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for slavery." Resolutions were also then passed,
declaring it right to oppose the execution of the
Fugitive Slave Law.

There were a number of people in Syracuse,
however, who pretended, at least, to admire law and
order above all things, and to fear to hurt the rights
of the South. These " Friends of the Union " became
alarmed at the great activity shown by the abolition-
ists, and to offset it they invited Daniel Webster to
deliver an address.


Mr. Webster came on the ninth of June, and spoke
to a large audience from the balcony in the Courier
building, overlooking the square in front of the City
Hall. He ended with these words : " Those persons
in this city who mean to oppose the execution of the
Fugitive Slave Law are traitors! traitors! traitors!
This law ought to be obeyed, and it will be enforced ;
in this city of Syracuse it shall be enforced, and that
too in the midst of the next Anti-Slavery convention,
if there shall be any occasion to enforce it."

There still existed the association, formed by many
of those present, at the indignation meeting of October
4th, 1850. A rendezvous had been fixed upon, and it
was agreed that anyone who might know or hear of a
person in danger should toll the bell of an adjoining
meeting-house in a particular manner. Two or three
times in the ensuing twelve months the alarm was
given, but the cause for action was removed by the
time the members reached the rendezvous, excepting
in one case, when it was thought advisable to send a
guard to protect a threatened man to Auburn or
Rochester. At last the time came.

Among the escaped slaves then living in Syracuse
was a man named Jerry. His last name is in doubt.
Some say it was McHarg ; some say it was McHenry.
He was generally called simply Jerry ; and he was
officially known as Jerry. In the winter of 1849-50
he entered the cabinet store of Charles F. Williston,


who became the Democratic Mayor of the city in 185G,
and was given employment in turning lathes. He was
then about thirty years old, large of frame and very
powerful. It was said that he had escaped from his
master's plantation in Missouri. Jerry afterwards
engaged in the cooper trade in the shop of F. Mack in
the First ward. He was here alone one morning
quietly at work when he was seized from behind,
handcuffed and taken before the United States
Commissioner, J. F. Sabine, upon the pretense that
there was a warrant against him for theft. He there
learned that he was arrested under the fugitive slave
act. The Commissioner's office was in the old Town-
send block, located in West Water street, between
South Salina and Clinton streets.

Jerry was arrested on the first of October, 1851.
The city was filled with visitors. An unusually good
county fair, then at its height, had attracted hundreds
of the farmers from the regions round about. And
to crown it all the Liberty Party State Convention was
in session at the Congregational church. A building
now known as Convention Hall, located on the north
side of East Genesee street, directly west of the
Courier building, is standing on the site.

At the convention the State officers for the fall
elections had just been nominated, when the ringing
of the bell in the Congregational church brought
everybody to their feet. The meeting was at once



adjourned, and the delegates went in a body to
Commissioner Sabine's office. Every church bell in
the city, save that of the Episcopal church, rang out
the alarm. The entire city was aroused, and the
people flocked to the Commissioner's office.

Meanwhile the trial was going on. Jerry had been
arrested by the United States Deputy Marshal Henry
W. Allen, on a warrant issued the day before for the
apprehension of a colored man known as William
Henry (in the warrant named Jerry), on the claim of
John M. Reynolds of Marion county, Missouri, repre-
sented by James Sear of Newark, Knox county,
Missouri. James R. Lawrence, United States Attorney
for the District of Northern New York, and Joseph W.
Loomis appeared as counsel for the claimant ; and
Leonard Gibbs of Washington county, who had been
attending the Liberty party convention, appeared in
behalf of the alleged fugitive.

Mr. Sear testified that he knew Jerry (pointing to
the alleged fugitive) ; became acquainted with him in
1820, when he first knew John M. Reynolds, and knew
Jerry till 1845; knew Jerry's mother, and if living she
was with John M. Reynolds or his father-in-law,
William Henry, in Marion county, Missouri; knew
Jerry's mother after his birth.

The sympathy of the crowd inside and outside the
Commissioner's office was clearly with Jerry; while
the case, as it stood, seemed to be clearly against him.


After the case had been adjourned at half past two for
half an hour, that a larger room might be obtained,
Jerry, acting upon the impulse of the moment, threw
himself into the crowd, rushed down the stairs and
into the street, and started on a run for liberty. The
Marshal and his deputies tried to follow, but their
path was made difficult. Although the crowd opened
to let Jerry through and closed again when the officers
tried to pass, the handcuffs so impeded the captured
man's motion that he was overtaken before having
run many blocks. Jerry was seized just as he was
about to get into a carriage that would have carried
him to liberty. After a scuffle which left his body
bare and bleeding, with nothing left to cover him but
his pantaloons and part of his shirt, he was thrown
into the cart of a truckman, who had been pressed
into the service. One of the Deputies sat on his body
to keep him down ; and thus he was driven through
the streets to the police office and thrust into the back
room. This police office was in the building, located
on the northwestern corner of West Water and Clinton
streets — a building now known as the Jerry Rescue

An excited crowd, a few ready to aid, the vast
majority incensed against the officers, had followed
them to the place where they arrested Jerry and back
again to the police office. The ill treatment of the
poor black man caused indignation in every breast.


Jerry was in a perfect rage, a fury of passion. The
Rev. Mr. May, at the request of the Chief of Police,
went into the little room where he was confined, and
after some difficulty succeeded in quieting him.

Meanwhile, the vigilance committee was preparing
for action. Soon after Jerry was taken to the police
office, Thomas G. White invited a few brave spirits
into the counting room of Abner Bates to settle
upon some plan of action for rescuing Jerry. The
men adjourned to meet at Dr. Hiram Hoyt's office at
early candle-light, and to bring with them as many
good and true and brave spirits as they could vouch
for. It was about dusk when one by one, and far
enough apart to disarm suspicion, some twenty or
thirty men sauntered into the office of Dr. Hoyt.

"It was agreed," writes the Eev. Samuel J. May in
his "Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict," "that
a skillful and bold driver in a strong buggy, with the
fleetest horse to be got in the city, should be retained
not far off to receive Jerry when he should be brought
out ; then to drive hither and thither about the city,
until he saw no one pursuing him ; not to attempt to
get out of town, because it was reported that every
exit was well guarded, but to return to a certain point
near the centre of the city, where he would find two
men waiting to receive his charge. With them he was
to leave Jerry, and know nothing about the place of
his retreat.


"At a given signal, the doors and windows of the
police office were to be demolished at once, and the
rescuers to rush in and fill the room, press around and
upon the officers, overwhelming them by numbers, not
by blows, and so soon as they were confined and
powerless by the pressure of bodies around them,
several men were to take up Jerry and bear him to the
buggy aforesaid. Strict injunctions were given, and
it was agreed, not intentionally, to injure the policemen.
Gerrit Smith and several others pressed this caution
very urgently upon those who were gathered in Dr.
Hoyt's office. And the last thing I said, as we were
coming away was: 'If anyone is to be injured in
this fray, I hope it may be one of our own party.' "

But this was not all that was being done towards a
rescue. The court room overlooked the Erie canal on
one side, while close by the door was a bridge. On
either side of the canal, in front of the building,
was a large open square; and this was filled with
excited men, while many a woman could be seen here
and there in the crowd as well as filling the windows
of all the buildings overlooking this exciting scene.

The bridge spans made a most excellent place from
which to address the multitude, and the abolition
orators made the most of their opportunity. Samuel
R. Ward, the colored preacher, spoke with all the
earnest sarcasm, if not with quite the skill, of ar
Antony. He reminded the people that there was a


law on the statute books which flew into the face of
one of the first principles of the Declaration of Inde-
pendence. Nevertheless, it was a law and all patriotic
citizens must obey it, though they might be ashamed
to hold up their heads afterwards ; it controverted the
golden rule which they had all learned at their mothers'
knees, but it was a law and they must bow before it ;
yonder locked in a room and awaiting the judgment
of his captors, was a man who had committed no
greater crime than to wish to breath the same air of
freedom with themselves. Yet the law said he might
be loaded with chains and carried away like a dog ;
and the law was paramount. C. C. Foot of Michigan
and others addressed the crowd in similar strains.

The officials who had the arrest in charge became
alarmed during the afternoon, and tried to get the
militia out to keep order. Marshal Allen commanded
the Sheriff of the county, William C. Gardiner, to bring
the militia to his aid. Sheriff Gardiner could not do
this, but instead ordered Captain Edward R. Prender-
gast to get his company in order, ready for action if
needed. But there had, as yet, been not the slightest
breach of the peace, and the crowd had been remark-
ably well behaved, considering the excitement. The
news that the militia had been called out caused a gen-
eral murmur of indignation in the city. This reached
the ears of Colonel Origen Vandenburgh, who at once
countermanded the orders of the Sheriff, which the


latter had no right to give. It might be added that
Colonel Vandenburgh was the moving spirit in orig-
inating the scheme of the "underground railroad"
in New York city. The police of the city, with the
exception of a few who had been pressed into service
of the government, were in sympathy with the general
feeling. The United States officials, few in numbers
as they were, were at the mercy of the crowd.

At 5 o'clock the examination of the prisoner was
resumed. HerveySheldon and David D. Hillis appeared,
to assist Mr. Gibbs in behalf of the alleged fugitive,
and J. R. Anderson appeared to assist Messrs. Law-
rence and Loomis for the claimant. The testimony
of Mr. Sear was resumed ; but before any progress
was made Commissioner Sabine consented to hear the
claim of the defense, that the prosecution should
produce evidence that persons were legally held to
service in Missouri. The excitement of the large and
increasing crowd outside the office was becoming
intense, and a number of windows in the office were
broken by stones thrown against them. At 7 o'clock
the Commissioner adjourned the court till 8 o'clock
the following morning.

The crowd outside had become so excited that it
was clear nothing but the rescue of Jerry could satisfy
it. The rescuing party from Dr. Hoyt's office had
just arrived on the scene, blackened like negroes and
otherwise disguised ; and they were armed with clubs,



axes, rods of iron or whatever they could find. The
windows were broken in, and the casements were
attacked with axes and bars of iron ; but so firm were
the fixtures that progress was slow. Finally a timber
about ten feet long and four inches thick was used as
a battering ram. By the application of this powerful
instrumentality, the casements were soon stove in,
and nothing remained to the rescuers but to enter and
overpower the police, who were retained to guard the
outer door of Jerry's prison. The assailants now
rushed through the apertures into the office, led by
J. M. Clapp, Peter Hollenbeck, James Davis and
others. At this moment, Ira H. Cobb and L. D.
Mansfield, who had remained in the police office to
look after Jerry, turned off the gas, and left the room
in darkness. The partition between the rescuers and
the victim was a strong one, and the door was locked.
The axes and iron bars and other weapons were again
used. Marshal Fitch partially opened the door and
pointed his pistol at one of the rescuers. He received
a blow on his arm from a rod of iron which broke the
bones; and the pistol and arm fell down together.
The Marshal, distracted by pain and fear, leaped out
of the north window of the room onto the side of the
canal, and thus escaped. The other officers opened
the door and thrust Jerry into the arms of his friends,
and thus escaped injury to their persons.

Jerry was received at the door by Peter Hollenbeck


and William Gray, both colored men and the latter a
fugitive slave. His body was mostly naked, being
covered only by tattered pantaloons and shirt, which
hung on him in rags. He was suffering from a
wounded rib and other bruises received by the harsh
treatment of his captors. His powerful frame was
perfectly helpless because of his shackles.

Jerry was taken in a sort of triumphal procession
through the great crowd of people to the Syracuse
House and thence to the railroad depot ; but the mass
of humanity was so dense that the carriage to take
him off could not come to him. Several rescuers now
ran in opposite directions through the crowd, crying :
"Fire! fire! fire!" In a short time Jerry was left
alone with a few brave men, who lifted him, groaning
with pain, into a carriage. It was a long and wander-
ing ride that he took that night. He was finally taken
to a colored man's house in the eastern part of the
city, where his shackles were with some difficulty
removed. He was then clad in female attire and
taken to the house of Caleb Davis in Genesee street,
his rescuers not being willing to trust his colored

Jerry was too ill to be moved for several days.
Only five or six people knew of his whereabouts. It
was generally supposed that he was in Canada. Some
abolitionists got so incensed with Mr. Davis for his
denunciations of the perpetrators of the outrage on



law and liberty that they wanted to make it warm for
him. A liberal reward had been offered for Jerry's
apprehension, and in some way a faint suspicion was
aroused in the minds of those most eager for his arrest,
that he was still in the city. The roads were all
watched. Four days or so after the " Rescue," Jerry
was able to go forward.

The ' ' article " could not, for obvious reasons, be
forwarded by daylight, and night would not suffice to
reach the St. Lawrence river. One night Jerry was
hidden under some straw in a covered wagon, and
driven rapidly towards the north. Some hint of his
escape reached the ears of the "Patriots," and the
wagon was instantly pursued by two or three others.
There are numerous toll gates in the north part of
Syracuse, along the Cicero plank road. Before the
first wagon, they all opened like magic ; but the drivers
of the pursuing buggies never before encountered such
stupid and sleepy gate-tenders. Two hours before
Jerry left the city, Caleb Davis had driven over the
route and left some money at every toll gate. Under
such unecpial conditions, the chase was very soon
given up.

The next morning at day break, the fugitive and
his friend drove into the barnyard of a Mr. Ames, a
well-to-do farmer in the town of Mexico. Mr. Ames
was a Quaker and an Odd Fellow. It was because he
was an Odd Fellow and had been written to by a


brother in the lodge that he received his visitors
kindly, gave them provisions and shelter and speeded
them on their journey, though, as he said, he was an
old Hunker Democrat and had no sympathy with
their kind of people. So the day was passed in the
haymow, and a very liberal supply of food was
furnished by the kind-hearted women of the family.

At dark, Jerry was driven to the house of a Mr.
Clark, near Oswego. After some trouble and a delay
of several days, the captain of a small vessel agreed
to set sail after dark. By him Jerry was taken to
Kingston, where he soon was established again in his
trade as a cooper. In Kingston Jerry married; and
according to all accounts he lived a happy and com-
fortable life there for four years, when he was taken
ill and died.

As to just what sort of a man Jerry was, it is hard
at the present dav to learn. His friends, the aboli-
tionists, praised him in the highest of terms. The
"Patriotic" papers made him out the most worth-
less of negroes. Said the Syracuse Journal at that
time: "We notice in all sections of the country the
papers represent that Jerry was a very bad fellow,
that he was a thief, etc., and had been in the peni-
tentiary four times in this city. This, if true, would
have very little to do with the merits and demerits of
the Fugitive Slave Law or Jerry's rescue. It could
not be expected that a man brought up thirty-five


years in the midst of slaves, where all the command-
ments of the Decalogue are set at naught, would have
a very nice sense of morals. Yet Jerry was not so
bad as many represent. His commitments to the
penitentiary all grew out of difficulties in regard to
the woman he was living with. He was never charged
or convicted as a thief or a robber."

If the more morally earnest men and women of
Syracuse took a high-minded satisfaction in the influ-
ence the " Rescue " would have upon the treatment in
the North of the escaping fugitives, the less intellectual
women were not above getting pleasure in trying to
torture the defeated United States officials in a very
feminine way. They carefully packed up Jerry's
shackles and sent them by express as a present to
President Fillmore. They presented James R. Law-
rence, counsel for the Government in the Jerry case,
with thirty pieces of silver — three cent pieces — as the
price of betraying iunocent blood. Many more similar
acts they performed.

The news of Jerry's rescue traveled throughout
the entire country ; it became a National affair. In
the course of a week all the newspapers in New York
State and many beyond had published some account
of the "Jerry Rescue." By far the greater number
severely censured the entire proceeding, though but
one paper in Syracuse, the " Copperhead " Star, took
this stand. There was great indignation aroused.


The Albany Argus, the chief Democratic paper,
said: " The recital of the outrages upon the law and
its ministers at Syracuse will be read with mingled
astonishment and shame. They are a reproach to the
city where they were permitted, a burning disgrace
to the State at large. This is the first instance of
forcible resistance to the execution of the laws of the
Union that has occurred in this State. It is the first
instance where an armed mob has attempted, with or
without success, to overcome a judicial tribunal by
violence, to trample on the law."

The Washington Union seriously recommended
that the city be placed in a state of siege by the army,
and be declared out of the Union until it repented of
its sins and manifested a disposition to return to its

On the 15th of October, it began to look serious
for the men who participated in the rescue of Jerry.
Five men were arrested and taken to Auburn to be
tried before Judge Alfred Conkling; and there was
every indication that more arrests were soon to follow.
The men arrested were Moses Summers, Stephen
Porter, James D. Davis and two colored men : William
Thompson and John Brown. A process was also
served on Ira H. Cobb, but he was ill and unable to
answer it.

The warrants on which these men were arrested
charged them with "having aided and assisted a negro


man named Jerry, alleged to be a fugitive from labor,"
to escape from Deputy Marshal Allen. The prisoners
were therefore commanded "in the name of the Pres-
ident of the United States of America " to appear
before the court. On the afternoon of that same day
the case was opened. For the Government appeared
James R. Lawrence, United States District Attorney,
and for the prisoners, John G. Forbes, D. D. Hillis,
and Q. A. Johnson. Bail to the amount of $2,000
each was provided for the three white prisoners, and
to the amount of $500 for the colored men. George
Barnes, W. E. Abbott and R. R. Raymond signed the
bonds. On the 16th, Prince Jackson and Harrison
Allen, two more negroes, were arrested and brought
before the court.

Judge Conkling decided that it was "proper to
presume that there is no testimony tending to fix
upon the defendants the guilt of any higher offence "
than that of " having unlawfully aided in the escape
of an alleged fugitive from labor." The prisoners
were held for the Grand Jury of the next United
States District Court, to be held at Buffalo on the
second Tuesday of November. Bonds to the amount
of 82,000 for each of the four white men were signed
by ex-Governor W. H. Seward, Lyman Clary, Oliver
T. Burt, Henry Gifford, R. W. Washburn, George
Barnes, W. E. Abbott, Abner Bates, John Ames,
Hiram Putnam, E. W. Leavenworth, C. B. Sedgwick,


Samuel Mead, Hiram Hoyt, Daniel McDougall, Charles
A. Wheaton, R. A. Yoe, Charles Leonard and Alanson
Thorp. Similar bonds of $500 each, for the four
colored men, were signed by ex-Governor Seward.

After the examination of the prisoners was over,
Mr. Seward invited all the party who came from
Syracuse in behalf of the prisoners, to his beautiful
residence, and there entertained them delightfully.

The following is a list of the witnesses introduced
for the Government by James R. Lawrence: B. L.
Higgins, Joseph Williamson, Joseph F. Sabine,
George A. Green, John W. Jones, Thomas M.
Masson, Henry M. Baker, Emery Ormsby, Sylvester
House, Henry Shattuck, Charles Woodruff, Edward
Prendergast, Oliver C. Stuart, Henry W. Allen,
Benjamin P. Kinney, William Baldwin, Paige Newton,
Charles P. Cole, Alonzo Torrey, George Blair, Willard

At the Buffalo United States District Court, true
indictments were found against the prisoners held over
by Judge Conkling, and also against W. L. Crandell,
L. H. Salisbury, J. B. Brigham and Montgomery
Merrick. These men all gave bail to appear before
the United States District Court at Albany in January.
Nothing of importance developed at the Albany court,
and the cases were transferred to the United States
District Court at Canandaigua.

At the time of the sitting of the court, Gerrit


Smith went to Canandaigua and addressed a large
crowd in the open air, using such forcible arguments
that no jury could be empanelled on which there
were not several who had formed an opinion against
the law. So Judge Hall let all the "Jerry Rescue
Cases " fall to the ground forever.

At these various court sessions, only the cases of
Enoch Reed, W. L. Salmon and J. B. Brigham, who
had also been indicted, came to trial. The two latter
were acquitted, and Reed died while waiting for an
appeal from a conviction.

The men indicted were hardly fair selections. Most
of them had nothing to do with the rescue beyond
a little active sympathy. Although Gerrit Smith,
Charles A. Wheaton and the Rev. Samuel J. May had
published in the papers an acknowledgment that
they had assisted all they could in the rescue of
Jerry, the attorney did not see fit to bring any of them
to trial.

H. W. Allen, the United States Deputy Marshal,
and James Sear, the agent of the claimant, were
arrested on warrants, charging them with attempting
to kidnap a citizen of Syracuse. An indictment was

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Online LibraryGurney S StrongEarly landmarks of Syracuse → online text (page 16 of 22)