The Oberlin Evangelist

May 11, 1859

Anderson Jennings the Slaveholding Christian

      When a man comes of his own accord from Kentucky to Ohio to testify in open court, and from the witness stand, under oath, discloses his own history, the facts thus disclosed become public property, and no objection can lie against their legitimate use.

      Anderson Jennings appeared in the United States Court at Cleveland as a Christian gentleman from Kentucky. Some of his Kentucky friends testified under oath to his reputable standing in an orthodox church in that State. The Maysville press endorses this testimony, declaring him to be a model Christian gentleman. His case may therefore help us to ascertain what are the essential elements of Christian character as molded under the influence of slavery in Kentucky.

      Mr. Jennings testified that he had been three times into Ohio in pursuit of fugitive slaves. In the present case, he had proffered his services to John G. Bacon, the alleged owner of the slave boy John, purely as an act of neighborly kindness, tempted by no promise or expectation of filthy lucre. In the prosecution of this benevolent enterprise, he had offered Jacob Lowe and Samuel Davis, of Columbus, one hundred dollars, for their assistance. The disinterested benevolence of Jennings is further taxed by the offer of twenty dollars to one Shakspeare Boynton, a lad of fourteen, for decoying the slave boy by a lie, into his hands. There is, to be sure, some doubt thrown upon this large assumption of disinterested benevolence by the testimony of John G. Bacon, who swore that by contract he was to give Jennings half the value of the slave John, if he obtained him, and that the proposal to this effect came from Jennings. In this conflict of sworn testimony, the probabilities of the case being with Bacon and against Jennings, we shall perhaps be compelled to admit that his special claim to benevolence in the say of “neighborly kindness” is somewhat damaged.

      We listened to the cross-examination of Jennings as to his Sabbath duties o the twelfth of Septemberlast, the day before the seizure and arrest of the slave boy John. In answer to questions he testified that on this Sabbath he did not attend church, did not give himself to reaching of the scriptures, nor to private forms of devotion; but did spend the day at one Boynton’s, some three miles from Oberlin negotiating and planning with Boynton’s son for the decoy and seizure of the slave boy, John. He did not altogether like to do such business on the Sabbath, and should not have done it then, had he not been afraid the boy would run. Under these circumstances of danger, he considered this planning a lawful work of necessity.

      Here then are the elements of character developed in the case of Anderson Jennings – reputed to be a slaveholding Christian of Kentucky. He prostitutes himself, professionally, to the business of hunting down and sending back servants who escape from their masters; he swears, (falsely or truly) that he does this work purely out of neighborly kindness; he hires a lad of fourteen years’ age to lie for him as a decoy; and finally, he devotes to this service the sacred hours of the Christian Sabbath.

      Now we confess to great exercises of mind for many years as to the genuineness of that type of piety which steals babes into slavery as soon as born, which denies to parents the right to train up and to love their own children, which rends families asunder, and which with deadly weapons hunts down the fleeing fugitive. Long time have we sought to guard our judgment against uncharitableness, and to make all due allowances for the force of education; but when we are confronted with a case like this of Jennings, we are compelled to say – With such piety towards God, let my soul have no communion! With such humanity to man, let me never have fellowship! H.C.