The Cleveland Daily Herald

Cleveland, April 6, 1859

The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Case.

United States District Court,

Northern District of Ohio. Willson, Judge

First Day – Afternoon Session.

      Court met at 2 o’clock.

      On the case being called Mr. Riddle asked the Court to permit the defence to withdraw; temporarily, the plea of “not guilty” as made by defendant for the purpose of making a motion to quash the indictment. The plea was withdrawn, a motion filed to quash the indictment, and the plea of “not guilty” again made. Judge Spalding desired that the witnesses for the prosecution should with draw while the District Attorney was stating the case as he expected to prove it to the jury. The order was made by the Court to that effect.

      The District Attorney read the indictment to the jury, which reduced to plain saxon, said that John G. Bacon, of Kentucky, owned a slave named “John” and “John” fled to Ohio, where an agent for said Bacon, named Anderson Jennings, undertook to re-take said “John” but that the defendant, Bushnell, aided and assisted by two hundred others, more or less, rescued said “John” from said Jennings, and that such act was against the peace and dignity of the United State.

      [On commenting upon this indictment the District Attorney made a statement, which, if good law, makes the Fugitive Slave Act more infernal than even we ever dreamed it to be. – The District Attorney said that the last averment in the indictment which alleges that the defendant rescued the man John knowing him to be a slave and owing service was an immaterial averment and need not be proved. If it is law then a citizen of Ohio who shelters and feeds a negro, not dreaming he is a slave, and not having any reason to suppose him to be a slave, is liable to fine an imprisonment.]

      The District Attorney stated that the indictment was found under the act known as the Fugitive Slave Law passed by Congress in 1850. – One point made by the District Attorney was that the defendant not only rescued the slave, but that he did it contrary to the wishes of the slave himself. The District Attorney also charged that Bushnell was one of the Oberlin agitators, and that on the occasion of the rescue was one of the leaders, and after the rescue boasts of his exploits.

      Judge Spalding, for defence, stated that the defence would maintain that no offence similar to the one laid down in the indictment had been committed by defendant. Moreover that the indictment does not aver that the negro John legally owned service to his master Bacon in Kentucky or any other State. The defence will show that the negro was stolen from his home under pretence of doing a job of work; was decoyed by false and scandalous representations into the hands of his captors.

      John G. Bacon, of Kentucky, was then sworn and testified. – Was born and bred in Mason county Kentucky, owned, from the spring of 1847 to January 1856, a negro slave named John. – Don’t know who owns the slave now (laughter) – don’t know where he is now. The nigger is 5 feet 8 inches high, about 18 years of age, copper colored and heavy built. John’s mother was a slave, and is still so. The slave ran off from witness January ’46 with another slave named Frank and a woman named Dinah; stealing two horses. Witness gave power of attorney to Jennings (which was shown and identified, as executed September 4th, 1858), to catch the nigger.

      Cross examined by Mr. Backus. Witness father died in 1845 leaving witness and five other children, John was born on witness father’s farm, witness was on the farm when the nigger was born, heard of the event probably within an hour after the boy was born. Witness was 15 or 16 years old when the boy was born and was at home. Don’t remember the time of the year when the boy was born and was at home. Don’t remember the time of the year when the boy was born; witness’ father had 25 to 30 slaves, [male and female] the witness knew the mother of John to be a slave in his father’s family; witness’ title to John to be a slave in his father’s family; witness’ title to John was by inheritance; was on a visit when the three negros ran away; left them in charge of an Irishman named Peter: does not now own a slave – he corrected himself – except John (great laughter.) When witness was away from home John the negro and Peter the Irishman were about equal as far as being captain. Reside about one-fourth of a mile from the Ohio River, opposite Ripley; don’t know whether the horses ran away with John when going to water or not; found the horses in a week or ten days about 20 miles from Ripley. Jennings was in Ohio and saw the boy, and was going to hunt a slave of his own in the neighborhood of Oberlin, and witness gave him the power of attorney. Jennings said he found plenty of niggers at Oberlin. Jennings was to have half the proceeds if he brought him back.

      Robert A. Cochran, of Marysville, Mason Co., Kentucky, was sworn and testified. – In Sept. ’58 was clerk of the Mason county Court; known Mr. Bacon at least nine years; did not know the boy “John.” The power of attorney showed witness bore the seal of Mason county and was acknowledged by a deputy clerk.

      Judge Bliss read the power of Attorney given by J.G. Bacon and Richard Lloyd to Anderson Jennings, to catch three negroes, at large in Ohio, described thus: - “Frank, a large black negro, full six feet high, large pop eyes, rather thick tongued, about twenty-six years old. – John, about twenty years old, about five feet six or eight inches high, weighs about one hundred and forty or fifty pounds. Dinah, tall, slim negro woman, about twenty-one or two years old, dark copper color, very straight, holds a high head and very quick spoken.”

      Anderson Jennings (the nigger catcher) was sworn and testified: Was born and raised in Mason County, Ky. Knew the negro “John” for two or three years before he ran away, as belonging to Bacon, “who owned him as we own any property.” Witness saw John after he ran way, at Wellington in Lorain county: - “I had him there.” (Laughter.)

      The counsel for the State asked witness if the negro recognized witness.

      Mr. Backus objected, that what the boy did or said should not bind this Defendant, any more than if a dog had recognized his master by wagging his tail.

      District Attorney Belden claimed that it was competent to show that the boy recognized witness and spoke of his master: this to be given as a matter of identity.

      The Judge held that the testimony was not competent, but reserved opinion by request of District Attorney, for the present.

      Witness proceeded: He had the power of attorney at the time he had John at Wellington; attempted to take John to Columbus from Wadsworth’s hotel. Had him below stairs, and saw people gathering with guns. Did not like the room he had John in: it was too large and had folding doors; got landlord to let them have a room upstairs, and took John up there. – Lowe, Mitchell and Davis were assisting witness and went up with them. Don’t know the Defendant, Bushnell. Witness thought there were about a thousand people around there. [Intense laughter.] They had shot guns and other arms. Met John about 2 or 3 o’clock at Wellington: people commenced gathering in pretty soon, and hung around till pretty near dark, - The people inquired for the men who had the boy; a good many were let into the room; they said they had brought a Sheriff to arrest us; they did not say much to us but talked to the negro; asked if he was a slave and if he wanted to go back; the negro said he was a slave and wanted to go back, and that he was Bacon’s slave. [Defendant’s counsel excepted to such evidence unless the Defendant was in the room at the time. The Court held that unless they did so show, the testimony was not admissible.] The negro and witness went out on a platform from a door, and the negro was going to tell the crowd that he was going back to Kentucky, but two or three rifles were pointed up and scared the nigger back into the house without telling them what he went out to do. Soon after that the mob broke in a window, having got up with ladders on to that platform. Witness was holding the door of the room by a rope, and held on until he was punched, and a hole made through his hat; witness was stunned by the blow; the crowd came in, and took the negro down the stairs; the last the witness saw of the negro he was going over the heads of the people down the stairs; witness looked out of the window an saw them putting the nigger into a wagon that stood in front of the house. John was driven off towards Oberlin and the crowd scattered. We showed the people the power of attorney and all the papers we had. Witness had proposed, before the boy was rescued, that the crowd should go to Columbus and have and investigation about the negro, but they said that was a little too far South. The last he saw of John he was going pretty good speed. [Laughter.] Witness can identify only one man, Watson, a yellow man, as being in the room at Wellington. [Witness pointed our Watson among the auditory.]

      Cross-examined by Mr. Backus. – Have known old man Bacon’s niggers ever since witness was a boy, can’t recollect the name of the niggers, pretty near all the niggers Bacon had were copper colored. John Bacon owned but about two niggers, John and the girl Dinah. Have known John four or five years ago. Never noticed that John had eyes of different colors, think his eyes were of one color, but don’t know what that color was, know they were not blue. John was between five and six feet high; had a good head of wool; had a fair forehead; pretty heavy eyebrows; don’t know whether he ever shaved; had a pretty lively walk. This was witnesses first expedition to catch niggers; was in Oberlin and saw John and wrote to Bacon that the nigger was there, and if he would send a Power of Attorney and a witness he would try and get John back to Kentucky. Did not make any arrangement for one-half the nigger, or one-half his value; there was not a word said, or written about compensation; not a word passed about the pay; witness undertook to catch the nigger purely as a neighborly act; thought it was his duty; did the work as a friendly action, and did not except to make anything. Witness was at Oberlin looking for a different nigger; one he was himself interested in; after he wrote the letter to Kentucky, and while waiting an answer, went and staid at a little place up there – Sandusky. From there we went home to Kentucky and Mitchell had started for Oberlin, and witness came right back and found Mitchell at Oberlin. Mitchell was at Wack’s tavern. Saw Mitchell, asked if he had seen the nigger; then left, next day, for Columbus, found Mr. Lowe, and found Mr. Chittenden and got a warrant from C. and put it in Lowe’s hands and then went back to Oberlin, getting there ten or eleven o’clock Friday night; on Sunday evening went to Gen. Boynton’s, never had seen Boynton until then, staid at Boynton’s all night – on reflection think it was Saturday night when we went to Boynton’s. Lowe and witness went down, made an arrangement with Boynton’s little boy, Shakespeare, got get John; told Gen. Boynton that witness had made at arrangement with his boy, who said it was his own business. Got acquainted with a Mr. Warren at Oberlin and asked if he knew of any one whom they could talk to that he had confidence in around town, and asked him if there was anybody “outside” he could get to help get the negro out, - Warren thought Boynton would not divulge on him any way and might help him. – Warren told witness that there would be trouble; heard a boy in front of the tavern say there was to be a general fight, and his father had loaned his two guns. Warren said the people were watching the nigger John, and had a man to ring the alarm bell. Witness asked Boynton’s boy if he would go up and hire John, and he said he would go and hire John to dig his father’s potatoes, and witness promised the boy $20 if he got John down there. Never told old man Boynton that he would give him $300 if he would get the boy for him, or get any other negro. After making the arrangements with the boy, went back to Oberlin from Boynton’s on Sunday, and staid all night. The General of course knew what witness was going to use his boy for. The Boynton boy – Shakespeare - was to hire John on Monday and come and let them know. Shakespeare came and told us that eh negro Frank – who I wanted to get too – had got his throat cut, and John had to stay and wait on Frank, but there was a boy he could get to dig the potatoes. Shakespeare asked how it would do to get John to go with him to find the boy he spoke of, and witness told him that would do, and Shakespeare got John to come with him and Lowe and Mitchell followed on and took John. After they had taken John, Shakespeare came back and told me that Lowe and Mitchell came up to his buggy and he stopped, and they took John out and had carried him to Wellington. The $20 was paid to Shakespeare. He is about fourteen years old; witness supposed he had his daddy’s horse and buggy when he got John. Witness had a couple of pistols with him.

      Adjourned until 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning.