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History of Calhoun county, Michigan : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principle interests (Volume 1) online

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"7 Roger Brooke Taney succeeded John Marshall as chief justice of the United
States in March, 1836. In his decisious he upheld and supported the Fugitive
Slave Law.

'8 Gorham, see sketch, Vol. XXXI, p. 27, this series.

'9 Comstock, see sketch. Vol. XXVI, p. 365, this series.

so Marshall Statesman, 1893, numbers 18, 19; see also Marshall Statesman, Janu-
ary, 1847, and December 15, 1905; Evart's History of Calhoun County, 1877, p.
23; Life of Zaehariah Chandler, p. 75.

81 See sketch, Vol. XIV, p. 79, this series.

S2 Deacon Jabez S. Fitch built the Presbyterian church at Marshall. See sketch,
Vol. II, p. 239, this series.


ment, which was known to the unregenerate as ' ' Nigger Town. ' ' To this
negro settlement, about 1845, I think, there came Adam Crosswhite and
his family, consisting of his wife and three or four children. Several of
the children attended the district school. I know that the oldest son
attended the same school that I did. I was a histy lad of thirteen years
and he was two or three years older. I remember that I struck quite
an intimacy with young Crosswhite, who confided to me under a pledge
of secrecy that he and his family were fugitives from slavery in Ken-
tucky, and having reached Marshall on the "Underground" on their way
to Canada and certain freedom, had stopped off for a few days at the
negro settlement, where finding some old Kentucky friends, and being
offered employment, they concluded to locate. The denizens of the set-
tlement appeared always to be apprehensive as to their safety, as young
Crosswhite told me several times that suspicious looking white men
had been loitering about "Nigger Town," but as they disappeared and
nothing came of their spying, confidence was measurably restored.

One of the characters that infested Marshall in those days was an
old darkey, that from his vocation, we boys called "Old Auction Bell."
As I remember, he was about six feet tall and lame and rode an old
under-sized Indian pony. AVhen mounted he cut a most ridiculous fig-
ure, with his height increased by the tallest stove-pipe hat that he could
get hold of, and his feet just clearing the ground. His business was
to ride through the streets of the town and announce auction sales
or "wondoos" as he called them. Mounted on his faithful steed, he rode
ringing a dinner bell, at the same time yelling at the top of his voice,
"Auction Bell! Auction Bell! Auction Bell!" until reaching a con-
venient corner, he would stop and announce to the atmosphere or to any
one who might be listening, that at such and such place, Mr. Blank
would offer for sale to the highest bidder, the following — and here
would follow a description of the articles to be sold, clothed all in the
rich imagery of the Ethopian imagination.

Early one morning in the fall of 1846, if my memory serves me right,
shortly after I had risen, I heard the old darkey's bell and he yelling
in evident fear and excitement, "Auction Bell! Auction Bell!! Auction
Belli!!" We were about sitting down to breakfast. My father said
"What in the world can be the matter with old Auction Bell? It's too
early for one of his 'wondoos.' " So we went out to ascertain. As
he came opposite to us the old Auction Bell reined his pony and poured
forth the wildest and weirdest story that it has ever been my fortune
to listen to. I am only sorry that my memory does not .serve to render
it in his own vernacular. The upshot of it all was that "The slave-catch-
ers from Kentucky had made a descent upon the negro settlement, and
backed by deputy United States ^Marshal Harvey Dixon, had drawn
pistols, knocked down negroes, shot at others, wounding some, kicked
in dooi-s and had seized the whole Crosswhite family and were prepar-
ing to take them back to slavery." The old fellow fairly frothed at
the mouth during the recital of his lurid tale.

At the breakfast table, I asked my father if he was going out to the
negro settlement to see the excitement. He replied "No," that he was
the justice of the peace, and as such, a committing magistrate, and if


Auction Bell's story was half true, warrants would be applied for, and
that he should go directly to his office and directed me to go to school
and avoid all scenes of excitement.

But what healthy, fearless and adventurous fourteen-year-old boy
could resist such a "call of the wild." As soon as I could slip away
unobserved, I made a bee-line for the negro settlement, and there found
excitement enough and to spare. x\side from the "Hoi PoUoi" there
were many of jMarshalUs most substantial citizens, among them, 0. C.
Comstock, Charles T. Gorham, I think George IngersoU and Lansing
Kingsbury and others whose names have escaped me. The slave-hunters
still had the Crosswhite family in duress, but were surrounded by an
angry and excited crowd, which was not chary in expressing its opinion
or its threats. The central and most important figure was Frank Trout-
man, a young Kentucky lawyer, who was the agent and the nephew of
the owner of the Ci'osswhitcs. and jxissilily a relation of the fugitives,
as their name was i-ci-taiiily im iiiisniiiiicr. Troutman was a tall, hand-
some Kentiickian of twi-nly-livc or thirly years. With him were three
or four fellows of the type made familiar to us later, by Mrs. Stowe,
in her description of Legree and the slave-catchers who chased Eliza
across the Ohio; low-browed, truculent looking liomhrcs. Amidst all
the excitement, Troutman never lost his head. When any of the lietter
class of citizens came to expostulate with him. telling him that in view
of the excitement and the passion aroused, it would be suicidal for him
to attempt to remove the fugiti^^s, he would take their names and ask
them if they threatened him witli violence if he attempted to remove
his property. This of course they dischumed, but called his attention
to the threat and demonstrations of irresponsible parties over whom
they claimed to have no control. By the time the county officers arrived
with warrants Lssued for exhiliiting weapons in a rude and threaten-
ing manner, assault and battery, breaking into hoiises and various other
offenses, Troutman had his notebook pretty well filled Avith the names
of substantial citizens, and what they had said to him under excitement,
and this book was a very important factor in securing a vi-rdict for
the plaintiff in the case of Giltner vs. Gorham et. al., in tlir I'nited
States District Court for the state of Michigan. When the slave-catch-
ers were arrested and removed, the Crosswhites were left practically
unguarded and free, and the Abolitionists lost no time in getting them
on the "under-ground railroad" and running them into Canada.

Whenever I could, I attended my father's coiirt when he was examin-
ing Troutman and his men for violations of Michigan law, when at-
tempting to get the Crosswhites. They were held for trial before the
higher court, notwithstanding that in those days, my father was a sound
Jacksonian Democrat though in 1860 he voted for Abraham Lincoln.
In 1865 in reading the debates of the last Congressional Record on the
last fugitive slave law, passed in 1849 or 50, I was intensely amused
to find my democratic father, denounced by a tire-eating southern con-
gressman as a Michigan Abolitionist. Justice of the Peace, for holding
Troutman and his cohorts for trial nmlii' llic .^fil■lligan law. The Cross-
white ease was simply one of the fevciish indications of that inevitable
conflict between the north and the soulh whicli culminated in the elee-

HISTORY OF oALiiorx corxTV


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l"'iancis Troutinan and his associates, witii their own cars, heard tiie
sentiment of freedom, fearlessly expressed, tliey iiad heeii arraigned
before a eourt of justice in scathing terms, they had been convicted and
punished for their misdemeanor, and they had returned liome threaten-
ing vengeance to fire the southern heart. The people of Kentucky liad
also taken an ob.ject lesson in public opinion, and discovered a meiuiee
to the institution of slavery and considered means to preserve it.

Troutman returned to Marshall in May, following, not to capture
slaves, but to look up evidence, retain counsel and to prosecute ]\Iar-
shall men for rescuing the fugitives. He exploited the action of the legis-
lature of Kentucky on the affair, and asserted that his state was his
backer, and had appropriated money to prosecute the men involved, to
the extreme extent of the law, and to make an example of them to deter
other abolition mobs. Pratt & Crary of Marshall were employed as
local attonie.ys, and on the first da.y of June, 1847, a suit was com-
menced in the circuit court of the United States for the District of
.Michigan, in an action of trespass against Charles T. Gorham, Oliver
C. Comstock. Jr.. Asa B. Cook, Jarvis Hurd, John M. Easterly, George
Ingersoll, Herman Camp, Randal Hobart, Platner iMoss, William
Parker, Charles Berger and John Smith for rescuing Adam Crosswhite
and his wife and four children, claiming large damages. The first
eight defendants named were among the leading business men of Mar-
shall, and the last four were prominent colored citizens. The declara-
tion filed contained seven counties, and was very lengthy. Separate
suits in actions of debt were also commenced at the same time in said
court bv Francis Giltner against Oliver C. Comstock, Jr., Asa B. Cook,
Jarvis Hurd. John ]M. Easterly, Charles T. Gorham, George Ingersoll
and Randal Ilobart to recover the five hundred dollars penalty under
the provision of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, then in force for
"knowingly and wilfully, etc., — obstructing and hindering — claimant's
agent — in seizing and arresting — said fiigitives from labor" and "for
rescuing such fugitives." AViiile these penal suits were never tried, and
were afterwards discontinued, at that time they iiiteiisilied the feeling
of the community. Anti-slavery men began to consider \\,iys and means
to limit and cripple the institution. There always had heen a strong
anti-slavery sentiment in Miciiigan. and an overwhelmiiig ma.iority of
all i)arties approved the Wilniot Proviso. ^'^ On the 13th of February,

s" During the preliminary negotiations of peace witli ilexieo in 1846, David Wil-
mot, a jurist practising law in 1834 and member of Congress from 1845 to 1851,
offered an amendment to the bill to purchase lands from Mexico, ' ' That as an ex-
press and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the republic
nf Jlexico b.y the X'nited States, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever
exist in any "part of said territory." It was adopted by the House l)ut failed of final
action. It was the basis of the organization known as the l"ree-Soi! partv, in 1S4S
and of the Kepublicaii pMrtv in IS.'iG. Harper's Cvclopedia of rnitcd Slates llistorv,
Vol. X, p. 394.


1847, the Democratic legislature endorsed and adopted this resolution;
"Resolved, That in the acquisition of any new territory, whether by pur-
chase, conquest or otherwise, we deem it the duty of the general gov-
ernment to extend over the same the ordinance of seventeen hundred
and eighty-seven, with all its rights, privileges and conditions and im-
munities. " s^ It will be remembered that the ordinance of 1787 here
referred to provided "that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary
servitude in said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crime
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." The language
of the Wilmot Proviso was copied from this ordinance. On the 13th
of January, 1849, the legislature again "resolved that we are in favor
of the fundamental principles of the Ordinance of 1787," — and "we
believe that Congress has the power, and that it is their duty to prohibit
by legislative enactment the introduction and existence of slaves within
any of the territories of the United States, now or hereafter to be
acquired. ' ' ^^ These resolutions indicate the sentiment of the masses
at that time. Lewis Cass had always indorsed this old Jeffersonian doc-
trine until 1847. He was then seeking the nomination of the Democratic
Party for president, and wanted the support of the south. On the 30th
of December, 1847, he wrote his celebrated Nicholson letters, and de-
clared that ' ' a great change had been going on in the public mind upon
the subject (Wilmot 's proviso), in my own mind as well as others, and
that doubts are resolving themselves into convictions that the principle
it involves should be kept out of National legislation and left to the
people of the confederacy in their respective local governments." This
shameful repudiation of the policy of restricting slavery in the terri-
tories secured the nomination of Lewis Cass for president May 22nd,

1848, but it drove thousands of Wilmot Proviso Democrats from the
party, and caused his defeat at the election. It forced anti-slavery men
to unite on some practical method of restraining the slave power, and
added new force to the anti-slavery cause. On the 28th of June, 1848,
the case of Giltner ts. Gorham et al. came on for trial at Detroit be-
fore Hon. John McLean,*« a Justice of the United States Supreme Court
sitting as Circuit Judge, and a jury was sworn. Abner Pratt and John
Norvell appeared for the slave-owner, and Hovey K. Clarke, Theodore
Romeyn, Halmer H. Emmons and James F. Joy appeared for the citi-
zens. The names of the attorneys indicate that the case was closely con-
tested, and that it was a battle of giants. But the trial was something
more than a legal battle; it was also a political battle waged in the
court room. If the slave-holder could not recover for his slaves in De-
troit, the home of the Democratic candidate, how could that candidate
expect to receive the vote of the slave-holders in the south. Never before
or since in this State, has such a powerful, persistent and subtile
political influence been exerted on court, counsel, parties, witnesses
and jury, as was exerted on this trial. The courtroom and the commu-

84 Laws of 1847, p. 194.

s-' Laws of 1849, p. 362.

SI! John McLean was the first United States circuit court judge for Michigan.
He held that office from 1836-1862 and was succeeded by- Judge N. H. Swayne.
Farmer's History of Detroit and iliohigan.


uity were wroiiglit up to the most intense degree of silent interest dur-
ing the long trial. While this influence, which was felt, not seen, was
exercised to win votes for Gen. Cass in the south, it alienated from him
votes at home. The charge of the court was long and laid down the law
as it then existed. Gerrit Smith came from New York, and volunteered
to argue the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 before
the court, but counsel for the defendants, fearing the effect upon the
jury deemed it inexpedient to have so rabid an Abolitionist take part
in the trial, and such service was declined. The following syllabus of
the charge indicates the rules of law laid down to guide the juiy.

(1) "It is under the constitution and acts of Congress only, that the
owner of a slave has the right to reclaim him in a state where slavery
does not exist."

(2) "There is no principle in a common law, in the law of nations
or of nature which authorize such a recaption."

(3) "A parol authority by the master to his agent, is sufficient to
authorize a seizure of a fugitive from labor. ' '

(4) "To make a person liable for a rescue in such a case, he nmst
act 'knowingly and willingly.' "

(5) "But this knowledge that the colored personis a fugitive from
labor is inferable from circumstances."

(6) "To everyone who mingles with the crowd, it is not neces-
sary that the agent should state on what authority he proceeds. It is
enough that he states it generally."

(7) "And one of a crowd, who interposes by manual force or by en-
couraging others, by words, to rescue a fugitive is responsible."

(8) "But he does not make himself responsible where he endeavors
to allay the excitement and prevent a breach of the peace."

(9) "The agent, in seizing a fugitive from labor, acts under the
sanction of law. no warrant being necessary."

(11) "Where a rescue is made by the continuous action of a crowd,
anyone who took a part in the course of action is responsible, and may be
sued with others who participated at a different time in the same action. ' '

(12) "A female fugitive from labor, having had a child during her
residence in a free state, on an action for her value and for the value of
her hu.sband. etc.. on a charge of rescue against the defendants, the court
held, as the child was not claimed in the declaration, the question
whether the claimant had a right to it and a control over it. was not
necessarily involved in the case."

(14) "An expression by the agent of the plaintiff that he should
not pursue the slaves, is no abandonment of his right of action."^'

This is one of the first cases under the statute that was tried, and it
became a leading case. The charge was as fair an interpretation of
the law as it then existed, and was as favorable to the defendants
as the rules of law would permit. The defendant's onlv hope of Sue-
s' 4 McLean, 402. Giltner vs. Gorhani, et al.


cess was based upon the auti-slavery sentiments of the jury. The law
as interpreted by the court was a revelation to the parties, and to the
people at large. It was quoted and discussed at the fireside, in the
pulpit, on the platform, on the stump and in the press throughout the
land. For the first time, freemen realized that they were made the un-
willing tools of the slave-holder and were compelled by law, under
penalties of ruinous fine and imprisonment to restore the fleeing slave to
his pursuing master. A bitter hatred of slavery was aroused and a de-
termination to limit and cripple the institution was created. On the 12th
of June, 1847, the .jury disagreed and was discharged. The trial had
been followed with intense interest both north and south.

The defendant, Charles T. Gorham was well-known, and a man of
wide influence. He had always been a Democrat and a political ad-
herent of Gen. Cass. After witnessing the cruelties of slavery in his own
town and after facing the infiuenee of the slave-power in court, like
Gen. Cass upon the Wilmot Proviso, "a great change came over his
mind," and repudiating the pro-slavery platform of his party, announced
his hostility to that institution. Re.jecting the extreme radicalism of the
Garrison Abolitionists, and the nullifying measures of the Liberty Party
of the day and seeking practical methods he advocated the exclusion
of slavery from the territories, as the best means of attack. From that
time until slavery was destroyed, Charles T. Gorham waged a relent-
less warfare willi head and heart, with tongue and pen, with hand and
])uisc. ill iiiiiiiiripal, legislative, county, congressional, state and na-
tiiiiial coiixcuiiDiis. at the hustings and at the polls, in private and in
official life, in every practical manner against the accursed institution.
He was ably and elo(|uciifly su|ii>i>i-ted by Hovey K. Clarke, the local at-
torney in the case, who had similar political antecedents. Under their
leadership, ^Marshall and Callioun County became an important center
of intluenee in the anti-slavery movement. A call for the celebrated
Buffalo convention had been made to meet on the 9th day of August,
1848. While these Marshall men did not attend this convention in per-
son, they were ably represented. Erastus Hussey of Battle Creek, a
staunch Quaker Abolitionist, and an active superintendent of an im-
poitant division of the Under-ground Railroad, and Austin Blair of
Jackson, also counsel in the suit, and a radical anti-slavery man, had
w;itcheil the ])roceedings of the case from the fugitives' door to the
disagreement of the .iury, with a personal interest, and had been in
constant touch, and in freciuent consultation with Gen. Gorham and
his associates during that time, and had been aroused by the Cross-
white affair. It was at the request of Charles T. Gorham, Hovey K.
Clarke and other citizens of Marshall that they should attend the con-
vention, represent the anti-slavery men of this vicinity, and help organ-
ize a national party on an anti-slavery platform. Tliese men attended
that convention and took an active part in organizing the Free-Soil
Party, which was the first national party organized to restrict the ex-
tension of slavery in a constitutional way and eventually to desti-oy it,
which prepared the way for the organization of the party of Lincoln
years after. The 8th and IGtli planks of the platform adopted are as
follows: "Resolved, That we accept the issues which the slave-power


has forced upon us. ami to tlieir demand for more slave states, and
more slave territory, our ealm hut final answer is, no more slave states,
and no more slave territory. Let the soil of our extensive domain be
kept free for the hard.v pioneers of our o\un land, and the oppressed and
banished of other lands, .seeking homes of comfort and ticlds of enter-
prise in the new world."

(16) "Resolved, That we inseril)(> on our l)anner: 'Free Soil. Fn-e
Speech. Free Labor and Free Jlen,' and under it we will tight on, and
fight forever until a triumphant victory sliall reward our exertions."

The declaration of independence of ^Marshall men, made by words and
deeds at the fugitive's door and now enrolled in a party platform, and
proclaimed to the waiting world. Under the leadership of these men,
the anti-slavery factions in Calhoun Count.y were organized and were
induced to support tlie anti-slavery candidate for Congress. As a re-
siilt the democratic candidate was defeated in 1848 and William
Sprague. a F'ree-Soil Whig was elected. He was one of the Free-Soilers,
who under the lead of Joshua R. Giddings, held the balance of power
between the Whigs and tlie Democrats in the 31st Congress. As in
1844 the Libert.y Party drew off enough anti-slavery whig votes to de-
feat Henry Clay, the favorite son of Kentucky for president, so in
1848 the Free-Soil Party drew off enough Wilmot Proviso Democratic
votes to defeat Lewis Cass, the favorite son of ^Michigan for president.
Had it not been for tlie agitation, the awakening and the influence of
the Crosswhite affair tlie results would have been different.

The ease of Giltner vs. Gorham et al. came on for the second trial
in the United States court at Detroit before Hon. Ross Wilkins,^'* .judge,
and a .jury drawn and empaneled by a Democratic United States mar-
shal, was sworn on the 10th day of November, 1848. The case was again
closely contested, and on the 5th da.v of December, 1848, a verdict was
rendered in favor of Francis Giltner, for the value of Adam Crosswhite,
his wife and four children assessed at the sum of $1,92(5 damages with
costs of suit to be taxed against Charles T. Gorham, Oliver C. Com-
stock, Jr., Jarvis Hurd, George IngersoU, Herman Camp, Platner JIoss,
Charles Berger and James Smitii, the suit having been previously dis-
continued as to defendants Cook, Easterly, Hobart, and Parkei'. The
taxable cost of tlic suit was heav.v, numerous depositions had been made
in ^Marshall ; the

Online LibraryWashington GardnerHistory of Calhoun county, Michigan : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principle interests (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 74)