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a book about Harrisburg...

by George F. Nagle


Table of Contents

Study Areas:



Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

US Colored Troops

Civil War


Chapter Six (continued)
No Haven on Free Soil

Cash in Market

The danger posed by kidnappers to free blacks in Pennsylvania would have been considerably lessened if circumstances did not exist whereby criminals could dispose of their victims with few questions asked. The pursuit of actual fugitive slaves, if the law was followed, eventually involved restoring the alleged slave to a former master or owner. In the case of freeborn black citizens of Pennsylvania, no former master existed; yet freeborn blacks became easy targets for people such as Patty Cannon, Amos Clemson, and dozens of other individuals who terrorized free African Americans in places such as Lancaster, York, Cumberland, and Dauphin counties. It was apparent that a market existed for free African American people—a market that did not bother with the legal question, much less the moral question, of whether such persons had a right to freedom.

That illicit market blossomed after that United States stopped the legal importation of slaves in 1808, and southern slave owners became dependent upon slave merchants to fill their needs from domestic sources. This became a huge problem, because at the same time, southern agricultural was in the process of changing to large plantation-style agriculture, with cotton and sugar being the primary crops, both of which required huge amounts of manpower. This manpower was supplied almost wholly by slaves, which, prior to the 1808 ban in slave imports, had been obtained mostly from Africa and the Caribbean. Slave merchants found the solution to this slave shortage in the changing agricultural patterns of certain areas of Maryland and Virginia, which, unlike states in the Deep South, were moving toward more cereal crops, the production of which required fewer slaves.

As Maryland and Virginia slaveholders found themselves with surplus slaves, they either sold them or hired them out, thus feeding the demand from the Deep South. It also became increasingly common, after the turn of the nineteenth century, for slaveholders in Virginia and Maryland to manumit their slaves. Whether this was done out of humanitarian motives, or because the slaveholder no longer wanted to feed and clothe unnecessary workers, it had the effect of increasing the free black population in the regions closest to the Pennsylvania border. While many newly freed African Americans entered the interior counties of Pennsylvania, many also gravitated toward the larger cities of Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore.71

With so many surplus slaves suddenly coming onto the market in Maryland and parts of Virginia, Southern slave merchants established headquarters in Washington and Baltimore, hoping to buy low in the north and sell high in the south. These merchants advertised heavily in papers throughout the region, offering ready cash for slaves. Typical of these ads was one placed in the 28 January 1832 issue of the National Intelligencer by the large slave-trading firm of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield:

Cash in Market.
We wish to purchase one hundred and fifty likely Negroes of both sexes from 12 to 25 years of age, field hands; also mechanics of every description. Persons wishing to sell, would do well to give us a call, as we are determined to give higher prices for slaves than any purchaser who is now, or may hereafter come into this market.

Franklin and Armfield had been dealing in slaves from the same location in Washington since 1828, and were one of the nation’s largest slave merchant companies. Their advertisement above, placed in the early 1830s, illustrates the continued need for very young slaves to work in the fields, presumably because the harsh working and living conditions took such a terrible physical toll that slaves older than twenty-five years of age were no longer suited to that type of labor. Those with mechanical ability, however, were in great demand regardless of age.

The ad also hints at the fierce competition that had developed to feed the southern appetite for slaves. Franklin and Armfield vowed to pay more than anyone else vying to buy slaves, “now or… hereafter.” Later ads placed by this firm and others offered to buy slaves as young as ten years old, for fieldwork. In 1836, which was the final year that Franklin and Armfield were in the business, they were placing ads offering to buy as many as five hundred slaves.

In the same edition of the newspaper that ran that ad, other slave dealers in Washington were seeking to buy at “the highest prices” three hundred slaves (William H. Williams), an open-ended number (J. W. Neal and Company), and four hundred slaves (James H. Burch). The latter dealer ran a standard advertisement, always offering “Cash for 400 Negroes” in the newspapers of the national capital.72 The ads that James H. Burch and the other firms placed in these regional newspapers were always to buy slaves, never to sell. Like all these other dealers, Burch was the buyer who secured a steady supply of slaves, kept them locked up until he had enough to load upon a ship, then marched them through the streets of the city to the wharves, for loading on ships bound for his trading partner, Theophilus Freeman, in New Orleans.

Baltimore also had a large number of slave dealers and others who offered slaves for auction. Prior to the 1820s, slaves could be easily found for sale at “vendues” in various locations, including public taverns and the busy markets around Baltimore. The sales were almost identical to the system of public sales that had occurred in Philadelphia at the taverns and coffee houses in the mid-1700s, in that the offered goods included human beings as well as other merchandise. Merchants and auction houses advertised slaves for sale as part of larger sales that included dry goods, furniture, and groceries. Center Market was a popular location, as were well-known places such as the Old Exchange building, O’Donnel’s Wharf, and the market house at Fell’s Point.

But it was the appearance in Baltimore of large slave brokerage houses that changed, as it had in Washington, the nature of slave sales in the southern port city that was so close to the Pennsylvania border. Slave brokers, acting as middlemen, arranged for the sale and hiring of slaves for a commission. Calling their businesses “intelligence agencies,” they became popular in the 1820s as a central source by which slave owners could offer their slaves for sale, hire or exchange, and those looking to buy or hire slaves could browse from among the intelligence agency’s holdings. Some brokers also handled all the paperwork and services associated with the sale or purchase of a human being.

Historian Ralph Clayton cites the example of Lewis F. Scott, whose General Slave Agency and Intelligence Office was in business for more than three decades. According to Clayton, Scott “copied deeds, wills, leases, collected accounts, wrote letters of agreements, created insolvent papers, gave business advice, rented and sold houses, and procured employment.” All these services were performed for a price, of course. As the demand for slaves increased through the 1830s, Scott’s business prospered, and he found his need for slaves to place was far outstripping the supply being brought to him by local owners. In particular, the orders for slaves for purchase in the Deep South were increasing dramatically. He turned to advertising for slaves for life, to be sold further south, but he was not the only broker to do so, as the potentially large profits lured many brokers to drop their stipulations that slaves were “bought and sold for this state only.”73

Unless the sales agreement prohibited sale out of state, it is likely many of the slaves bought in the city of Baltimore after the 1810s were purchased by professional slave traders for shipment to slave dealers in the Deep South. David Anderson, Gideon T. King, Joseph Isnard, Bartholomew Accinelly, and Edwin Lee are some of the earlier traders documented by Ralph Clayton in his history of the Baltimore to New Orleans slave trade. In later years, the flow of slaves between these two points increased considerably, and Clayton identifies the four major slave traders who were responsible for the vast majority of human beings being sent south: Austin Woolfolk, Hope Hull Slatter, Joseph S. Donovan, and the Campbell brothers, Bernard and Walter.

Despite their reputations and notorious advertisements, it was the private “slave pens” kept by these traders that became one of the most infamous landmarks of the slave trade in Baltimore. Although anyone could lodge a slave for safekeeping in a county jail, or in a special room kept for such a purpose at a large hotel, all these traders kept their own personal prisons in which purchased slaves could be housed until it was time to march them to a waiting ship. Sometimes the local authorities placed captured fugitive slaves in the private prisons of one of these firms until a hearing could be held or the owner could be contacted. Slave owners were also invited to house their slaves in these private pens for safekeeping, at the price of twenty-five cents per day.

The slave prisons of Austin Woolfolk and Bernard Campbell were both located at one time on Moreau Street The Campbells later moved it to Conway Street. Woolfolk’s most infamous prison was located behind his house on Pratt Street, and was taken over by trader Joseph S. Donovan after Woolfolk’s retirement.

Also located on Pratt Street was the slave pen of Hope Hull Slatter, which featured an underground tunnel that led from the prison to a harbor dock at Light Street, a distance of two blocks. Slatter was quite proud of his establishment, advertising the slave holding areas as “large, comfortable, airy and all above ground, and kept in complete order, with a large yard for exercise.” He regularly bought slaves for sale to his agent in New Orleans, but also advertised his business as a means to “receive and keep Negroes at twenty five cents each per day, and forward them to any Southern port at the request of the owner.” Security was not an issue, he noted, as his jail was the “strongest and most splendid building of the kind in the United States.” The entire Slatter business was bought by the Campbell brothers in 1848. 74

It was in these private slave prisons that thousands of Maryland slaves spent their last hours before being shipped to the sugar and cotton plantations of the Deep South. But it was here too that many freeborn African Americans from Maryland and Pennsylvania experienced their first taste of enslavement. It was an illegal enslavement, to be sure, but for many of the victims of kidnappings—including people from Harrisburg, Carlisle, Lancaster, and many of the rural townships of this region—it was the beginning of years, and for some, even a lifetime, of bondage. It was to these large slave-trading firms that the kidnappers of free blacks often turned to unload their victims, many of whom were young women and children.

It was noted earlier how a child from Harrisburg, John Jacobs, was seen chained up in the loft of Joe Johnson’s lonely Maryland tavern. Children such as Jacobs were typically lured into a waiting carriage with promises of treats or the offer of money to perform some simple work. Once they were inside and out of sight, the kidnappers simply tied them up and kept them quiet with threats of violence, and even death, while the carriage sped toward the Maryland line. Young adults, who were also frequent targets of kidnappers, usually had to be physically subdued before they could be wrestled into a carriage and tied up for transport south.

Such cases became more and more common around the Harrisburg area as the years passed. The Gettysburg Star and Banner newspaper reported in its 13 August 1847 issue on the kidnapping of a free African American woman from Chambersburg. Mary Whiting was abducted by George Watts and Edward Miller, spirited to Baltimore and sold for 500 dollars to Hope H. Slatter. Fortunately, their scheme was discovered and the two men were arrested in that city. Whiting was apparently freed and returned to Pennsylvania, as she shows up in the 1850 census in Metal Township, Franklin County.

An early and noteworthy kidnapping occurred on a Friday morning in October 1834 near the village of Portsmouth, a thriving industrial community near Middletown. Laid out in 1809 as "Harbortown" by George Fisher, son of the founder of Middletown, this small community prospered because of its favorable situation. Fisher located the town on the Susquehanna River at the mouth of the Swatara Creek. It was a transportation hub, as the Pennsylvania Canal, the Union Canal, and the Harrisburg-Lancaster Railroad all intersected here, and a ferry across the Susquehanna River connected it to York County. The name was changed to Portsmouth in 1814, and this small town quickly attracted industries that took advantage of the abundant waterpower and available shipping routes. Industries in Portsmouth included flourmills, blast furnaces, an iron foundry, and saw mills. Businesses and accommodations related to the canal and railroad, and their workers, provided jobs.

Portsmouth filled many of those jobs with African American workers. In 1850, out of a total population of 882 persons, 138 were free African Americans, according to census records. That was a higher percentage of African American residents than was found in Harrisburg Borough at this time.75 It was highly unusual for a small, developing town to welcome large numbers of free black laborers, particularly during the 1830s and 1840s, the period in which Portsmouth experienced its peak growth. Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the rise of Jacksonian Democracy empowered white workers, whose ranks swelled with European immigrants in pursuit of jobs in the blossoming canal and railroad industries—two of the most important pillars in Portsmouth’s success—while blacks were disenfranchised and generally squeezed out of all but menial labor jobs. Portsmouth, however, was different.

Perhaps the difference can be attributed to its founder, George Fisher, who was described as “an eminent and benevolent counseller [sic] of the Abolition Society.” Fisher apparently welcomed African American workers to the area, and as an abolition-minded lawyer, occasionally used his influence to aid those beset by slave catchers and kidnappers.

On 24 October 1834, one of Portsmouth’s African American residents, James Williams, was working outside, near his home. Williams had been living here for at least four years, working as a laborer and raising a family. On this particular Friday morning he was approached by two men, one of whom was a local constable, who showed Williams a warrant “purporting to have been issued at the suit of one John Gray, for a debt of $10.” James Williams knew no one named John Gray, and was certain that he owed no money to anyone of that name, and said so, but the constable insisted that he had to accompany him to see a magistrate.

When Williams refused, two men who had been standing off at a distance observing the exchange came up and grappled with him. Williams was strong enough to hold his own for a short while, but the three men eventually forced him to the ground. When he refused to give up, the constable pulled out a pistol and one of the men, a Harrisburg resident named William Hyde, put a knife against Williams’ chest and threatened to kill him if he continued to resist. Given the choice of death or surrender, Williams capitulated, and the men started with him away from his house in the direction of Hummelstown. Williams complained that he wanted to stop at his home to let his wife and children know what was happening, but the men refused, and before long he was in a magistrate’s office in nearby Hummelstown.

The men bearing the warrant failed to make their case before the local judge, who was hesitant to accept the flimsy evidence presented by the southerners against a local resident, but it was agreed that Williams would be kept locked up for several more hours while the men obtained additional documentation. It was nightfall until Williams was released from the Hummelstown jail, after the southern visitors failed to return. He trudged home and arrived at his house in Portsmouth very late, only to find the premises thoroughly wrecked and his entire family missing. It was only then that he realized the true quarry of the men from Virginia and Maryland was not him, but his wife and four children.76

With few resources, and not knowing quite what to do, James Williams tried to secure help from friends and neighbors, and he eventually was put in touch with George Fisher, the locally prominent landowner who had founded Portsmouth many years before. Fisher had a successful legal practice, and as an abolitionist, lent his talents and expertise to the local society involved with agitating for an end to slavery. He counseled Williams to seek aid in Harrisburg, where he would find resources to help him find his family. This is what Williams did, and it was there that he found not only valuable information—an informant was able to tell him that the kidnappers were known to be headed to York—but he was also given use of a horse in order to catch up to them.

By now, nearly a full day had passed, and Williams knew he had little time left before the kidnappers would make it to the Maryland line, so he hurried as fast as he could toward York, in hopes of catching up with the men who held his wife and children captive. He arrived there after dark on Saturday night, and again made contact with anti-slavery informants who told him that the men had passed through the town with his children, but not his wife, several hours before. Prior to reaching town, his wife had been able to escape from the men, but she was not able to free any of her children. The men had wasted little time in the borough, probably aware of the danger they faced from the town's free African American residents if the woman was able to spread the alert while they were in town.

Williams again found help with local abolitionists, being taken to see sympathetic lawyer John Evans. Like Fisher, Evans also lent legal support to York's anti-slavery activists when needed, and he did not hesitate to help James Williams in his quest to recover his children. Evans immediately took him to see York County Sheriff Adam Eichelberger and to explain the gravity of the situation. The sheriff wasted no time in rounding up a group of local citizens to pursue the kidnappers on horseback, and they finally caught up with them in the southern reaches of the county in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning.

There were now eight men in the kidnapping party, and, being well armed, they made “a show of resistance” against the rescue posse, still determined to make it to the Maryland line with the four children. They found, however, that Sheriff Eichelberger and his men were equally determined to prevent the kidnapping, so they surrendered to the lawmen and were taken back to York, where the children were eventually reunited with their parents.77

Since the kidnappings took place in Portsmouth, Dauphin County, the trial was held at the county courthouse in Harrisburg, in January 1835. Charged with kidnapping, assault and battery, false imprisonment, conspiracy, robbery, and larceny were Theophilus Hughes and William Hyde, of Harrisburg, William H. Fresh, of Louisiana, and Asa Smith of Baltimore. Over the course of a week, the prosecution and defense sparred over the fate of the accused men. Williams' wife and two older children were alleged to have been fugitive slaves that escaped from a Virginia plantation in 1827, but the prosecution was not able to prove that claim, nor could they prove their clients' actions were justified and in accordance with law. As a result, all four men were convicted by the Harrisburg jurors, were heavily fined, and sentenced to terms of imprisonment in the county jail. William Hyde, who had arranged most of the kidnapping plot and who had been the one to beat and threaten James Williams that Friday morning of the kidnapping, received the longest sentence.78

This successful prosecution of southern kidnappers would probably not have been as likely if the courts were operating solely under the tenets of the 1793 Federal Fugitive Slave Act. That law placed a minimal burden of proof on slave catchers, and denied the right of a jury trial to the alleged slave. Under the 1793 law, the men who kidnapped the wife and children of James Williams would seemingly have had little difficulty in finding a Maryland-based federal judge to rule that the wife and her two oldest children, at least, were escaped slaves.

The issue of the two younger children, both said to have been born in Pennsylvania, was trickier, but would not likely have proved sufficient cause alone for prosecution. What proved to be the undoing of Hughes, Hyde, Fresh, and Smith, and provided the basis for their conviction, was Pennsylvania's 1826 Personal Liberty Law. The full official title of the law was “An Act to Give Effect to the Provisions of the Constitution of the United States, Relative to Fugitives from Labor, for the Protection of the Free People of Color, and to prevent Kidnapping.” This legislation, passed in response to the alarming rise in the kidnappings of Pennsylvania's free blacks, and especially in light of those shocking events involving the children of Philadelphia, was meant to assure the safety of the Keystone State's free black residents.

It set tough new standards for the documentation of ownership and slave status that was required of slave catchers before they could pursue or capture an alleged fugitive slave. Section Three of the law specified that verbal oaths that the captured person was a fugitive slave were no longer to be considered sufficient evidence by state courts to remand a person to slavery. Violators were subject to fines of between five hundred and two thousand dollars, and were subject to possible prison sentences of between seven to twenty-one years if convicted of the crime of kidnapping. Section Two set specific penalties for all those aiding and abetting in the kidnapping of free blacks.79

The 1826 law, passed by state legislators in Harrisburg, was particularly galling to their counterparts in Annapolis, who had been pressing for action that was precisely the opposite in effect. Nine years earlier, the Maryland legislature had passed a resolution condemning the “encouragement given to negroes running away from their owners in this state, and the harbouring [of] the same by sundry citizens of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” That resolution had been sent to Pennsylvania Governor Simon Snyder with the appeal for him to “lay the same before [the legislature], in order that they interpose their authority and make such provisions to prevent the evil thus complained of.” Governor Snyder duly submitted the resolution to the state assembly on 3 March 1817. 80

In fact, many slaveholders in the southern states did not view the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act as an effective means to recover their runaways who had taken shelter in the north. They often cited the decisions of anti-slavery judges who constantly ruled in favor of the fugitives, or saw a lack of penalties against northerners who actively aided freedom seekers, the Maryland resolution addressing that issue directly.

The 1817 resolution by the Maryland lawmakers came at the same time that the United States Congress was debating a strengthening of the 1793 law to favor the rights of southern slaveholders in the act of recovering fugitives. A bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives would have allowed any southern judge to issue a certificate, based upon verbal testimony, to slave catchers for the removal of an alleged fugitive slave, and upon presentation of this certificate by the slave catchers to a northern magistrate, a warrant for the arrest of the fugitive would have to be issued by the northern court. Other provisions of the bill would have made slave catchers and their accomplices harmless under the law and immune from prosecution in the capture of any alleged fugitive. After considerable and rancorous debate, the Senate version was passed, but the House version was tabled.81

Pennsylvania's lawmakers took a cue from the close call and took steps to strengthen their own state laws in regard to slave catching. Not wanting Pennsylvania magistrates to be beholden to southern judges, the state legislature passed a law in 1820 denying the use of Pennsylvania alderman and magistrates by slave catchers to issue certificates of removal by removing their jurisdiction in cases involving the Fugitive Slave Law. This effectively forced slave catchers to seek out federal judges to complete their obligations under the law. Maryland again protested, submitting a resolution in language nearly identical to the 1817 resolution, to Pennsylvania Governor Joseph Heister. Like his forbear, Heister laid the resolution before the Pennsylvania legislature on 27 March 1822. 82 As with the earlier resolution, Pennsylvania's lawmakers completely ignored it, and instead worked to craft the bill that would be called the 1826 Personal Liberty Law, as a response.

Pennsylvania’s first Personal Liberty Law became a model for legislators in other northern states, and soon similar laws began to appear throughout the north, much to the consternation of slave holders and politicians in the upper south. Further political and legal sparring between north and south over the fugitive slave reclamation issue seemed inevitable, and awaited only specific incidents to trigger court cases. As had happened so frequently in the past, these incidents occurred in and around the Harrisburg area.

On 31 January 1845, two men, Alexander A. Cook and Thomas Finnegan, attempted to kidnap Harrisburg resident Peter Hawkins. Cook and Finnegan assaulted Hawkins on a Friday evening, bound him, and attempted to shove him into a waiting carriage on the pretext of returning him as a fugitive slave. Hawkins was known in Harrisburg as a family man and for being a resident for a number of years. Several of his neighbors stopped them, and the matter was referred to Judge Nathaniel B. Eldred, who was at the time President Judge of the state Twelfth Judicial District, which included Dauphin County. Upon hearing the case, Judge Eldred released Hawkins and charged Cook and Finnegan with kidnapping.83


Kitty Payne

This was not to be Thomas Finnegan’s last brush with kidnapping, however. Later that same year he assisted a Virginia man, Samuel Maddox, in kidnapping a woman and her three children from their home near Bendersville in Adams County, where they had settled after being legally manumitted by Maddox’s aunt, Mary Maddox. The kidnapped woman, Kitty Payne, had been living in Adams County since May 1843, along with her three children. Her family had been brought first to Fairfield by her former owner, Mary Maddox, who filed manumission papers for Kitty and her children both in Rappahannock County, Virginia, and in Adams County, Pennsylvania. When they first moved to Fairfield, the family group included Kitty’s husband, a free black named Robert Payne, and a fourth child. Both Robert and the child died shortly after arriving in Pennsylvania, however, and Kitty was left as a widow with her three remaining children. Soon after, Mary Maddox returned to Virginia, and Kitty moved her family to nearby Bendersville in 1844. 84

Mary Maddox had inherited all of her husband’s property upon his death, and although he did not list each item and slave in his estate, the words of his last will and testament seemed to make clear his intent. After providing for the satisfying of his debts and funeral expenses, he wrote: “Second, I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Mary Maddox my whole estate, real, personal, and mixed to do and use as she may see proper during her natural life.”85 Samuel Maddox died in 1837 and all his remaining property passed to Mary, but shortly after his death, his nephew and namesake, Samuel Maddox, Jr., came to live on and manage the small Virginia farm.

Samuel Jr. had a stake in the successful management of the farm, as he was also named in the will of his uncle as the successor to all the property upon the death of Mary Maddox, who was by that time approaching her seventies. Unfortunately, Samuel Jr. was not a good manager, and the financial status of the Maddox farm began to suffer in the next few years. It was apparently about this time that Mary Maddox began to formulate her plan to give freedom to not only Kitty and the children, but also to the two other slaves belonging to the estate: fifty-three-year-old Benjamin Roberts and Kitty’s brother, thirty-seven-year-old James Green. She acted on her plan on 25 February 1843, signing a legal document of manumission for all seven slaves at the Rappahannock County courthouse, with the words “I do hereby emancipate the slaves aforesaid to perfect freedom free from the control claim and demand of myself and of all and every other person or persons whatsoever.”86

Mary Maddox’s nephew, meanwhile, had other designs for the slaves, and planned to use them as collateral for a loan to pay his mounting debts. He filed an indenture in the same courthouse for the slaves a few weeks later, completely ignorant of his aunt’s earlier deed of manumission. She apparently had been justified in not telling him of her plans, fearing that the slaves would be sold out from under her.

When she announced her plans to take all the slaves to Pennsylvania, Samuel Maddox, Jr. immediately went to the courthouse and filed a bill of complaint, and was able to get a legal injunction forbidding Mary Maddox from leaving Virginia with the slaves. Seeing that both parties were backed into a corner—Mary could not legally leave unless her nephew dismissed the complaint, and he could not secure money to pay his debts without collateral—a compromise appeared in order. Mary agreed to turn over the entire one hundred and eleven acre farm to Samuel in return for his agreement to drop any claim to the slaves. However when the legal papers were drawn up, the document that excluded the slaves from the farm property was not recorded with the county. The only copy of that document existed with Mary Maddox, who took it, along with Kitty, the children, and the two men, north to Pennsylvania in May.

They arrived in Gettysburg after a journey of about two weeks, and drove straight to Thaddeus Stevens’ Maria Furnace, near Fairfield, where Mary Maddox made a home with Kitty and her children while they waited for her husband, who had stayed in Virginia, to join them. Kitty’s brother, James Green, and Benjamin Roberts did not stay in the furnace community, but moved to a free African American community north of Gettysburg called Yellow Hill.

In January of 1844, Mary Maddox filed papers of manumission in the Adams County courthouse as a legal precaution, and in the spring left Kitty and her family to return to Virginia. Not long after, Kitty’s husband joined them, but sadness struck the newly-freed family that year as both the baby, George, and the husband, Robert Payne, died of disease. The baby, who was only four months old, died not long after arrival in Pennsylvania, and Robert Payne, who suffered from tuberculosis, died within a few months of his arrival at Fairfield. After burying her husband, Kitty Payne picked up her diminished family and moved to be closer to her brother James, who lived at Yellow Hill, near Bendersville in Northern Adams County.87

Evan as she made her move from Fairfield to Bendersville, Kitty Payne and her family were already being tracked by Samuel Maddox, Jr. The Virginian made his move in July 1845, bringing along four hired thugs to help him round up his victims. The slave catching party was led by Maddox, but it included professional slave catcher Thomas Finnegan, who had been involved in the incident earlier that year in Harrisburg. Three other men participated: Peter Glasscock, Charles McGuire, and John Smith.

The band of men gathered at Charles Myers’ tavern, in Bendersville, the night before the raid, then left on their mission in the pre-dawn hours. Together, the five men approached the small cabin on Bear Mountain that housed both the Payne family and a second family, in the early morning hours of 24 July, burst through the door, and with beatings, threats, and intimidation, forced Kitty Payne and her three children outside. Once there, the family was bound with rope and gagged to prevent screams, then shoved into a waiting wagon. Within minutes, they were driving wildly away, back through Bendersville and toward the Maryland line, twenty miles distant. The escape was observed by several local Quakers who were beginning their early morning chores, including Mary and John Wright, who recognized some of the Payne children in the carriage and suspected what had occurred.

Because the kidnappers had stopped at Myers’ tavern, and had spoken openly about their plans, thus drawing attention to themselves, identification was not an issue, and arrest warrants for the five men were promptly issued.88 Only Thomas Finnegan was ever tried for the crime, however. With extradition by Virginia out of the question—cooperation between states on this issue having improved little since 1793—a trial would have to depend upon the capture by local authorities of the accused men. All the principle actors in this event steadfastly kept out of Pennsylvania, making their capture unlikely, except for Finnegan.

Almost a year after the kidnapping, Finnegan unwisely returned to the area and attempted another abduction. This time he was thwarted in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in April 1846, by several citizens who stopped him from dragging a young African American boy, whom he had knocked down, beaten, and tied up, through the streets. He was recognized for his part in the Payne family kidnapping and escaped only by running away. Incredibly, Finnegan returned a month later to the town of Gettysburg, but was again spotted. Again he made his escape, driving his carriage rapidly toward the Maryland line, but several citizens gave chase while others alerted the sheriff. A determined party of lawmen on horseback finally caught up with Thomas Finnegan outside of town, and chased him down when he leapt from his carriage and tried to escape into the countryside. He was brought back for trial at the county courthouse at Gettysburg.

Although his defense lawyers put up a clever and legally sound case based upon a Virginia judge’s earlier ruling that Mary Maddox actually had no legal right to manumit the slaves at that time, making them actual fugitive slaves and Finnegan a legal slave catcher who had broken no laws, the jury, under orders from the judge, ignored that ruling and found Thomas Finnegan guilty of kidnapping. On 17 November 1846, he was sentenced to five years in the Eastern State Penitentiary. His health rapidly deteriorated in prison, however, and in June 1848, Pennsylvania Governor Francis Rawn Shunk pardoned Finnegan for his crimes.89


Margaret Morgan

According to the 1826 Pennsylvania Personal Liberty Laws, this case should have been an easy conviction, but it was complicated by a ruling in a previous case that was eerily similar, but vastly more important in the legal precedent that it set. As early as 1832, a slave woman named Margaret Morgan moved with her family from Harford County, Maryland to Lower Chanceford Township in York County, Pennsylvania. Like Kitty Payne, Margaret had married a free black man named Henry Morgan, to whom she bore several children, at least one of which was born free in York County, Pennsylvania. Another similarity to the Payne case was in the apparent lax attitude of Morgan’s master at the time, John Ashmore, toward her move. Ashmore did not make any attempt at the time of her move to recover or reclaim her. His lack of action was taken as a tacit approval of her freedom, just as Kitty Payne’s owner, Mary Maddox, approved of freedom for Kitty and her family.

Five years passed before title to the Ashmore estate passed to John’s wife, Margaret, who immediately took action to reclaim her slaves. Margaret Ashmore hired slave catcher Edward Prigg in February 1837 to travel to York County, “to seize and arrest the said negro woman, Margaret Morgan, as a fugitive from labour, and to remove, take, and carry her from [Pennsylvania] into the state of Maryland, and there deliver her to the said Margaret Ashmore.”

Prigg, along with three other Maryland men, Jacob Forward, Stephen Lewis, and Nathan S. Bemis, set out for York to find and capture Margaret Morgan. Bemis was the son-in-law of Margaret Ashmore, having married her daughter Susanna some years before. Edward Prigg, as leader of the group, set out to accomplish his job according to the laws of Pennsylvania, which meant following the course set down by the 1826 Personal Liberty Law. First he sought out Thomas Henderson, a justice of the peace in York County, and had him issue a warrant directing York constable William McCleary to arrest Morgan and her children and bring them before a magistrate to be remanded south. Constable McCleary followed the letter of the warrant and brought the Morgan family back to Henderson, where they all appeared along with Prigg and his men.

But then something happened that stopped the process: Henderson “refused to take further cognizance of said case,” and freed the Morgan family, utterly scuttling Edward Prigg’s plans. It may have been at that point that Judge Henderson realized his error in issuing a warrant that included a freeborn child, although his reasons for refusing to proceed with the case are not stated. More probable, though, is that Henderson came to the opinion that he erred in issuing the warrant in the first place, as the 1826 law set very specific limits on which state aldermen and justices could do so without committing a “misdemeanor in office,” according to section nine of the law.90

Edward Prigg made his big mistake at that point. After having his request for removal of the family effectively refused by the local judge, he decided to take them south without a certificate of removal. In the following days, he and his men went to their home and “with force and violence” abducted Margaret Morgan and her children, including the one child who had been born free in Pennsylvania. Charges were lodged against the four men at the county courthouse, and on 20 March 1837, Pennsylvania Governor Joseph Ritner requested their extradition from Maryland and authorized York County Sheriff Adam Klinefelter to bring Prigg, Forward, Lewis, and Bemis to York for trial. A Grand Jury formally indicted the men on 1 April 1837, and at their trial, held at the Court of Quarter Sessions, in May, all four men were found guilty of violating the Act of 1826, as well as the Act of 1788, which addressed the issue of taking the freeborn child out of state and into slavery.

Edward Prigg protested the decision on the grounds that the Pennsylvania laws violated the Constitution, and in particular were at odds with the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. Upon appeal, the entire case went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and then eventually ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court as a test case regarding the validity of the 1826 Pennsylvania Personal Liberty Law. The justices heard the case in January 1842. 91

Writing for the majority in the eight-to-one decision that reversed the lower court rulings, Justice Joseph Story reaffirmed the validity of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act as a supplement to the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause that “covers the whole power in the constitution and carries out, by special enactments, its provisions.” He elaborated on the errors made by both sides in the case, noting:

It appears, in the case under consideration, that the state magistrate before whom the fugitive was brought refused to act. In my judgment, he was bound to perform the duty required of him by a law paramount to any act, on the same subject, in his own state. But this refusal does not justify the subsequent action of the claimant; he should have taken the fugitive before a judge of the United States, two of whom resided within the state.

But Prigg was charged under the 1826 law, and the constitutionality of that law was at the heart of the decision. Pennsylvania’s Fugitive Slave Law of 1826 (the Personal Liberty Law) violated the constitution as well as the 1793 Act, making it doubly unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution’s Fugitive Slave clause, Story noted, required no enabling legislation by the states—it was self-sufficient, or self-executing. “Whether state magistrates are bound to act under it; (no opinion] is entertained by this Court that state magistrates may, if they choose, exercise that authority, unless prohibited by state legislation.” Edward Prigg, although his actions following the refusal of the judge to act were not justified, could therefore not be held as guilty.

Edward Prigg won his case and was to be freed. Moreover, this decision also made the 1826 law useless against the crimes of Thomas Finnegan a few years later. Finnegan, however, had brazenly flouted even the basic provisions of the 1793 law, making his conviction for kidnapping legally sound. Although Pennsylvania lost the case against Edward Prigg and had to scrap its first powerful Personal Liberty Law, it gained something far more useful. In the decision that confirmed the re-enslavement of Margaret Morgan and her children was an extremely important point that would have far reaching consequences. Justice Story had pointed out that, although state magistrates may exercise the authority to enforce the federal fugitive slave law, they were under no mandate to do so. That was the responsibility of the federal government. Even more telling was his phrase regarding state cooperation “unless prohibited by state legislation.”92 This simple phrase, an old state’s rights argument, was seized upon by northern legislators as a golden opportunity to thwart slave catchers with new legislation.

Pennsylvania passed a series of laws starting in 1842, and culminating with the 1847 Personal Liberty Law, that seized upon Justice Story’s opinion that the states could prohibit the enforcement of a federal law by state authorities. Carefully written to get around Justice Story’s complaints of unconstitutionality, these laws eliminated the sojourner span, which had allowed a slaveholder to bring slaves into Pennsylvania for up to six months as a visitor to the state. The new laws toughened anti-kidnapping standards, prohibiting unnecessary force in the capture of fugitive slaves. Also prohibited was the use of Pennsylvania jails to detain fugitives for habeas corpus hearings. This forced slave catchers to find other means of lodging their captured slaves, sometimes being forced to use expensive and less secure hotel facilities, until they could be taken before the proper authorities for a hearing.

Most importantly, the new laws forbade Pennsylvania officials from participating in the capture of fugitives, or from any enforcement of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. This law denied the use of state courts to slaveholders for slave removal hearings, forcing them to travel instead to federal courts. Pennsylvania, as part of the Third Judicial District, was subdivided into two federal judicial districts: Western and Eastern. Suddenly slave catchers were denied hearings before the multitude of local judges, and instead had to haul their victims before one of the two federal judges in Pennsylvania, either John Kane of Philadelphia, or Thomas Irwin in Pittsburgh.

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71. Ralph Clayton, Cash for Blood (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2002), xi-xii.

72. Clayton, Cash for Blood, 54; Washington Globe, 26 September 1836; National Intelligencer, 28 March 1836.
The number of free blacks who were kidnapped and sold to slave brokers who then resold them south as slaves will never be known. Only those successfully documented as rescues are generally known. In its November 19, 1831 issue, the Liberator reported on the arrest of a woman who, in response to Franklin and Armfield’s well-known advertisements to “give us a call,” offered a kidnapped twelve-year-old girl to John Armfield at Alexandria. How the ruse was discovered was not reported, but one has to wonder if the young girl would not have been condemned to a lifetime of slavery had the kidnapper been more skillful in her deceit. The thirst for slaves was strong, and in their haste to acquire new “stock,” the firm’s buyers undoubtedly took in some free blacks as slaves. At the height of their trade in 1834, Franklin and Armfield were sending 1,000 Northern slaves per year to the deep South.

73. Clayton, Cash for Blood, 5-13, 15-21.

74. Ibid., 44-45, 57, 87; Cambridge Chronicle (MD), 30 September 1843, 21 June 1845.

75. Egle, Notes and Queries, 3rd ser., vol. 1, 18; Borough of Middletown, Pennsylvania, "Community - History - The Story of Middletown," Middletown Borough, (accessed 14 December 2004); C. H. Hutchinson, The Chronicles of Middletown (Middletown, PA: C. H Hutchinson, 1906), 93-96, 134, 141; Bureau of the Census, Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States: 1850, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County, Microfilm, Pennsylvania State Archives.
Ironically, George Fisher’s father, also named George Fisher, was a slaveholder. In the same will in which his father willed the land to his son that would become the community of Portsmouth, the elder George Fisher also manumitted his female slave named Hannah.

76. Bureau of the Census, Population Schedules of the Fifth Census of the United States: 1830, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County, Microfilm, Pennsylvania State Archives; “Consequences of Slavery,” Liberator, 25 April 1835.

77. “Consequences of Slavery;” George R. Prowell, “Special History,” in John Gibson, ed., History of York County, Pennsylvania, vol. 1 (Chicago: F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1886), 299-312.

78. “Consequences of Slavery.”

79. DuBois, Philadelphia Negro, 416.

80. Pennsylvania Archives, 4th ser., vol. 4, Simon Snyder, Governor of the Commonwealth. 1808-1817 (Harrisburg, 1900), 936-937.

81. Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North, 1780-1861 (1974; repr., Union, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, 2001), 35-40.

82. Morris, Free Men All, 45; Pennsylvania Archives, 4th ser., vol. 5, Joseph Hiester, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1820-1823 (Harrisburg, 1901), 371-373.

83. Adams Sentinel, 3 February 1845; Liberator, 14 February 1845. The Liberator incorrectly reports the Judge’s name as Elder, instead of Eldred.

84. Debra Sandoe McCauslin, Reconstructing the Past: Puzzle of a Lost Community (Gettysburg: For the Cause Productions, 2005), 51; Angie Mason, “Finding Freedom,” York Daily Record, (accessed 28 December 2008).

85. Will of Samuel Maddox, 25 July 1837, in Meghan Linsley-Bishop, “Slave to Freewoman and Back Again: Kitty Payne and Antebellum Kidnapping” (master’s thesis, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, July 2007), 39.

86. Deed of Manumission, 25 February 1843, Deed Book E, page 176, Clerk’s Office—Rappahannock County, VA, in Linsley-Bishop, “Slave to Freewoman,” 46.

87. Linsley-Bishop, “Slave to Freewoman,” 47-55.

88. Ibid., 85.

89. Ibid., 86-91; McCauslin, Reconstructing the Past, 52; National Era, 25 February 1847.

90. Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., vol. 1, Executive Minutes of Governor Joseph Ritner (Harrisburg: State Printer, 1931), 8366; Richard Peters, Report of the Case of Edward Prigg Against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: L. Johnson, 1842), 21-23.

91. Prigg v. Com. of Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539 (1842); Executive Minutes of Governor Joseph Ritner, 8366.

92. Prigg v. Pennsylvania.


Caution: Copyrighted material. Published September 2010.

© 2010 George F. Nagle



This is the first in a series of books from the Afrolumens Project. Drawing on a large number of sources, and making good use of the treasure trove of information on the pages of the Afrolumens Project, this is the first truly comprehensive history of Harrisburg's African American community.

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