Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thomas Mitchell or Ben

The Fugitive Slave Law, a federal law, required all states to allow a slave owner to seize an escaped slave, take them before a judge, present evidence of ownership, and then reclaim the slave. In 1832 the enforcement of this law, in Dayton, led to dire consequences. According to "The Historical Collections of Ohio" written by Henry Howe in 1888 the following story was reported in the "Dayton Journal", a local newspaper. It was told by an eye witness to the events, a person who was not an Abolitionist but one with sympathy for the sufferer.
The witness said a black man, going by the name of Thomas Mitchell, had lived in Dayton for two or three years. He was a hard working and stable man; married and the father of a child.
Some men from Kentucky arrested Mitchell, took him before a magistrate, and said he was an escaped slave. The judge ruled they did not have sufficient proof and released Mitchell.
A few weeks later, armed men, hired by the slave owner, grabbed Mitchell on Main Street and attempted to put him in a sleigh and carry him off. Mitchell was rescued when his cries for help were heard. Legal proof of ownership was demanded by several people.
The case again went to a magistrate. This time new evidence was provided and it was ruled that Mitchell was indeed the slave of the person claiming him.
Several citizens took up Mitchell's cause and proposed that money be collected to buy his freedom. The owner's agent thought this could be arranged. A large sum was collected. Mitchell himself gave fifty dollars from his own savings.
But, the owner refused the deal and came to Dayton himself to take Mitchell back to Kentucky. When Mitchell met the man in the second story of a house and realized he was going to be taken, he tried to jump out of the window. He was restrained from doing so and forced to go south with the man.
On their way back to Kentucky the group stopped to spend the night in Cincinnati.
Later, a letter was received by a man in Dayton which told the rest of the story:
"Poor Tom Is Free Cincinnati, Jan. 24, 1832 Dear Sir:-In compliance with a request of Mr. J. Deinkard, of Kentucky, I take my pen to inform you of the death of his black man Ben, whom he took in your place a few days ago….Mr. D. and company, with Ben, arrived in this city on their way to Kentucky, and put up at the Main Street Hotel, where a room on the uppermost story (fourth) of the building was provided for Ben and his guard. …about one o'clock when they were in a sound sleep, poor Ben…threw himself from the window…He was… severely injured and the poor fellow died this morning about four o'clock. … Please tell Ben's wife of these circumstances…. R. P. Simmons"

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