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Ben Jackson.

Ben was born a slave in Virginia. When he was about sixteen years old, his mind became excited on the subject of slavery. He could not reconcile it with the justice and goodness of the Creator, that [52] one man should be born to toil for another without wages, to be driven about, and treated like a beast of the field. The older he grew, the more heavily did these considerations press upon him. At last, when he was about twenty-five years old, he resolved to gain his liberty, if possible. He left his master, and after encountering many difficulties, arrived in Philadelphia, where he let himself on board a vessel and went several voyages. When he was thirty years of age, he married, and was employed as a coachman by Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He lived with him two years; and when he left, Dr. Rush gave him a paper certifying that he was a free man, honest, sober, and capable.

In 1799, his master came to Philadelphia, and arrested him as his fugitive slave. Ben had an extraordinary degree of intelligence and tact. When his master brought him before a magistrate, and demanded the usual certificate to authorize him to take his human chattel back to Virginia, Ben neither admitted nor denied that he was a slave. He merely showed the certificate of Dr. Rush, and requested that Isaac T. Hopper might be informed of his situation. Joseph Bird, the justice before whom the case was brought, detested slavery, and was a sincere friend to the colored people. He committed Ben to prison until morning, and despatched a note to Isaac T. [53] Hopper informing him of the circumstance, and requesting him to call upon Dr. Rush. When the doctor was questioned, he said he knew nothing about Ben's early history; he lived with him two years, and was then a free man.

When Friend Hopper went to the prison, he found Ben in a state of great anxiety and distress. He admitted that he was the slave of the man who claimed him, and that he saw no way of escape open for him. His friend told him not to be discouraged, and promised to exert himself to the utmost in his behalf. The constable who had arrested him, sympathized with the poor victim of oppression, and promised to do what he could for him. Finding him in such a humane mood, Friend Hopper urged him to bring Ben to the magistrate's office a short time before the hour appointed for the trial. He did so, and found Friend Hopper already there, watching the clock. The moment the hand pointed to nine, he remarked that the hour, of which the claimant had been apprized, had already arrived; no evidence had been brought that the man was a slave; on the contrary, Dr. Rush's certificate was strong presumptive evidence of his being a freeman; he therefore demanded that the prisoner should be discharged. Justice Bird, having no desire to throw obstacles in the way, promptly told Ben he was at liberty, and he lost no time in profiting by the information. Just as he [54] passed out of the door, he saw his master coming, and ran full speed. He had sufficient presence of mind to take a zigzag course, and running through a house occupied by colored people, he succeeded in eluding pursuit.

When Friend Hopper went home, he found him at his house. He tried to impress upon his mind the peril he would incur by remaining in Philadelphia, and advised him by all means to go to sea. But his wife was strongly attached to him, and so unwilling to consent to this plan, that he concluded to run the risk of staying with her. He remained concealed about a week, and then returned to the house he had previously occupied. They lived in the second story, and there was a shed under their bed-room window. Ben placed a ladder under the window, to be ready for escape; but it was so short, that it did not reach the roof of the shed by five or six feet. His wife was an industrious, orderly woman, and kept their rooms as neat as a bee-hive. The only thing which marred their happiness was the continual dread that man-hunters might pounce upon them, in some unguarded hour, and separate them forever. About a fortnight after his arrest, they were sitting together in the dusk of the evening, when the door was suddenly burst open, and his master rushed in with a constable. Ben sprang out of the window, down the ladder, and made his escape. His master [55] and the constable followed; but as soon as they were on the ladder, Ben's wife cut the cord that held it, and they tumbled heels over head upon the shed. This bruised them some, and frightened them still more. They scrambled upon their feet, cursing at a round rate.

Ben arrived safely at the house of Isaac T. Hopper, who induced him to quit the city immediately, and go to sea. His first voyage was to the East Indies. While he was gone, Friend Hopper negotiated with the master, who, finding there was little chance of regaining his slave, agreed to manumit him for one hundred and fifty dollars. As soon as Ben returned, he repaid from his wages the sum which had been advanced for his ransom. His wife's health was greatly impaired by the fear and anxiety she had endured on his account. She became a prey to melancholy, and never recovered her former cheerfulness.

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Isaac T. Hopper (6)
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Ben Jackson (1)
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1799 AD (1)
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