, and the vast throng, with banners flying, moved to the stirring music of the Oberlin Band, towards the great Church. As the ‘prisoners’ marched up the path towards the noble edifice, the fire companies, dressed in uniform, opened to right and left, and with heads uncovered, received the ‘Rescuers,’ with a right hearty greeting. The vast building was in a moment crowded to its utmost capacity. Scarely less than three thousand persons were crowded within its walls. Here was such a scene for a painter as I cannot now describe. Not less than eighteen hundred of this great audience were young men and women. It was a grand cheering sight. As the prisoners walked up the aisle, each was presented by some fair hand with a beautiful wreath, and bouquets and flowers danced and sparkled in all directions. The pulpit was elegantly decorated, and all the ‘Rescuers,’ with many of their friends, were seated in the rostrum. The venerable Father Gillett, the kind-hearted but firm and manly Sheriff Wightman, and the genial and generous H.R. Smith, were among those who occupied the stand. The great organ opened with the most enlivening strains, and a glorious choir of one hundred and twenty-five choice singers poured forth a flood of song, which rolled over the vast congregation and away through the town, like waves of heavenly melody.
The venerable Father Keep (may he live forever!) took the chair at precisely 8 o’clock.
Father Keep opened the exercises by an impressive prayer to that God who will ‘cause the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain,’ and then addressed the meeting in the following impressive words: -
Christian Friends and Fellow-Citizens:
I devoutly congratulate you that our brethren, heroic men, persecuted for righteousness’ sake, have now returned to our bosoms. On their countenances we, indeed, trace indications of a severe mental conflict; but, likewise, the divine favor in their personal vigor and health, - and, in the flash of their eye, the spirit and purpose of men whom, in such a warfare, tyrants cannot subdue. In your behalf I ‘tender them a cordial and joyous welcome, and in your name I assure them that they are now especially endeared to us all.
But, beloved sufferers, this welcome is not intended to cover the fact that you have come to us jail birds. You must ever bear this appellation. It, however comforts us, and it must cheer you to know, that you have earned the title after the example of the Prophets and Apostles, having been imprisoned for the act of witnessing for the truth as it is in Jesus.
In your persons, at this joyous interview, we thus publicly acknowledge the gift of God in answer to prayer. In all you confinement, our sympathies for you have been a deep flowing current. We have felt called of God to the special mission of prayer in your behalf. In the daily reports of your persistency in the ‘Right,’ we have received the rich, sustaining answer to our prayer. We have been also strengthened and comforted to know that this sympathy is next t universal in the country. The press has given it voice. Its breath, to you in prison, to us in our watching, has discoursed music along the telegraphic wires.
We have felt honored that you have so faithfully represented the moral sentiment of this community, and of our fondly cherished college. Your firmness in this crisis has sharply admonished us for our sluggishness in the present conflict for Liberty, and what is more, for our lack of moral courage; and still more, the obtuseness of that moral sense in men which counseled compromise.
In your imprisonment, you have nobly represented a great principle. The Divine Law supreme, everywhere. Human enactments subordinate. Thus you have stood before the country the intelligent, sagacious, unflinching friends of human freedom.
Your testimony will live, a permanent record in history – a memorial to present your names to the undying recognition of an approving posterity.
We thank you for your wisdom and firmness in the rejection of all compromise between right and wrong. In this whole movement, your instructive and impressive example is before the country as a model for Church and for State. God has given you the spirit and the courage for the crisis. Your reward is before you, and sure.
Let Politicians, Statesmen and Christians but follow this example, and our own Ohio shall be free – personal rights will be held as sacred, and be sustained. Our country shall be free!
The Hon. Ralph Plumb was next called for. He came forward amid immense and prolonged cheering, and said: -
What a scene here greets the eye! This vast multitude – the whole population almost of this usually quiet village, filling every niche of this vast edifice with joyous countenances and glad hearts – are before us; and for what do they come?
They come to welcome us, their neighbors – their husbands, fathers and brothers – back to this community – to our dear families and our sweet homes! They come, too, to learn not only that we, their representatives, have been release from the prison walls that for eighty-five days have confined us, but to learn also whether this enlargement, so valuable to us and to them, has been purchased at the cost of one iota of principle, or one grain of self-respect.
Fellow-citizens, it gives me great pleasure to assure you that the band of Rescuers whom you greet, stand before you to–night, with yourselves breathing the free air once more of free Oberlin, without having in the least degree compromised themselves or you.
Nay, permit me to go farther, and say, that the officers of Lorain County, to whom the government pursuers proposed the entering of nolles in the cases, have throughout maintained the honor and dignity of Lorain, so that we and they stand before you without having yielded dishonorably to any exaction of those who sought to humble us, and destroy the principle so clearly apprehended by your intellects, and so warmly cherished in your hearts.
Fellow-citizens, it is meet that your rejoicings should be without restraint, for the victory has been complete. (Prolonged cheering.)
Prof. H.W. Peck next came forward, and was received with such a hearty greeting, with such enthusiastic and prolonged cheering as we never before witnessed, and never expect to hear again. The Professor, after long waiting for the resounding waves and the mighty thunderings to die away, addressed the audience in the following eloquent speech:
An event like this is surely a marked occasion in one’s life. It constitutes for him a stand – point from which his mental vision can take a wide reach, both backward and forward.
In the months of trial now brought to a happy close, it has been the lot of myself and my associates to be called upon to make in behalf of the cause of God and Humanity, frequent and practical surrenders of things dear to us. And in every case, the thing surrendered has been more than restored to us. We have offered health, and even life, upon the altar of duty. The sacrifice has been restored to us in the consciousness we have had, that our lives were being used to god purpose, and that, in the privilege of looking iniquity ‘framed into law’ in the face, without quailing or faltering, we were being amply paid for our self-sacrifice. We have surrendered home, with its daily comforts and constantly renewing endearments. But home and kindred – wives and children – have never before been so dear, and have never before so stirred our best affections and kindled our tenderest delights, as while we were making the sacrifice of them. We have given up our usual associations, have separated ourselves from you whom we love so well. And yet we have found, in our isolation, closer affinities, warmer spiritual fellowship than we ever knew before. Never before, dear friends, have you been so near and precious to us as you have been while we were consenting to be separated from you.
So, in all respects, the words of our Lord which I have recited have proved to be true.
Let me and my associates, let this great multitude, let our hundreds of young people remember always that he who is willing to lose his life for the truth’s or Christ’s sake, shall surely find it. Let no fear of consequences ever persuade any of us to draw back from any consecration, which a good cause may require.
Before I take my seat, let me add, in such discursive method as I may choose to follow, one or two statements respecting our circumstances while in prison.
First, let me certify to you that we have enjoyed the comforts of religion. The spirit of God has been with us in our seasons of private devotion and social worship. The Word of God has been both open and illuminated to us, and its rich promises have cheered us abundantly. When taunting enemies have crowded about us, the Saviour, who preceded us at the bar of unrighteous judgment, has presented himself to assure us that He who was for us was more than they who were against us, and in every dark hour the assurance that Jehovah reigns has made our hearts rejoice.
In the next place, let me gratefully acknowledge that fact that we have been favored with earnest and continued sympathy and approval from steadfast friends. If th tide of popular sympathy has ceased at times to ebb, the regard and practical approval of thoughtful, Christian men have risen to the last hour. Not a breeze has blown from east, or west, or north, or even south, without bringing the tidings that wise and good men were taking up our cause, and remembering it in a practical way. The incidents of the single hour, which followed the coming of our mail, on that last day of our stay in prison, illustrated the fact that sympathy for us was at once widely extended and profound. A modest letter from a member of the Society of Friends, residing in Philadelphia, whose family name is honored in the annals of Christian resistance to federal tyranny, brought us with words of cheer a check for one hundred dollars. And while our eyes were yet most with gratitude for the thoughtfulness of our benefactor, a citizen of Cleveland, distinguished for his years and his standing as a Christian, and a member of society, not less than for his wealth, came in, and after handing us a donation which exceeded all but one of the many gifts we had received, blessed us for what we had done, and assured us that God had made us the ministers of abundant god. And to prove how widely the influence of our struggle with oppression had reached, he rehearsed a recent conversation with the venerable Dr. Nott, of Union College, in which the now almost dying sage had tenderly spoken of us, and had expressed the hope that our firmness would stay the progress of tyranny towards the overthrow of our liberties.
Thus have wise and Christian men remembered us to the end. And in the sympathy we have enjoyed, we have had abundant proof that the Christian anti-slavery element of society is at length stirred, and that the change in public affairs, which must follow this quickening, is close at hand.
And now, friends, to all the blessings, which Heaven has sent us, has been kindly added this greeting. Surely our cup runs over with good things, and long will it be before we forget the mercies, which, in our imprisonment and in our release, we have been and are permitted to enjoy.
After the Professor had closed his remarks, the cheering was renewed. Such cheering it was good to hear. It was only equaled by the grand performance of the great organ and choir, which followed. The Marseilles Hymn was then sung, as, we were about to say, that choir only can sing it, and then J.M. Fitch was called for, and was received with a cordial welcome which must have been gratifying to any man. He gave a brief history of their imprisonment, and recited several lessons, which they had learned in the bitter school of experience. They were conscious of having acted rightly, and he should look back upon the events of the last three months, spent with his fellow- prisoners, with feelings of satisfaction, in being able, under Providence, to so conduct himself as not to bring reproach upon the cause they has aimed to vindicate.
He was followed by John Watson, who spoke with much earnestness, declaring his firm determination to aid the oppressed slave on every occasion and under all circumstances.
Prof. Monroe said it might be interesting to learn how the writs of habeas corpus were not served in Lorain, and called on R.G. Horr, Esq., of Elyria, who have a very amusing account of the tribulations of the officers and their Kentucky friends, in attempting to surrender them to the Lorain County officers.
Wm. E. Lincoln and John H. Scott were next called upon, who responded briefly, after which Henry Evans spoke with much apparent emotion of the necessity of vigilant action in guarding the citadel of Liberty from the incursions of its enemies.
He was followed by R. Windsor, who thanked his friends for their hearty welcome; after which, A.W. Lyman spoke with much earnestness in justification of their conduct, and made a stirring appeal to the friends of Republicanism to bear unsullied the standard placed in their hands.
Loud calls were made for Sheriff Burr, who was fairly forced upon the stand, and who responded briefly, explaining his connection with the kidnappers and their official friends in Elyria.
Sheriff Wightman of Cuyahoga was loudly called for, and in response spoke at some length of his connection with the persons under his care, paying them the highest compliments for the uniform and almost fatherly kindness with which he had ever been treated by them. He should ever remember them as friends, whose acquaintance, formed under circumstances of affliction, had caused him many happy hours while contributing to their comfort, and many feelings of sympathy while listening to a recital of their wrongs. He cordially invited them and their friends to make his house their home when they pleased, assuring them that he had the deepest sympathy with the cause of the slave and the oppressed everywhere.
George G. Washburn, of the Elyria Democrat, was next called to the stand. He had watched with deep solicitude the events connected with the prosecutions, which had just been abandoned by the Government, and although at times the future looked dark and gloomy, he had come here to rejoice that a glorious day had dawned upon our cause. He felt it was well the blow had fallen where it did – upon a community who had the boldness to meet it, and the discretion to act in such a manner as to result in the triumph they had met to rejoice over. He urged the friends of the slave to make a city of refuge for the oppressed in every township, and to permit no slave-hunter to enter, if in pursuit of his victim.
At the conclusion of Mr. Washburn’s speech, Prof. Monroe happily alluded to the fact that they had been addressed by honest men of various pursuits. There was an honest carpenter, shoemaker, professor in college, editor (strange as it may seem) and lawyer (still more wonderful) – but a stranger man than all was before them – an honest Postmaster! He, therefore, introduced Mr. John Smith, Jr., jailer at Cleveland, and postmaster for the rescue prisoners.
Mr. Smith took the stand, and explained in a very happy matter the connection he had in the Post Office Department, saying that if his services had been of any value to the prisoners, in visiting the post office for them they had afforded him much sincere pleasure in being able to contribute to their aid and comfort.
Father Gillett, who was long since sent home, because the Government was ashamed to prosecute so venerable a patriot, was called out, and made a speech, which was received with unbounded enthusiasm.
During the evening a collection was taken up for the relief of the prisoners, and the choir sang with thrilling effect The Marseilles.
Several of the speakers alluded to their fellow-prisoner, Bushnell, who still had a few days to remain in jail, and promised him a hearty welcome when he returned again to his home.
It was now a quarter to 12, and still the immense audience, filling the church to its utmost capacity, remained without the appearance of fatigue. A prayer was then offered by professor Morgan, and the meeting then closed by singing the Doxology, in which all the congregation joined.