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Wagelma was a lively intelligent colored boy of ten years old, whom his mother had bound as an apprentice to a Frenchman in Philadelphia. This man being about to take his family to Baltimore, in the summer of 1801, with the intention of going thence to France, put his apprentice on board a Newcastle packet bound to Baltimore, without having the consent of the boy or his mother, as the laws of Pennsylvania required. The mother did not even know of his intended departure, till she heard that her child was on board the ship. Fears that he might be sold into slavery, either in Baltimore or the West Indies, seized upon her mind; and even if that dreadful [71] fate did not await him, there was great probability that she would never see him again.

In her distress she called upon Isaac T. Hopper, immediately after sunrise. He hastened to the wharf, where the Newcastle packet generally lay, but had the mortification to find that she had already started, and that a gentle breeze was wafting her down the stream. He mounted a fleet horse, and in twenty minutes arrived at Gloucester Point, three miles below the city. The ferry at that place was kept by a highly respectable widow, with whom he had been long acquainted. He briefly stated the case to her, and she at once ordered one of her ferrymen to put him on board the Newcastle packet, which was in sight, and near the Jersey shore. They made all speed, for there was not a moment to lose.

When they came along-side the packet, the captain, supposing him to be a passenger for Baltimore, ordered the sailors to assist him on board. When his business was made known, he was told that the Frenchman was in the cabin. He sought him out, and stated that the laws of Pennsylvania did not allow apprentices to be carried out of the state without certain preliminaries, to which he had not attended. The Frenchman had six or eight friends with him, and as he was going out of the country, he put the laws at defiance. Meanwhile, the vessel was gliding down the river, carrying friend Hopper to Newcastie. [72] He summoned the captain, and requested him to put the colored boy into the ferry-boat, which was alongside ready to receive him. He was not disposed to interfere; but when Friend Hopper drew a volume from his pocket and read to him the laws applicable to the case, he became alarmed, and said the boy must be given up. Whereupon, Friend Hopper directed the child to go on deck, which he was ready enough to do; and the ferryman soon helped him on board the boat.

The Frenchman and his friends were very noisy and violent. They attempted to throw Friend Hopper overboard; and there were so many of them, that they seemed likely to succeed in their efforts. But he seized one of them fast by the coat; resolved to have company in the water, if he were compelled to take a plunge. They struck his hand with their canes, and pulled the coat from his grasp. Then he seized hold of another; and so the struggle continued for some minutes. The ferryman, who was watching the conflict, contrived to bring his boat into a favorable position; and Friend Hopper suddenly let go the Frenchman's coat, and tumbled in.

When he returned to Philadelphia with the boy, he found the mother waiting at his house, in a state of intense anxiety. The meeting between mother and son was joyful indeed; and Wagelma made them all laugh by his animated description of his friend's [73] encounter with the Frenchmen, accompanied by a lively imitation of their gesticulations. In witnessing the happiness he had imparted, their benefactor found more than sufficient compensation for all the difficulties he had encountered.

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Isaac T. Hopper (5)
Isaac Tatem Hopper (1)
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