In the year 1809, a gentleman from East New-Jersey
, and brought a young slave to wait upon him. When they had been in that city four or five months, the lad called upon Isaac T. Hopper
to inquire whether his residence in Philadelphia
had made him free.
He was informed that he would not have a legal claim to freedom till he had been there six months. Just as the term expired, somebody told the master that the laws of Pennsylvania
conferred freedom on slaves under such circumstances.
He had been ignorant of the fact, or had forgotten it, and as soon as he received the information he became alarmed lest he should lose his locomotive property.
He sent for a constable, who came to his door with a carriage.
The lad had just come up from the cellar with an armful of wood.
When he entered the parlor, the constable ordered him to put it down and go with him. He threw the wood directly at the legs of the officer, and ran down cellar full speed, slamming the door after him. As
soon as the constable could recover from the blow he had received, he followed the lad into the cellar; but he had escaped by another door, and gone to Isaac T. Hopper
It was snowing fast, and when he arrived there in his shirt sleeves, his black wool plentifully powdered with snow, he was a laughable object to look upon.
But his countenance showed that he was too thoroughly frightened and distressed to be a subject of mirth to any compassionate heart.
tried to comfort him by promising that he would protect him, and assuring him that he was now legally free.
His agitation subsided in a short time, and he began to laugh heartily to think how he had upset the constable.
The master soon came to Friend Hopper's house, described the lad's dress and appearance, and inquired whether he had seen him. He admitted that he had, but declined telling where he was. The master made some severe remarks about the meanness of tampering with gentlemen's servants, and went away.
In about half an hour he returned with the constable and said Alderman Kepler
desired his respects to Isaac T. Hopper
, and wished to see him at his office.
He replied, ‘I think it likely that Alderman Kepler
has not much more respect for me than I have for him. If he has more business
with me than I have with him, I am at home, and can be spoken with.’
The master went away, but soon returned with two constables and a lawyer, who was very clamorous in his threats of what would be the consequences if the slave was not at once surrendered to the gentleman.
One of the officers said he had a warrant to search the house.
‘Very well,’ replied Friend Hopper
, ‘execute it.’
‘I have great respect for you,’ rejoined the officer.
‘I should be sorry to search your house by virtue of the warrant.
I hope you will consent to my doing so without.’
‘There is no need of delicacy on this occasion,’ replied Friend Hopper
‘Thou hadst better proceed to the extent of thy authority.’
‘You give your consent, do you?’
inquired the officer.
He answered, ‘No, I do not. If thou hast a warrant, of course my consent is not necessary.
Proceed to the full extent of thy authority.
But if thou goest one inch beyond, thou wilt have reason to repent of it.’
The party left the house utterly discomfited.
He afterward learned that they had applied for a search-warrant, but could not procure one.
The first step in the process of securing the lad's freedom was to obtain proof that he had been in Philadelphia
six months. The landlord of the hotel where the master lodged, refused to say anything on
the subject, being unwilling to offend his lodger.
But the servants were under no such prudential restraint; and from them Friend Hopper
obtained testimony sufficient for his purpose.
He then wrote a note to the alderman that he would be at his office with be lad at nine o'clock next morning, and requesting him to inform the claimant.
In the mean time, he procured a writ of habeas corpus
, to have it in readiness in case circumstances required it. The claimant made his appearance at the appointed hour, and stated how he had come to Philadelphia
on a visit, and brought a slave to attend upon him. He descanted quite largely upon the courtesy due from citizens of one state to those of another state.
was about to reply, when the magistrate interrupted him by saying, ‘I shall not interfere with the citizens of other states.
I shall surrender the boy to his master.
If he thinks he has a legal claim to his freedom, let him prosecute it in New-Jersey
.’ . .
said nothing, but gave a signal to have the writ served.
The magistrate was highly offended, and asked in an angry tone, ‘What was your object in procuring a writ of habeas corpus
replied, ‘Fro my knowledge of thee, I anticipated the result that has just occurred; and I determined to remove the case to a tribunal
where I had confidence that justice would be done in the premises.’
The Court of Common Pleas was then in session.
The case was brought before it the next day, and after the examination of two or three witnesses, the lad was declared free.