A slave Hunter Defeated.
In 1810, a slave escaped from Virginia
In a few months, his master heard where he was, and caused him to be arrested.
He was a fine looking young man, apparently about thirty years old. When he was brought before Alderman Shoemaker
, that magistrate's sympathy was so much excited, that he refused to try the case unless some one was present to defend the slave.
Isaac T. Hopper
was accordingly sent for. When he had heard a statement of the case, he asked the agent of the slaveholder to let him examine the Power of Attorney by which he had been authorized to arrest a ‘fugitive from labor,’ and carry him to Virginia
The agent denied his right to interfere, but Alderman Shoemaker
informed him that Mr. Hopper
was a member of the Emancipation Society
, and had a right to be satisfied.
The Power of Attorney was correctly drawn, and had been acknowledged in Washington
, before Bushrod Washington
, one of the judges of the Supreme
Court of the United States
's keen eye could detect no available flaw in it. When the agent had been sworn to answer truly all questions relating to the case, he inquired whether the fugitive he was in search of had been advertised; if so, he wished to see the advertisement.
It was handed to him, and he instantly noticed that it was headed ‘Sixty Dollars Reward.’
‘Art thou to receive sixty dollars for apprehending the man mentioned in this advertisement?’
The agent replied, ‘I am to receive that sum provided I take him home to Virginia
‘How canst thou prove that the man thou hast arrested is the one here advertised?’
The agent answered that he could swear to the fact.
‘That may be,’ rejoined Friend Hopper
; ‘but in Philadelphia
we do not allow any person, especially a stranger, to swear sixty dollars into his own pocket, Unless there is better evidence than thy oath, the man must be set at liberty.’
The agent became extremely irritated, and said indignantly, ‘Do you think I would swear to a lie?’
‘Thou art a stranger to me,’ replied Friend Hopper
‘I don't know whether thou wouldst swear
falsely or not. But there is one thing I do know; and that is, I am not willing to trust thee.’
The agent reiterated, ‘I know the man standing there as well as I know any man living.
I am perfectly sure he is the slave described in the advertisement.
I was overseer for the gentleman who owns him. If you examine his back, you will find scars of the whip.’
‘And perhaps thou art the man who made the scars, if he has any,’ rejoined the Friend.
Without replying to this suggestion, the slavehunter ordered the colored man to strip, that his back might be examined by the court.
objected to such a proceeding.
‘Thou hast produced no evidence that the man thou hast arrested is a slave,’ said he. ‘Thou and he are on the same footing before this court.
We have as good a right to examine thy back, as we have to examine his.’
He added, with a very significant tone, ‘In some places, they whip for kidnapping.’
This remark put the slave-hunter in a violent rage.
The magistrate decided that his evidence was not admissible, on the ground that he was interested.
He then proposed to summon two witnesses from a Virginian vessel lying at one of the wharves.
‘Of course thou art at liberty to go for witnesses,’ replied Friend Hopper
‘But I appeal to the magistrate
to discharge this man. Under present circumstances, he ought not to be detained a single moment.’
The alderman needed no urging on that point.
He very promptly discharged the prisoner.
As soon as he left the office, the slave-hunter siezed hold of him, and swore he would keep him till witnesses were brought.
But Friend Hopper
walked up to him, and said in his resolute way, ‘Let go thy hold!
or I will take such measures as will make thee repent of thy rashness.
How darest thou lay a finger upon the man after the magistrate has discharged him?’
Thus admonished, he reluctlantly relinquished his grasp, and went off swearing vengeance against ‘the meddlesome Quaker
hastened home with the colored man, and wrote a brief letter to his friend William Reeve
, in New-Jersey
, concluding with these words: ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’
This letter was given to the fugitive with directions how to proceed.
His friend accompanied him to the ferry, saw him safely across the river, and then returned home.
In an hour or two the slave-hunter came to the house, accompanied by a constable and two witnesses from Virginia
‘The slave I arrested was
seen to come here,’ said he. ‘Where is he?
replied very quietly, ‘The man has been here; but he is gone now.’
This answer made the agent perfectly furious.
After discharging a volley of oaths, he said he had a search warrant, and swore he would have the house searched from garret to cellar.
‘Very well,’ replied Friend Hopper
, ‘thou art at liberty to proceed according to law; but be careful not to overstep that boundary.
If thou dost, it will be at thy peril.’
After the slave-hunter had vented his rage in a torrent of abuse, the constable proposed to speak a few words in private.
With many friendly professions, he acknowledged that they had no searchwarrant.
‘The gentleman was about to obtain one from the mayor,’ said he; ‘but I wished to save your feelings.
I told him you were well acquainted with me, and I had no doubt you would permit me to search your house without any legal process.’
listened patiently, perfectly well aware that the whole statement was a sham.
When the constable paused for a reply, he opened the door, and said very concisely, ‘Thou art at liberty to go about thy business.’
They spent several days searching for the fugitive, but their efforts were unavailing.