J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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!l Harris: Negro Servitude in Illinois, p. 7.
10 Fergus: Historical Series, No. 13, p. n.


fenses, including that of running away, as for slaves; and throughout the code;
'slaves' and 'servants' (colored) were subject to the same penalties and restrictions."

But even before the final repeal of the "Black Laws" a decision of the Illinois
Supreme Court had largely rendered them nugatory in effect. In 1845, the Su-
preme Court decided a case involving the validity of the law regarding indentured
servants and the descendants of slaves of the old French settlers. In a suit known
as "Jarrot vs. Jarrot," a so-called French slave, sued his mistress, Julia Jarrot
of Cahokia, for pay for his past services. The Court declared that "a colored per-
son may maintain an action of assumpsit for services rendered, and in such action
his right to freedom may be tried:" u and further that "the descendants of the
slaves of the old French settlers, born since the Ordinance of 1787, and before or
since the adoption of the constitution of Illinois, cannot be held in slavery in this

. This decision was based almost entirely upon the previous judgments of the
Supreme Courts of other states to the effect that "residence in a free territory,
where the master voluntarily settled with his slaves, entitled such negro servants to
their freedom." 12

"The effect of this decision," says Professor Harris, "was most fortunate for
the negro. It not only admitted him to the right to sue (for his freedom) in the
courts, but it practically rendered the holding of any negro indentured servants
within the state illegal. For if Illinois was a free state, and if residence within her
boundaries, when voluntary on the master's part, entitled a slave to his freedom, it
would then be impossible for any citizen of the state to hold an indentured negro
for any length of time in his service. Such at least was the interpretation which
both the press and people of the state put upon the judgment in this case of Jarrot
vs. Jarrot, and it was welcomed as a great triumph by all anti-slavery men." 13


A negro was sold at public auction in Chicago in the year 1842, under the cir-
cumstances related below. The sale was made some years before the Fugitive Slave
Law was enacted, under authority of the so-called "Black Laws of Illinois."

One Edwin Heathcock, a colored man, said to have been industrious and well-
behaved, and a member of the Methodist Church, was working in a field on the
North Branch of the Chicago river, having hired out as a laborer. While so em-
ployed a quarrel arose between himself and a fellow workman, which resulted in
the arrest of the colored man on the ground of being in Illinois without free pa-
pers or having given bonds. The man was brought before Justice L. C. Kercheval,
who committed him to jail. He was put in charge of Sheriff Samuel J. Lowe, in
the jail on the northwest corner of the court-house square.

Heathcock was then advertised for sale in the Chicago Democrat for six weeks,
with the usual cut of a runaway negro, bare-headed and a bundle over his shoulder
on a stick. The day of the sale was to be Monday, November 14th, if no master
appeared to claim him. On Saturday night preceding the sale, Zebina Eastman,

11 Harris: Negro Servitude in Illinois, p. 117.

12 Ibid., p. 118.
"Ibid., p. 118.


who was then publishing the new anti-slavery paper, the Western Citizen, met
Calvin De Wolf, a young law student, and proposed to him a plan of giving greater
publicity to the proposed sale, in order to bring home to the people of a free com-
munity the full nature of such a scandalous proceeding.

Together they went to the printing office of the former, where Mr. Eastman set
up in type a handbill headed "A Man for Sale," giving the date and place of the
Monday morning sale, and inviting the citizens of Chicago to be present. De Wolf
stood behind the press and "rolled" while Eastman "pulled." Having finished this
the two men went out and attached them to the board fence that surrounded the
court-house square, where the people could see them as they passed to and from the
churches on the following day. On Monday a crowd gathered in front of the jail
and Sheriff Lowe appeared with the man whom the law required him to offer for

The sheriff placed the man near him and announced that he was to be sold "to
pay the expenses of his imprisonment." There were people enough present to have
aroused a lively competition in making bids, if they had been so disposed; but in
response to the sheriff's announcement and request for bids there was only an
ominous silence. The sheriff, seeing the temper of the crowd, felt called upon to
explain that he was only the agent of the law, and that as the man had been com-
mitted and had not proved his freedom, neither had any master proved that he
was a slave, the law required him to sell the negro to pay expenses. Still no bids
were received. Again the sheriff addressed the people: "Here is an able-bodied
man; I am required to sell him for a term of service, for the best price I can get
for him, to pay his jail fees. How much am I bid?" No responses were made,
and the sheriff continued: "Gentlemen, this is not a pleasant job. Don't blame me,
but the law; I am compelled to do it. If I can get no bids for this man I must re-
turn him to jail, and continue the sale at another time."

Finally the threat of putting the poor man back into jail prevailed so far that
a voice was raised from the opposite side of the street, "I bid twenty-five cents."
This bid came from Mahlon D. Ogden, a younger brother of William B. Ogden,
Chicago's first mayor. Appeals were made in the usual manner for an increased
bid. "Do I hear no more," said the auctioneer, "only twenty-five cents for this
able bodied man; only a quarter?" But no further bid was made, and the man
was declared "sold to Mahlon D. Ogden for twenty-five cents." Mr. Ogden took
out a silver quarter from his pocket and handed it to the sheriff, in presence of the
crowd, and then called to the man whom he had bought: "Edwin, I have bought
you, I have given a quarter for you, you are my man my slave ! Now, you go
where you please." This brought a cheer from the crowd and Heathcock walked
forth once more a free man. Eastman says in regard to this episode, "I believe
it was the only slave sale that ever took place in Chicago."

The foregoing account has been condensed from a much longer one related by
Andreas, and covers all the material portions of the occurrence. The "Black Code
of Illinois" more fully described elsewhere, actually remained on the statute books
until February 7th, 1865, when all the acts which composed it were swept away at
once by an act which closed with the words, "the same are hereby repealed." This
final act marked the end of those iniquitous laws, and Eastman, who had thus lived
to see the full fruition of his early hopes and life-long struggles, commented upon


it in these glowing words: "This is one of the immutable laws, that stand for-
ever ! Every pigeon-hole of the legal archives was ransacked, and every taint of
color in our laws searched out and buried forever."


The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law was supposed by Henry Clay and others
to settle for all time the controversy which had raged so long about slavery. But
a warning voice was raised in the Senate by John P. Hale of New Hampshire, who
said: "And now gentlemen flatter themselves that they have done a great deed for
the peace of the country. . . . Sir, let not gentlemen deceive themselves.
There was a time when a set of men cried 'Peace, peace, but there was
no peace'. . . . No, Sir, that peace will be short, and that rejoicing will most
assuredly be turned into mourning. Gentlemen altogether mistake the character of
the people whose sentiments have been violated, whose wishes have been disre-
garded, and whose interests have been trampled in the dust." As Von Hoist, com-
menting on Hale's speech, says: "Here was the text for the history of the next ten
years, the last years of this Union." 14

The sentiment of the people of the West was expressed by Hon. George W.
Julian, representative from Indiana in Congress, at that time. Addressing the
southern members he said: "You hold three millions of your fellow beings as chat-
tels. You deny them the principle of eternal justice, a fair day's wages for a fair
day's work. The free states will observe faithfully the compromises of the Con-
stitution; they will give up their soil as a hunting ground for the slave holders.
But they will not actively co-operate against the unhappy victim of the tyranny.
And if southern gentlemen mean to insist upon such active co-operation on our part
as a condition of their continuing in the Union, they may as well, in my opinion,
begin to look about them for some way of getting out of it on the best terms they


The sentiment against slavery was strong in Chicago, and the ascendancy of the
Democratic party declined to the vanishing point within two years after the passage
of the Fugitive Slave Law. Zebina Eastman had identified himself with the anti-
slavery party some vears before, and had become a powerful factor in leading the
sentiment against slavery. The Western Citizen was established by him in 1842.
"Its call for freedom," says Professor N. D. Harris, "was ever clear, strong, ef-
fective. There was nothing radical or fanatical in the conduct of the paper." The
policy of the new "Liberty party" was defined in the opening issue. "We wish to
save this Nation," was its language, "from the evils and curse of slavery, and from
the political degeneracy which has fallen upon us through the influence of a de-
parture from the first principles of liberty."

At first, the cause espoused by Eastman and his fellow workers was an un-
popular one, though gaining adherents as long as he continued the publication of
his paper, which lasted until 1853. When the obnoxious Fugitive Slave Law was
enacted the Western Citizen said in its issue of October 1 4th, 1850: "We have the

14 Von Hoist: Constitutional History of United States, Vol. Ill, p. 562.


same work before us that we marked out in 1848. Slavery is to be excluded from
the Territories by law, it is to be abolished in the District of Columbia, the fugitive
law is to be repealed, and the influence of the slave party as such is to be abolished."
A "Liberty Association" was formed by the colored people of Chicago "for the
dissemination of the principles of human freedom," and all colored freedmen, then
resident in the city, were urged to unite upon this subject, and join the association.
The Chicago Journal in reporting the proceedings of the meeting, which was held
in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, on Wells street, said that "there were
over three hundred at this meeting, which was characterized by a degree of pru-
dence and deliberation no less remarkable than commendable."


An incident which gave evidence of the popular feeling is mentioned by the West-
ern Citizen. "On Tuesday last, October 15th, Mr. Uriah Hindi, of Missouri, ap-
peared in the city in pursuit of several fugitives. Being himself a volunteer, and
not personally acquainted with the persons he sought, he brought with him as an
assistant, a trusty slave to aid him in the arrest and identification. He displayed
his handbills describing the three colored persons, and sought for them openly.
As soon as this was known he was waited on by some of our respectable citizens,
and kindly informed that he was employed in an enterprise full of personal risk. In
the meantime, the colored assistant found an opportunity to board a steamer in the
harbor and to sail away to the Queen's dominions. Mr. Hindi heard of this fact,
and also received an intimation that a coat of tar and feathers was preparing for
him. In alarm he applied to Justice Lowe for protection, but was told that noth-
ing could be done. An anti-slavery lawyer recommended immediate flight as the
safest course." The complete discomfiture of Mr. Uriah Hindi, a name which re-
minds one of Dickens' "Uriah Heap," also a personage of unpopular traits, was thus
accomplished, and he left Chicago never to return.


"I believe," said Zebina Eastman, "I sent the first passenger on the Underground
Railroad to Chicago, but he had to go through Chicago, not alone into it to get to
freedom." Mr. Eastman further relates that, in the fall of 1839, he was living in the
little town of Lowell, in La Salle county, and that on a very cold morning in Octo-
ber a farmer came to him saying that he had met a strange person down on the
river bank, who, upon his approach, aimed a gun at him with a warning to keep
back, and that he believed he was a fugitive of some kind, perhaps a runaway slave.

Mr. Eastman asked the farmer to go back, and if he was a black man, to tell
him he was among friends, and bring him up with him. The farmer soon returned
with the stranger who, as he suspected, was a half-terrified negro, clad in rags and
skins, and armed with an old shot-gun. Other neighbors gathered about, and the
poor negro, becoming reassured, was given food and plans made for his safety and
to aid him in his escape; for, though he would not admit it, he was regarded as a
runaway slave.

He was concealed in a barn and soon opened his heart and disclosed a story
of sufferings and wrongs, and of his final escape from an Alabama plantation. He


knew that his destination must be Canada, but could only grope his way in a north-
erly direction.

The next night the farmer who had given him shelter took him to the next near-
est station on what became the great "Underground Railroad," and which later had
so many branches centering in Chicago. They reached Ottawa, and thence each
night some sympathizing person would convey the fugitive to a station farther on
his road. In this way he was given shelter and food at Plainfield, at Cass, at Lyons,
and finally at Chicago, where he was placed in the care of Dr. Dyer. After caring
for him a little while, the good doctor thought it advisable to give him a chance to
see Canada and placed him on board the steamer 'Illinois,' in command of Captain
Blake, with a secret intimation, no doubt, to the captain as to the character of his
passenger. After being well on his way, the captain made a tour through the vessel
and professed great surprise at finding a negro among the fireman, and made awful
threats in consequence. The difficulty of landing the poor fellow on Canadian shores
made this dissimulation necessary, for among the passengers were some Southerners
who would observe the captain's disposition of the negro.

The captain then announced his determination to "kick him off the boat at the
first port he came to." So coming into the Detroit river, he made a grand circuit,
as if to show off bis fine boat to the admiring Southerners on board, and ran it into a
port on the Canada shore, where he had no passengers to leave, but where he furi-
ously dragged the negro from the lower regions and energetically "kicked him off"
to freedom.


Meantime the losses to the South by the escape of slaves to free territory were
severe, and increased the irritation between the sections. A member of Congress, in
1850, said in a speech on the subject, that "the extent of the loss to the South may
be understood from the fact that the number of runaway slaves now in the North
is stated as being thirty thousand, and worth, at present prices, a little short of fif-
teen millions of dollars. ... It was stated in the newspapers the other day
that a few counties in Maryland had, by the efforts of the abolitionists, within six
months, upon computation, lost one hundred thousand dollars' worth of slaves. A
gentleman of the highest standing from Delaware assured me the other day, that
that little state lost each year at least that value of such property in the same way."

The route of the fugitives, of course, terminated in Canada, because only there
were the fugitives perfectly safe from their pursuers. In a footnote to Von Hoist's
"Constitutional History," volume III, page 552; he says: "The names of the 'sta-
tions' [on the 'Underground Railroad'], and those in charge of them, were known
only to those concerned, but the slave who was near enough to a fort or to the bor-
der of a free state to have the possibility of escape, and who had the courage for
the venture, could always learn the addresses. He could rely absolutely upon the
devotion and secrecy of the agents. The fugitives and their helpers often showed
an ingenuity and daring bordering on the marvelous. The time will yet come when,
even in the South, due recognition will be given to the touching unselfishness, sim-
ple magnanimity, and glowing love of freedom of these 'law-breakers on principle,'
who were for the most part people, without name, money or higher education."



The people of Chicago were greatly stirred when they came to realize the full
significance of the Fugitive Slave Law of September 18th, 1850. In an address read
before the Chicago Historical Society by the late Charles W. Mann, January 29th,
1903. a spirited account is given of the manner in which the Chicago Common
Council took action, condemning the law and passing resolutions which are note-
worthy as an expression of the prevailing sentiment on the subject. There were
nine wards at that time, each ward having two aldermen.

At the Council meeting, Monday night, October 21st, 1850, Alderman Amos G.
Throop offered a set of resolutions which began, in the preamble, by asserting that
"the late act of Congress purporting to be for the recovery of fugitive slaves virtu-
ally suspends the right of habeas corpus and abolishes trial by jury," that the act
"violates the provisions of the Constitution," and that "the laws of God should be
held paramount to all human compacts and statutes." With this preliminary state-
ment the resolutions declare that "the Senators and Representatives in Congress
from the free states who aided and assisted in the passage of this infamous law
merit the reproach of all lovers of freedom; and are only to be ranked
with the traitors Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot;" and that "the fugitive slave
law ... is a cruel and unjust law, and ought not to be respected by an in-
telligent community, and that the Council will not require the police to render any
assistance for the arrest of fugitive slaves."

These resolutions were adopted by a vote of nine to two. "Thus the question,"
says Mr. Mann, "was placed before the public for discussion, and the response came
quickly." The Democrat, in its issue the next day, announced that a mass meeting
would be held that evening at the City Hall "to give an expression of public feel-
ing in opposition to the abominable and infamous fugitive slave law." At an early
hour on Tuesday evening, the City Hall was filled to its utmost capacity. Officers
of the meeting were Thomas Richmond, president; Alexander Loyd, Luther Marsh,
Dr. Eriel McArthur, Eri B. Hurlbut, Richard K. Swift, and James M. Morrison,
vice presidents; A. G. Throop, Carlos Haven, Mr. McArthur, secretaries. The
committee was composed of George Manierre, Robert H. Foss, Charles Walker,
Nathan H. Bolles, N. Norton, George A. Ingalls, L. C. Paine Freer, Dr. B. Mc-
Vickar, and Isaac N. Arnold. These are names familiar to many old Chicago resi-
dents, and are fairly representative of the influential element of that day.


George Manierre, the chairman of the committee, presented the resolutions,
which were in the same spirit as those passed by the Common Council the evening
before. They began by declaring the fugitive slave law unconstitutional and void,
"first, because Congress has no power under the Constitution to legislate on the
subject, that the clause under which the power is claimed contains no grant of the
power of legislation and is simply a prohibition on the states whereby they are for-
bidden to discharge fugitives from labor by any law or regulation by them enacted ;
and, secondly, because it is in express violation of the fundamental rights of trial
by jury, suspends the writ of habeas corpus, and abolishes the right of appeal from
the decision of an inferior court." Further it was declared that "we recognize no


obligation of a moral or legal value resting on us as citizens to assist or countenance
the execution of this law;" that such laws are an "attempt to impose infamous duties
on conscientious citizens and compel them to do the devil's work under, the guise of
constitutional obligation."

The resolutions in the strong language above quoted were followed by others
equally pointed and direct. "Resolved," they continue, "that we are summoned to
withstand the execution of this law not only by the consideration of the claims of
our suffering fellow men upon our sympathies and aid, but by a proper regard for
our personal liberties ; as this law is no respecter of persons or complexions, making
no distinctions between whites and blacks, bond or free. That we, as the friends
of universal liberty, are admonished of the necessity of repeated and continuous
agitation on the great subject of human slavery while a free speech and a free press
are yet ours. . . That the portion of our citizens who have escaped from bond-
age by their own act have become free men ; that all laws seeking to hold them in
chains or renew their captivity are founded in force and contempt of natural rights,
and are not binding upon them, because they are not party to them; and that by
the laws of nature, and that higher law enthroned above the Constitution, the law
of God, they would be justified in using all means which may be necessary to their
personal security on free soil that resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."

The reading of the resolutions was interrupted by frequent cheers, and the
outburst of enthusiasm showed the sympathy of the audience. James H. Collins, a
lawyer of Chicago and a man of strong anti-slavery opinions, made a speech in
which "he affirmed that the law suspended the writ of habeas corpus and trial by
jury, and was especially infamous as it required every freeman to track the fugi-
tives. Mr. Collins closed by defying the law and trampling a copy of it under his
feet, to the delight and admiring cheers of his hearers."


Senator Douglas was present at the meeting, but it seems his presence was not
noticed until after the reading of the resolutions, as he had come in late. It may
well be imagined that he was not pleased with the course which public sentiment
was taking, having himself supported the obnoxious bill in its passage through Con-
gress. As soon as he was observed there were loud calls for him, in response to
which he said, "that he had not intended to make any speeches while in Chicago,
but that he could not pass over the personal charges made in the Council resolu-
tions on Monday evening, and invited all interested to attend a meeting at the City
Hall Wednesday, October 23d, when he would explain the nature of- the law and
his reasons for voting in favor of it."

The men of that generation were alive to the importance and significance of pub-
lic measures and public questions, to a degree little realized in these times of a
calmer flow in the affairs of the state and nation. It is well for us that the men of
former times so resolutely grappled with the issues presented to them, and, through
seasons of seemingly endless debates, followed by turmoil and strife, arrived upon
the firm ground of settled questions and accomplished results. But in following
the changes of sentiment, as one leader or another becomes prominent and influen-
tial in guiding the course of public opinion, we are obliged to lament the fickleness


and vacillation of men who are usually intelligent and whose patriotism is unques-


The following is quoted from the pamphlet published by the Chicago Historical

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) → online text (page 57 of 59)