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The slave of Dr. Rich.

In the autumn of 1828, Dr. Rich of Maryland came to Philadelphia with his wife, who was the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman in that city, by the name of Wiltbank. She brought a slave to wait upon her, intending to remain at her father's until after the birth of her child, which was soon expected [193] to take place. When they had been there a few months, the slave was informed by some colored acquaintance that she was free in consequence of being brought to Philadelphia. She called to consult with Isaac T. Hopper, and seemed very much disappointed to hear that a residence of six months was necessary to entitle her to freedom; that her master was doubtless aware of that circumstance, and would probably guard against it.

After some minutes of anxious reflection, she said, ‘Then there is nothing left for me to do but to run away; for I am determined never to go back to Maryland.’

Friend Hopper inquired whether she thought it would be right to leave her mistress without any one to attend upon her, in the situation she then was. She replied that she felt no scruples on that point, for her master was wealthy, and could hire as many servants as he pleased. Finding her mind entirely made up on the subject, he gave her such instructions as seemed suited to the occasion.

The next morning she was not to be found; and Dr. Rich went in search of her, with his fatherin-law, Mr. Wiltbank. Having frightened some ignorant colored people where she visited, by threats of prosecuting them for harboring a runaway, they confessed that she had gone from their house to Isaac T. Hopper. Mr. Wiltbank accordingly waited upon [194] him, and after relating the circumstances of the case, inquired whether he had seen the fugitive. In reply, he made a frank statement of the interview he had with her, and of her fixed determination to obtain her freedom. The clergyman reproached her with ingratitude, and said she had always been treated with great kindness.

‘The woman herself gives a very different account of her treatment,’ replied Friend Hopper; ‘but be that as it may, I cannot blame her for wishing to obtain her liberty.’

He asked if Friend Hopper knew where she then was; and he answered that he did not. ‘Could you find her, if you tried?’ inquired he.

‘I presume I could do it very easily,’ rejoined the Quaker. ‘The colored people never wish to secrete themselves from me; for they know I am their true friend.’

Mr. Wiltbank then said, ‘If you will cause her to be brought to your house, Dr. Rich and myself will come here at eight o'clock this evening. You will then hear her ask her master's pardon, acknowledge the kindness with which she has always been treated, and express her readiness to go home with him.’

Friend Hopper indignantly replied, ‘I have no doubt that fear might induce her to profess all thou hast said. But what trait hast thou discovered in my character, that leads thee to suppose I would [195] be such a hypocrite as to betray the confidence this poor woman has reposed in me, by placing her in the power of her master, in the way thou hast proposed?’

Mr. Wiltbank then requested that a message might be conveyed to the woman, exhorting her to return, and promising that no notice whatever would be taken of her offence.

‘She shall be informed of thy message, if that will be any satisfaction to thee,’ replied Friend Hopper; ‘but I am perfectly sure she will never voluntarily return into slavery.’

Dr. Rich and Mr. Wiltbank called in the evening, and were told the message had been delivered to the woman, but she refused to return. ‘She is in your house now,’ exclaimed Dr. Rich. ‘I can prove it; and if you don't let me see her, I will commence a suit against you to-morrow, for harboring my slave.’

‘I believe Solomon Low resides in thy neighborhood,’ said Friend Hopper. ‘Art thou acquainted with him?’

Being answered in the affirmative, he said, ‘Solomon Low brought three such suits as thou hast threatened. They cost him seventeen hundred dollars, which I heard he was unable to pay. But perhaps thou hast seventeen hundred dollars to spare?’ [196]

Dr. Rich answered that he could well afford to lose that sum.

‘Very well,’ rejoined his opponent. ‘There are lawyers enough who need it, and still more who would be glad to have it.’

Finding it alike impossible to coax or intimidate the resolute Quaker, they withdrew. About eleven o'clock at night, some of the family informed Friend Hopper that there was a man continually walking back and forth in front of the house. He went out and accosted him thus: ‘Friend, art thou watching my house?’ When the stranger replied that he was, he said, ‘It is very kind in thee; but I really do not think there is any occasion for thy services. I am quite satisfied with the watchmen employed by the public.’

The man answered gruffly, ‘I have taken my stand, and I intend to keep it.’

Friend Hopper told him he had no objection; and he was about to re-enter the house, when he observed Dr. Rich, who was so wrapped up in a large cloak, that at first he did not recognize him. He exclaimed, ‘Why doctor, art thou here! Is it possible thou art parading the streets so late in the night, at this cold season of the year? Now, from motives of kindness, I do assure thee thy slave is not in my house. To save thee from exposing thy health [197] by watching at this inclement season, I will give thee leave to search the house.’

The doctor replied, ‘I shall obtain a warrant in the morning, and search it with the proper officer.’ ‘There appear to be several on the watch,’ said Friend Hopper; ‘and it surely is not necessary for all of them to be out in the cold at the same time. If thou wilt be responsible that nothing shall be stolen, thou art welcome to use my parlor as a watchhouse.’ This offer was declined with freezing civility, and Friend Hopper returned to his dwelling. Passing through the kitchen, he observed two colored domestics talking together in an under tone, apparently planning something which made them very merry. Judging from some words he overheard, that they had a mischievous scheme on foot, he resolved to watch their movements without letting them know that he noticed them. One of them put on an old cloak and bonnet, opened the front door cautiously, looked up the street and down the street, but saw nobody. The watchers had seen the dark face the moment it peeped out, and they were lying in ambush to observe her closely. After a minute of apparent hesitation, she rushed into the street and ran with all speed. They joined in hot pursuit, and soon overtook her. She pretended to be greatly alarmed, and called aloud for a watchman. The offenders were arrested and brought back [198] to the house with the girl. Friend Hopper explained that these men had been watching his house, supposing a fugitive slave to be secreted there; and that they had mistaken one of his domestics for the person they were in search of. After laughing a little at the joke practised upon them, he proposed that they should be set at liberty; and they were accordingly released.

The next morning, a soon as it was light he invited the watchers to come in and warm themselves; but they declined. After sunrise, they all dispersed, except two. When breakfast was ready, he urged them to come in and partake; telling them that one could keep guard while the other was eating. But they replied that Dr. Rich had ordered them to hold no communication with him. Being firmly persuaded that the slave was in the house, they kept sentry several days and nights. For fear she might escape by the back way, a messenger was sent to Mr. Warrence, who occupied a building in the rear, offering to pay him for his trouble if he would watch the premises in that direction. His wife happened to overhear the conversation; and having a pitcher of scalding water in her hand, she ran out saying, ‘Do you propose to hire my husband to watch neighbor Hopper's premises for a runaway slave? Go about your business! or I will throw this in your face.’ [199]

When Dr. Rich called again, he was received politely, and the first inquiry was how he had succeeded in his efforts to procure a search-warrant. He replied, ‘The magistrate refused to grant one.’

‘Perhaps Joseph Reed, the Recorder, would oblige thee in that matter,’ said Friend Hopper.

The answer was, ‘I have been to him, and he declines to interfere.’

It was then suggested that it might be well to retain a lawyer with a portion of the seventeen hundred dollars he said he had to spare.

‘I have been to Mr. Broome,’ rejoined the doctor. ‘He tells me that you understand the law in such cases as well as he does; and he advises me to let the matter alone.’

‘I will give thee permission to search my house,’ said Friend Hopper; ‘and I have more authority in that matter than any magistrate, judge, or lawyer, in the city.’

‘That is very gentlemanly,’ replied the doctor; ‘but I infer from it that the woman is not in your house.’

He was again assured that she was not; and they fell into some general discourse on the subject of slavery. ‘Suppose you came to Maryland and lost your horse,’ said the Doctor. ‘If you called upon me, and I told you that I knew where he was, but would not inform you, would you consider yourself [200] treated kindly?’ ‘In such a case, I should not consider myself well treated,’ replied Friend Hopper. ‘But in this part of the country, we make a distinction between horses and men. We believe that human beings have souls.’

‘That makes no difference,’ rejoined the Doctor. ‘You confess that you could find my slave if you were so disposed; and I consider it your duty to tell me where she is.’ ‘I will do it when I am of the same opinion,’ replied Friend Hopper; ‘but till then thou must excuse me.’

The fugitive was protected by a colored man named Hill, who soon obtained a situation for her as servant in a respectable country family, where she was kindly treated. In the course of a year or two, she returned to Philadelphia, married a steady industrious man, and lived very comfortably.

Mr. Hill had a very revengeful temper. One of his colored neighbors brought suits against him for criminal conduct, and recovered heavy damages. From that time he seemed to hate people of his own complexion, and omitted no opportunity to injure them. The woman he befriended, when he was in a better state of mind, had been married nine or ten years, and had long ceased to think of danger, when he formed the wicked project of making a little money by betraying her to her master. Accordingly he sought her residence accompanied by one of those [201] wretches who make a business of capturing slaves. When he entered her humble abode, he found her busy at the wash-tub. Rejoiced to see the man who had rendered her such essential service in time of need, she threw her arms about his neck, exclaiming, ‘O, uncle Hill, how glad I am to see you!’ She hastily set aside her tub, wiped up the floor, and thinking there was nothing in the house good enough for her benefactor, she went out to purchase some little luxuries. Hill recommended a particular shop, and proposed to accompany her. The slave-hunter, who had been left in the street, received a private signal, and the moment she entered the shop, he pounced upon her. Before her situation could be made known to Isaac T. Hopper, she was removed to Baltimore. The last he ever heard of her she was in prison there, awaiting her day of sale, when she was to be transported to New-Orleans.

He used to say he did not know which was the most difficult for his mind to conceive of, the cruel depravity manifested by the ignorant colored man, or the unscrupulous selfishness of the slaveholder, a man of education, a husband and a father, who could consent to use such a tool for such a purpose:

Many more narratives of similar character might be added; for I think he estimated at more than one thousand the number of cases in which he had been employed for fugitives, in one way or another, during [202] his forty years residence in Philadelphia. But enough have been told to illustrate the active benevolence, uncompromising boldness, and ready wit, which characterized this friend of humanity. His accurate knowledge of all laws connected with slavery was so proverbial, that magistrates and lawyers were generally averse to any collision with him on such subjects.

In 1810, Benjamin Donahue of Delaware applied to Mr. Barker, mayor of Philadelphia, to assist him in recovering a fugitive, with whose place of residence he was perfectly sure Isaac T. Hopper was acquainted. After a brief correspondence with Friend Hopper, the mayor said to Mr. Donahue, ‘We had better drop this business, like a hot potato; for Mr. Hopper knows more law in such cases as this, than you and I put together.’

He would often resort to the most unexpected expedients. Upon one occasion, a slave case was brought before Judge Rush, brother of Dr. Benjamin Rush. It seemed likely to terminate in favor of the slaveholder; but Friend Hopper thought he observed that the judge wavered a little. He seized that moment to inquire, ‘Hast thou not recently published a legal opinion, in which it is distinctly stated that thou wouldst never seek to sustain a human law, if thou wert convinced that it conflicted with any law in the Bible?’ [203]

‘I did publish such a statement,’ replied Judge Rush; ‘and I am ready to abide by it; for in all cases, I consider the divine law above the human.’

Friend Hopper drew from his pocket a small Bible, which he had brought into court for the express purpose, and read in loud distinct tones the following verses: ‘Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose, in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.’ Deut. 23: 15, 16.

The slaveholder smiled; supposing this appeal to old Hebrew law would be considered as little applicable to modern times, as the command to stone a man to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. But when the judge asked for the book, read the sentence for himself, seemed impressed by it, and adjourned the decision of the case, he walked out of the court-house muttering, ‘I believe in my soul the old fool will let him off on that ground.’ And sure enough, the slave was discharged.

Friend Hopper's quickness in slipping through loop-holes, and dodging round corners, rendered him exceedingly troublesome and provoking to slaveholders. He often kept cases pending in court three or four years, till the claimants were completely wearied out, and ready to settle on any terms. His [204] acute perception of the slightest flaw in a document, or imperfection in evidence, always attracted notice in the courts he attended. Judges and lawyers often remarked to him, ‘Mr. Hopper, it is a great pity you were not educated for the legal profession. You have such a judicial mind.’ Mr. William Lewis, an eminent lawyer, offered him every facility for studying the profession. ‘Come to my office and use my library whenever you please,’ said he; ‘or I will obtain a clerkship in the courts for you, if you prefer that. Your mind is peculiarly adapted to legal investigation, and if you would devote yourself to it, you might become a judge before long.’

But Friend Hopper could never overcome his scruples about entering on a career of worldly ambition. He thought he had better keep humble, and resist temptations that might lead him out of the plainness and simplicity of the religious Society to which he belonged. As for the colored people of Philadelphia, they believed in his infallibility, as devout Catholics believe in the Pope. They trusted him, and he trusted them; and it is remarkable in how few instances he found his confidence misplaced. The following anecdote will illustrate the nature of the relation existing between him and that much abused race. Prince Hopkins, a wood-sawyer of Philadelphia, was claimed as a fugitive slave by John Kinsmore [205] of Baltimore. When Friend Hopper went to the magistrate's office to inquire into the affair, he found the poor fellow in tears. He asked for a private interview, and the alderman gave his consent. When they were alone, Prince confessed that he was the slave in question. In the course of his narrative, it appeared that he had been sent into Pennsylvania by his mistress, and had resided there with a relative of hers two years. Friend Hopper told him to dry up his tears, for it was in his power to protect him. When he returned to the office, he informed the magistrate that Prince Hopkins was a free man; having resided in Pennsylvania, with the consent of his mistress, a much longer time than the law required. Mr. Kinsmore was irritated, and demanded that the colored man should be imprisoned till he could obtain legal advice.

‘Let him go and finish the wood he was sawing,’ said Friend Hopper. ‘I will be responsible for his appearance whenever he is wanted. If the magistrate will give me a commitment, Prince will call at my house after he has finished sawing his wood, and I will send him to jail with it. He can remain there, until the facts I have stated are clearly proved.’

The slave-holder and his lawyer seemed to regard this proposition as an insult. They railed at Friend Hopper for his ‘impertinent interference,’ and for [206] the absurd idea of trusting ‘that nigger’ under such circumstances.

He replied, ‘I would rather trust “that nigger,” as you call him, than either of you.’ So saying, he marched off with the magistrate's mittimus in his pocket.

When Prince Hopkins had finished his job of sawing, he called for the commitment, and carried it to the jailor, who locked him up. Satisfactory evidence of his freedom was soon obtained, and he was discharged.

The colored people appeared to better advantage with their undoubted friend, than they possibly could have done where a barrier of prejudice existed. They were not afraid to tell him their experiences in their own way, with natural pathos, here and there dashed with fun. A fine-looking, athletic fugitive, telling him his story one day, said, ‘When I first run away, I met some people who were dreadful afraid I could n't take care of myself. But thinks I to myself I took care of master and myself too for a long spell; and I guess I can make out.’ With a roguish expression laughing all over his face, he added, ‘I don't look as if I was suffering for a master; do I, Mr. Hopper?’

Though slaveholders had abundant reason to dread Isaac T. Hopper, as they would a blister of Spanish flies, yet he had no hardness of feeling toward them, [207] or even toward kidnappers; hateful as he deemed the system, which produced them both.

In 1801, a sober industrious family of free colored people, living in Pennsylvania on the borders of Maryland, were attacked in the night by a band of kidnappers. The parents were aged, and needed the services of their children for support. Knowing that the object of the marauders was to carry them off and sell them to slave speculators, the old father defended them to the utmost of his power. In the struggle, he was wounded by a pistol, and one of his daughters received a shot, which caused her death. One of the sons, who was very ill in bed, was beaten and bruised till he was covered with blood, But mangled and crippled as he was, he contrived to drag himself to a neighboring barn, and hide himself under the straw.

If such lawless violence had been practised upon any white citizens, the Executive of Pennsylvania would have immediately offered a high reward for the apprehension of the aggressors; but the victims belonged to a despised caste, and nothing was done to repair their wrongs. Friend Hopper felt the blood boil in his veins when he heard of this cruel outrage, and his first wish was to have the offenders punished; but as soon as he had time to reflect, he said, ‘I cannot find it in my heart to urge this subject upon the notice of the Executive; for death [208] would be the penalty if those wretches were convicted.’

There were many highly respectable individuals among the colored people of Philadelphia. Richard Allen, who had been a slave, purchased freedom with the proceeds of his own industry. He married, and established himself as a shoemaker in that city, where he acquired considerable property, and built a three-story brick house. He was the principal agent in organizing the first congregation of colored people in Philadelphia, and was their pastor to the day of his death, without asking or receiving any compensation. During the latter part of his life, he was Bishop of their Methodist Episcopal Church. Absalom Jones, a much respected colored man, was his colleague. In 1793, when the yellow fever was raging, it was extremely difficult to procure attendants for the sick on any terms; and the few who would consent to render service, demanded exorbitant prices. But Bishop Allen and Rev. Mr. Jones never hesitated to go wherever they could be useful; and with them, the compensation was always a secondary consideration. When the pestilence had abated, the mayor sent them a certificate expressing his approbation of their conduct. But even these men, whose worth commanded respect, were not safe from the legalized curse that rests upon their hunted race. A Southern speculator arrested Bishop Allen, [209] and claimed him as a fugitive slave, whom he had bought running. The constable employed to serve the warrant was ashamed to drag the good man through the streets; and he merely said, in a respectful tone, ‘Mr. Allen, you will soon come down to Alderman Todd's office, will you?’

The fugitive, whom they were seeking, had absconded only four years previous; and everybody in Philadelphia knew that Richard Allen had been living there more than twenty years. Yet the speculator and his sons swore unblushingly that he was the identical slave they had purchased. Mr. Allen thought he ought to have some redress for this outrage; ‘For,’ said he, ‘if it had not been for the kindness of the officer, I might have been dragged through the streets like a felon.’

Isaac T. Hopper was consulted, and a civil suit commenced. Eight hundred dollars bail was demanded, and the speculator, being unable to procure it, was lodged in the debtor's prison. When he had been there three months, Mr. Allen caused him to be discharged; saying he did not wish to persecute the man, but merely to teach him not to take up free people again, for the purpose of carrying them into slavery.

The numerous instances of respectability among the colored people were doubtless to be attributed in part to the protecting influence extended over them [210] by the Quakers. But even in those days, the Society of Friends were by no means all free from prejudice against color; and in later times, I think they have not proved themselves at all superior to other sects in their feelings and practice on this subject. Friend Hopper, Joseph Carpenter, and the few who resemble them in this respect, are exceptions to the general character of modern Quakers, not the rule. The following very characteristic anecdote shows how completely Isaac was free from prejudice on account of complexion. It is an unusual thing to see a colored Quaker; for the African temperament is fervid and impressible, and requires more exciting forms of religion. David Maps and his wife, a very worthy couple, were the only colored members of the Yearly Meeting to which Isaac T. Hopper belonged. On the occasion of the annual gathering in Philadelphia, they came with other members of the Society to share the hospitality of his house. A question arose in the family whether Friends of white complexion would object to eating with them. ‘Leave that to me,’ said the master of the household. Accordingly when the time arrived, he announced it thus: ‘Friends, dinner is now ready. David Maps and his wife will come with me; and as I like to have all accommodated, those who object to dining with them can wait till they have done.’ The guests smiled, and all seated themselves at the table. [211]

The conscientiousness so observable in several anecdotes of Isaac's boyhood was strikingly manifested in his treatment of a colored printer, named Kane. This man was noted for his profane swearing. Friend Hopper had expostulated with him concerning this bad habit, without producing the least effect. One day, he encountered him in the street, pouring forth a volley of terrible oaths, enough to make one shudder. Believing him incurable by gentler means, he took him before a magistrate, who fined him for blasphemy.

He did not see the man again for a long time; but twenty years afterward, when he was standing at his door, Kane passed by. The Friend's heart was touched by his appearance; for he looked old, feeble, and poor. He stepped out, shook hands with him, and said in kindly tones, ‘Dost thou remember me, and how I caused thee to be fined for swearing?’

‘Yes, indeed I do,’ he replied. ‘I remember how many dollars I paid, as well as if it were but yesterday.’

‘Did it do thee any good;’ inquired Friend Hopper.

‘Never a bit,’ answered he. ‘It only made me mad to have my money taken from me.’

The poor man was invited to walk into the house. The interest was calculated on the fine, and every [212] cent repaid to him. ‘I meant it for thy good,’ said the benevolent Quaker; ‘and I am sorry that I only provoked thee.’ Kane's countenance changed at once, and tears began to flow. He took the money with many thanks, and was never again heard to swear.

Friend Hopper's benevolence was by no means confined to colored people. Wherever there was good to be done, his heart and hand were ready. From various anecdotes in proof of this, I select the following.

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