Monday, June 19, 2006

History Websites that Make Me Smile

I haven't been blogging lately, because I haven't been interested in current events too much, since I'm thinking A LOT about a)approaching deadline and b)old stuff. So, in honor of both, I'm posting favorite history websites until I can think of something else. Today's favorite website is the digitized version of Jacob Shipherd's history of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue.
This particular story plays a role in the first chapter of my book, which is about John Brown and abolitionist notions of heroism as told through his defense/memorial. The Oberlin-Wellington rescue is also particularly related to Brown because he recruited members of his Harper's Ferry raid in Oberlin around the time of the rescue, and while the famous Langston brothers declined to participate, he did get John Copeland to come along, through their recommendations.
Here's what happened: in 1850, the US Congress passed the infamous infamous fugitive slave law that made it illegal to interfere with the arrest and capture of a fugitive slave. Fugitives, once brought into court and identified by slave-catchers as fugitives from slavery were not allowed to have any legal defense in court. As you can imagine, this meant that all white men from the South had to do was point "d'ar he!' and a Black person could be dragged into slavery with the assistance of federal marshalls. In Massachusetts and Ohio, free Blacks and abolitionists reacted with outrage, and several began suggesting emigration to other countries, whether Sierra Leone, Canada, or Venezuela. During the 1850s there were several notable fugitive slave rescues, including a mostly Black abolitionist rescue of the fugitive Jerry in New York and the Anthony Burns rescue attemptin Boston. In 1859, in Oberlin there was an exceptional rescue of a man named John Price. Price had been living in Oberlin, a center of abolitionist activity for some years when he was captured by Kentucky slave catchers, who took him to Wellington, Ohio, and planned to take him to his "owner."
Upon hearing of the capture, hundreds of citizens of Oberlin jumped in buggies and went to Wellington; several of them were armed. They surrounded the hotel where Price was being held and demanded his release. One of the most active participants was Charles Mercer Langston, free Black and political activist. After some shouting and document displays, the Oberlin group managed to get Price away from the slave catchers. Ultimately, he managed to get to Canada, probably taken there by one of John Brown's group. Eventually, over thirty people were indicted for violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and there was a major political trial.
On one side, lawyers talked of "law and order" and maintaining a peaceful society. On the other side, the lawyers talked of "higher law" and the Declaration of Independence. It's all in the link provided above.

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