in the winter of 1808, several Virginia
planters went to Philadelphia
to search for eleven slaves, who had absconded.
Most of these colored people had been there several years, and some of them had acquired a little property.
Their masters had ascertained where they lived, and one evening, when they returned from their acustomed labors, unconscious of danger impending over them, they were pounced upon suddenly and conveyed to prison.
It was late at night when this took place, and Friend Hopper
did not hear of it till the next morning.
He had risen very early, according to his usual custom, and upon opening his front door he found a letter slipped under it, addressed to him. This anonymous epistle informed him that eleven slaves had been arrested, and were to be tried before Alderman Douglass
that morning; that the owners were gentlemen of wealth and high standing, and could produce the most satisfactory evidence that
the persons arrested were their slaves; consequently Friend Hoppers attendance could be of no possible benefit to them.
It went on to say that the magistrate understood his business, and could do justice without his assistance; but if, notwithstanding this warning, he did attend at the magistrate's office, for the purpose of wresting from these gentlemen their property, his house would be burned while himself and family were asleep in it, and his life would certainly be taken.
The writer invoked the most awful imprecations upon himself if he did not carry these threats into execution.
was too much accustomed to such epistles to be disturbed by them.
He put it in his pocket, and said nothing about it, lest his wife should be alarmed.
A few minutes afterward, he received a message from some colored people begging him to go to the assistance of the fugitives; and when the trial came on, he was at the alderman's office, of course.
Richard Rush was counsel for the claimants.
The colored prisoners had no lawyer.
This examination was carried on with much earnestness and excitement.
One of the Virginians failed in proof as to the identity of the person he claimed.
In the case of several others, the power of attorney was pronounced informal by the magistrate.
After a long protracted controversy, during which Friend Hopper
threw as many difficulties in the way as
possible, it was decided that four of the persons in custody were proved to be slaves, and the other seven were discharged.
This decision greatly exasperated the Southerners, and they vented their anger in very violent expressions.
The constables employed were unprincipled men, ready for any low business, provided it were profitable.
The man-hunters had engaged to give them fifty dollars for each slave they were enabled to take back to Virginia
; but they were to receive nothing for those who were discharged.
Hence, their extreme anxiety to avoid
When they found that more than half of their destined prey had slipped through their fingers, they were furious.
One of them especially raved like a madman.
He had written the anonymous letter, and was truly ‘a lewd fellow of the baser sort.’
's feelings were too much interested for those who had been decreed slaves, to think anything of the abuse bestowed on himself.
All of them, three men and one woman, were married to free persons; and it was heart-breaking to hear their lamentations at the prospect of being separated forever.
There was a general manifestation of sympathy, and even the slaveholders were moved to compassion.
opened a negotiation with them in behalf of the Abolition Society, and they finally consented to manumit them all for seven hundred
The money was advanced by a Friend named Thomas Phipps
, and the poor slaves returned to their humble homes rejoicing.
They repaid every farthing of the money, and ever after manifested the liveliest gratitude to their benefactors.
When the anger of the Southerners had somewhat cooled, Friend Hopper
invited them to come and see him. They called, and spent the evening in discussing the subject of slavery.
When they parted from the veteran abolitionist, it was with mutual courtesy and kindliness.
They said they respected him for acting so consistently with his own principles; and if they held the same opinions, they should doubtless pursue the same course.
This was a polite concession, but it was based on a false foundation; for it assumed that it was a mere matter of opinion
whether slavery were right or wrong; whereas it is a palpable violation of immutable principles of justice.
They might as well have made the same remark about murder or robbery, if they had lived where a selfish majority were strong enough to get those crimes sanctioned by law and custom.
considers himself no robber because he forcibly takes as much toll as he pleases from all who pass through the desert.
His ancestors established the custom, and he is not one whit the less an Arab gentleman, because he perpetuates their peculiar institution.
Perhaps he also
would say that if he held the same opinions as more honest Mahometans, he would do as they do. In former days, custom made it honorable to steal a. neighbor's cattle, on the Scottish border; as many Americans
now deem it respectable to take children from poor defenceless neighbors, and sell them like sheep in the market.
Sir Walter Scott
says playfully, ‘I have my quarters and emblazonments free of all stain but Border Theft and High Treason, which I hope are gentlemanlike crimes
Yet the stealing of cattle does not now seem a very noble achievement in the eyes of honorable Scotchmen
How will the stealing of children, within bounds prescribed by law and custom, appear to future generations of Americans