The Oberlin Evangelist
July 13, 1859
The Last Days and Hours of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Case
Since the date of our last issue the “Rescue Company,” then being confined in Cuyahoga County Jail, has been liberated and the indictments in the “Rescue-cases,” not yet tried, have been finally terminated. We propose to sketch briefly in this article the history of this “finale” to the drama, which has long exercised the feelings of so many of our readers.
In the early part of the last week in June, the persons from Kentucky, Messrs. Jennings and Mitchell, and their Ohio associates, Lowe and Davis, who were under indictment in the Lorain County for kidnapping, presented themselves in Cleveland “to make ready,” as was quite triumphantly said by the administration prints, “for trial.” They were accompanied by Mr. Bacon, the alleged owner of John – the man who was “rescued” at Wellington.
The first essay of the party by way of the heralded preparation for trial was in the direction of a journey into Canada in search of John, to whom, as it was reported, the reputed master was prepared to offer freedom, and perhaps other valuable considerations, if he would return to Ohio and render needed service as a witness in the Lorain County, and Federal Courts. But, as Providence would have it, the journey failed of its object. John was not found.
The next undertaking, was in the way of the swearing out in behalf of Messrs. Jennings & Co., of a writ of Habeas Corpus from Judge McLean (while the parties whom it was to benefit were yet at large on bail, be it observed,) and the subsequent attempt by the parties to surrender themselves to the Sheriff of Lorain County that the writ might operate. But while the obtaining of the writ was easily accomplished (we think the time will come when the public will seriously ask how men charged with being kidnappers should enjoy the very rare privilege of having the great writ issued for their benefit by a Federal Supreme Judge, while they were yet at large,) the making of it available could not be so conveniently brought about. County officers were less compliant than the Federal Judge, and not one could be found who was both authorized and willing to receive the would-be prisoners. So, the bailed-indicted, were compelled to remain bailed and to return to Cleveland in that condition. They did not do so, however, until Federal District Attorney Belden, for the time acting as their attorney, had, through Marshal Johnson, served the writ of Habeas Corpus on the Sheriff. (We hope our readers who know the ways of the law will observe all these novelties.) On the following day, the Sheriff returned for answer to the writ the fact that the person for whose bodies it called were not in his custody.
It was on the morning of July 5, that the at-large-Habeas-Corpused-parties finally satisfied themselves that they had no alternative but to stand trial before a Lorain County Jury for a penitentiary-offence, with a case which afforded but narrow ground for defence, or to ask quarter from the prosecution. Necessity conquered pride, and they chose the latter horn of the dilemma. Their Attorney, Mr. Staunton of Kentucky, who had now arrived on the scene of action, waited on the Hon. D.K. Cartter who had been employed by the Prosecutor of Lorain Co. to assist him in trying the expected suit, and proposed that the Lorain cases be withdrawn, promising, as he thought he might safely promise, that if that should be done, the untried Rescue cases would be set aside in the Federal Court.
Mr. Cartter signified to the imprisoned “Rescue” company, that such a proposition had been made and that he would be glad to learn their views respecting it. They replied that they did not ask that any terms be made for them, they were prepared to stand trial and to take its consequences – but that, as the fact that the alleged kidnappers had made the proposition for a suspension of hostilities was a virtual acknowledgement of guilt and would produce the same moral effect which would result from their conviction, there would perhaps be no objection to making a saving of trouble and expense, by the acceptance by the Lorain authorities of the terms proposed.
After some diplomatic note-writing, the evident object of which was the saving of District Attorney Belden’s reputation at Washington, which important object was brought about by the framing and proper signing of a certificate showing that his Honor was suitably obstinate in standing out against the arrangement, that he was disposed to press the suit against the wicked Rescuers, and that only a fellow-feeling for the Kentucky man-hunters had moved him to leniency, and arrangement was effected. In accordance with this treaty nolles were entered against the kidnapping cases on the one hand, and the “Rescue cases” on the other.
On Wednesday, July 6, the jail doors were opened for the release of the *twelve so-called “Rescuers” who were included in the arrangement. The imprisonment had been a severe trial to them. Although it had been alleviated by the kindness of Sheriff Wightman and Jailor Smith and his family, it had taxed their faith and patience to the utmost. Still, they had cheerfully borne it. It had been better to them than the release, attended with conditions dishonorable both to them and to the cause of Freedom, which had been offered to them, would have been. Besides, the comforts of religion and the knowledge that thousands of God’s people were praying for them, had sustained them. And, now, they could go out conscious that they had maintained their integrity to the end and that they had proved to the persecuting Proslavery power that Christian anti-slavery men cannot be subdued. A glad moment was it for them when Sheriff Wightman notified them that they were free.
After their discharge and before leaving the jail the company passed the following resolutions.
Resolve. That as we take leave of the prison in which we have been confined for the last three months, we cannot refuse to ourselves the privilege of giving public expression of our gratitude to God, who has been our constant keeper, and who, as we have passed through sore difficulties and trials, has well fulfilled the promise, “as they day so shall they strength be.”
We also return thanks to Sheriff Wightman, and Jailor Smith and family, whose kindness has greatly mitigated our troubles; and to Messrs. Spaulding, Backus, Riddle, and Griswold, who have nobly defended our cause; to the friends, far and near, who by prayer and act have remembered us, and to that portion of the Press which has given us constant and valuable aid.
Resolved. That after all the pains and penalties inflicted upon us by Government Officials in the attempt to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, we feel it to be our duty to say, that our hatred and opposition to that unjust and unconstitutional Law is more intense then ever before.
No fine or imprisonment however enforced by whatever court, can induce us to yield it obedience. We will hereafter, as we have heretofore, help the panting fugitive to escape from those who would enslave him, whatever may be the authority under which they may act.
Resolved. That, in our opinion, when duties enjoined by the Word of God and illustrated in the example of Christ are punished I our country as crimes, it becomes all loyal citizens to ask themselves whether they have not lost the substance of their earnest endeavors to recover the rights, which they have lost.
Resolved. That, for the sake of Liberty, Justice and Right, we rejoice that the recent decision of our Supreme Court, affirming the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, has already met with emphatic public rebuke, and that we exhort the people of Ohio to protest against that decision until, by a reversal of it, the lost dignity and sovereignty of our noble commonwealth shall be restored to her.
Resolved. That we furnish a copy of the above resolutions to the Daily Morning Leader for publication.
When this and other business had been completed and the hour for moving homeward had come, the company with its counsel and a few other friends convened in the parlor of the jail. When order was established Mr. Ralph Plumb, stepped forward and in a neat speech signified that the “Rescuers,” embarrassed by poverty and the tax which their troubles had made on their purses though they were, could not refuse to themselves the pleasure of leaving with such of their friends as had most faithfully served them a slight token of their gratitude and love. He then produced seven boxes, each of which contained a silver napkin-ring, fork and dessertspoon, each article being marked with initials and the words “from “Rescuers” and “Matt. 25:36.” (The verse referred to embraces the words, “I was in prison and ye came unto me.”) Distributing these boxes among the ladies of Messers. Spaulding, Backus, Riddle, Griswold, Sheriff Wightman, Jailor Smith and Henry R. Smith (a faithful friend of the company) he charged the recipients to see that the articles presented were set out for the use of the husbands at every meal while they should live, in order that they might be reminded of what they would doubtless regard as one of the most interesting periods of their lives – the one in which they had been put in connection with the “Rescue cases” – and that they might be perpetually assured that those whom they had served in that period were deeply grateful for their services.
At the close of Mr. Plumb’s eloquent and touching remarks Judge Spaulding mad a respond, which overflowed with generous allusions to the friends and clients to whom he was speaking his last words.
Prof. Peck then remarked that the “Rescuers” had given a part of their first hour in prison to prayer and that it would be becoming in them to spend the last moment in the same way. He, therefore, led them in a petition at the Throne of Grace, in which acknowledgment was made of the Divine goodness which had led the long-imprisoned but now liberated company, in safety through many strait places, and which had rallied around them professional and personal helps in abundance. Blessings were invoked on the generous attorneys and other sympathizing friends who had been so faithful to the company, nor was prayer for those who were still in bonds forgotten.
After such exercises, grateful for past mercies, rejoicing in present favors, recognizing the fact that deliverance had come from God alone in answer to prayer and sorrowing only that Bushnell must be left behind for a three-days longer stay, the company went to the Rail-Road Depot attended by a procession led by a band of music and accompanied with the roar of artillery which spoke the public joy in a salvo of one hundred guns.
At Grafton, the wives of several of the company met the train, ant thence to Oberlin the way was one of most exuberant rejoicing. At the Station in Oberlin, which was reached at 7:40 p.m., the returning “Rescuers” were met by all their neighbors in a body. Old and young, male and female, the entire Fire-Department, the village officials, the business men of the place, and the army of students connected with the Institution, headed by their teachers – all were by the roadside to swell the cheer which rent the heavens when the recent occupants of a jail touched the soil they loved so well.
A welcome from Prof. Monroe, neatly and eloquently offered, a triumphal march, with music from the village band, to the great church, and entry of the “prisoners,” between welcoming lines and amid showers of flowers and a swelling strain from the grand old organ, such were the early parts of an ovation the like of which men have seldom seen.
When the great assembly, which filled the immense house in every part, had been brought to silence, grateful prayer was offered by the venerable Father Keep. The well-trained choir then kindled the jubilant inspiration of the exciting scene to new fervor by performing an anthem in a style, which would have fully satisfied the song-full heart of David himself. Speeches, occasionally interspersed by music, were then made by Messrs. Plumb, Peck, Fitch, H. Evans. Scoot, Lincoln, J. Watson, Winsor, Lyman and Father Gillett of the Rescue Company, and Messrs. Horr, Washburn and Sheriff Burr of Elyria, and Sheriff Wightman and Mr. Henry R. Smith, of Cleveland. No two speeches were alike. Bursting in freedom from hearts surcharged with unusual emotion, they were faithful expositors of the feelings and habits of thought of those who uttered them, and no pen could describe the hearty and earnest response which all of them received from the great and vociferous audience. The voice of the sea answering to the gale is not more mighty than was the echoing cheer with which rejoicing kindred and neighbors responded to the greetings with which each of the lately-imprisoned speakers saluted the tearful multitude before him.
We have attended many public meetings but we never before attended one in which the fire of the best feeling of which the human heart is capable, so glowed as it did in this.
It was indeed a rare occasion and it will long be remembered, not only for its remarkable blending of domestic with public joy and of fraternal feeling with lively interest in a great, triumphing cause, but yet more for its freedom from that spirit of retaliation and casual boasting which might have been expected in it. It was an occasion as Christian as it was jubilant.
After the speeches, the following resolution offered by Principal Fairchild, was unanimously passed.
Resolved, That this meeting request the Town Council to enter the following minute upon the Records of the Village of Oberlin.
The citizens of Oberlin, assembled in Mass Meeting to welcome home our faithful representatives, Messrs. Peck, Plumb, Fitch, W. Evans, Winsor, Lincoln, H. Evans, J. Watson, D. Watson, Barlett, Lyman, and Scott, who rather than give the least countenance to the Fugitive Slave Act, have lain eighty-four days in Cleveland jail, under indictment for the rescue of a fugitive slave from the custody of a United States Marshal, give devout thanks to Almighty God, for the grace which has enabled them patiently, faithfully and firmly to maintain the contest against that impious enactment till the government has asked for quarter, and has volunteered the proposition to release the Lorain criminals under the Fugitive Act, on condition that Lorain will relinquish the United States executors of the Act.
To our faithful friends we express our warmest gratitude and our unqualified commendation, for the firmness, the wisdom, and the fidelity with which they have maintained our common cause.
And finally in view of all the consequences attendant up0on this prosecution and all the light shed upon the subject, we unanimously express our greatly increased abhorrence of the Fugitive Slave Act, and avow our determination that no fugitive slave shall ever be taken from Oberlin either with or without a warrant, if we have power to prevent it.
A befitting prayer was offered by Prof. Morgan and as the pointer was touching the hour of midnight, the sublime doxology “Praise God from whom al blessings flow,” dismissed as happy a congregation as ever joined in prayer or praise. Then, after much shaking of hands the “Rescuers” went to the homes, which they had not, seen since the snow lay upon them.
But Oberlin’s triumphing joy was not expended yet. It was ready for a new outburst on Monday last (July 11.) On that glad day, Mr. Bushnell, the first-convicted of the “Rescuers,” left the prison in Cleveland and came home attended by a brilliant retinue of worth, talent ad social position. The Hecker band of Cleveland, led the array. Banners, suggestive of the triumphs of the Anti-Fugitive-Slave-‘Bill-cause, adorned it. When the two hundred or more attendants on the “hero of the day,” landed from the cars, booming guns from Capt. Simmond’s (of Cleveland) Artillery Company hailed, and deafening shouts from gathered thousands welcomed, them.
As the late prisoner stepped from the cars, Judge Spalding said to the crowd, “My friends, Bushnell had no regrets to express that he had aided in rescuing the boy John; we have no regrets to express that he has bee imprisoned.” A loud acclaim was the multitude’s hearty amen. Principal Fairchild, tendered to Mr. Bushnell the welcome of which every heart was full, and then, the host took its march, keeping step to the music of four bands, to the church. Once more the great house was full to its utmost capacity and still all who sought it could not get admission. The yeomanry of Lorain had come up to rejoice with Oberlin and even the vast edifice could not hold the thronging multitude.
Once more, organ peals and song joined the universal joy, and perhaps the celebrated Oberlin Choir never before won such laurels as it did while rendering the classic “Marsellaise” and the piece entitled the “Gathering of the Free.”
From one o’clock to six, speeches, and music from the choir and from the excellent bands from Wellington and Cleveland which were in attendance, kept the enthusiasm of the vast assembly up to the boiling point.
The speeches were made by Messrs. D.K. Cartter, A. G. Riddle, S.M. Bushnell, J.R. Giddings, R.P. Spaulding, Ralph Plumb, J.H. Fairchild, J.C. Grannis, C.S. Goodwin, J.M. Langston and H.E. Peck. The topics treated, were as various as the peculiarities of the speakers, and were enforced with all the wit talent and eloquence which a great occasion and an immense appreciative audience could inspire. That the pro-slavery administration at Washington, and its willing representatives at Cleveland had suffered a sore defeat at the hands of the humble men whom they had endeavored to crush, that God’s hand had brought the victory and that a death-blow, has been given to the execution of the Fugitive Slave Bill, in Northern Ohio – such were themes which were the burden of many finished and eloquent periods.
Nor was what was said mere rhetoric; it was the honest outpouring of earnest and determined souls and it carried the shafts of conviction to many hearts. We cannot but believe that the proceedings initiated a revival-work in the good cause of Freedom and philanthropy.
In the course of the proceedings a set of handsome silver tablespoons was presented to Mrs. Smith, ((wife of the Jailor Smith,) a silk dress to Miss Morrill, and elegant book to Miss Wightman, (the latter ladies assistants of Mrs. Smith) and a gold headed cane to both Sheriff Wightman and Mr. Henry RR. Smith, as marks of the gratitude of the people of Oberlin for their kindness to the “Rescue-Prisoners.”
The following resolution was also passed with a hearty vote.
Resolved, That the people of Oberlin in mass meeting assembled, tender to R.P. Spalding, F.T. Backus, A.G. Riddle, and S.O. Griswold, our heartfelt gratitude for the unwearied zeal and devoted self-sacrifice with which, refusing all compensation, they have conducted their very able defence of the rescuers before the U.S. Court and the Supreme Court of the State. We feel that no fees could have bought such services, and that no gift can duly express our sense of the debt we owe; but by us and by countless others of the friends of right and freedom, the names of these able jurists and their noble services will be had I everlasting remembrance.
After the exercises, the village opened the arms of its often-tried hospitality to the multitudes from abroad, and so, in joyous festivities in many a happy home-circle the gala day was ended.
So ends the history of events, which from their beginning have daily widened out into new and unexpected results. Let us pause a moment to review the enlarging series. A humble village, which has chosen to obey the Divine precept requiring it to shelter the oppressed and which, for so doing has often exposed itself to the vengeance of wicked men and to the penalties of an unrighteous law, is tauntingly notified by those who are in the secrets of the cruel that at length its dishonor is to be accomplished by the arrest within its borders of one of the fugitives from slavery whom it is harboring. The threat spreads consternation among all classes. The entire community tremblingly waits the catastrophe. At last it comes. A man is caught up by armed ruffians and hurried southward. The circumstances, which attend the arrest, afford ample ground for the suspicion that the act has not even the merit of being authorized by the infamous Fugitive slave Bill. The people are enraged. Tumultuous with excitement they follow the man-hunter and after a little parley snatch his prey from him. The “Rescue” has been in violation of the cruel act to which the once honored name of Filmore gave life. Now is the time for the wicked to triumph. The puritanic village can be visited with judicial wrath. A packed Grand Jury selects, without much regard to their connection with the rescue a sample list of the citizens and finds bills of indictment against them. A packed traverse jury, stimulated by Judicial decisions which give the Act which is to be avenged a compass greater than that of the terrible edicts of the Venetian council of Ten, convicts one of the number and then another similar jury convicts another. Meantime a Judical ruling, novel in more than one discreditable respect, shuts the majority of the untried indicted in prison. The incarcerated company will not purchase its liberty on terms dishonorable to itself or to the cause, which it represents. It leaves its case with God and stands to its integrity. Lookers on denounce it as being fanatical. Even friends reprove it. The State Court to which its looks for relief pleads the claims of precedent and leaves it to be persecuted to the better end. Its enemies now swell with assurance, and are loud mouthed in threatening utmost punishment. But God interferes. He stirs Christian heart, the land over, to prayer. He uses the sufferings of the little imprisoned company to bring about such a revival of religious Anti-slavery zeal as has been seldom witnessed. The awakening hurls the Judge, whose influence has been most active in bringing about the surrender of the rights of the imprisoned into significant disgrace. It thunders admonitions in the ears of the professed Party-of-Freedom and seems likely to hold that party back from the gulf of degeneracy into which in its haste for power it was plunging. And when all else is done, the Superintending Power to which the praying prisoners have always looked and which has been the protector of the hated community they represent, compels the persecutors to abase themselves and asking quarter for themselves to open the door which they had arrogantly locked on those whom they had threatened to crush. The persecutors hide themselves from public scorn and the persecuted go home to the village, the ruins of which were to have been sowed with salt, with public gratulations and honors.
In all this, who, does not see the hand which once set up the carpenter’s Son to be for the “fall and rising again of many in Israel?”
*Thirty-seven persons were indicted for rescuing and aiding in the rescue of John Price; of these only twenty-seven were arrested. Of this number, seven were, by permission of the District Attorney, absent from court at the time the sweeping order of Judge Wilson for the imprisonment of the “Rescuers” was made and thus escaped incarceration. Of the twenty imprisoned, two were discharged by nolles on account of misnomers in the indictments against them, two by completion of sentence after pleading “nolo contendere,” one by completion of sentence after conviction, one by bail and one by order of the court without bail. On the 6th of July thirteen persons were in custody – Bushnell who was serving out a sentence which was to expire July 10, and twelve others who had not yet been tried.