Sunday, May 11, 2014

Canadians! Look Out For the Man-Stealers.

    This was one of the headlines in the September 24, 1847 Barrie Magnet newspaper under a column called Colonial Items. Also in bold letters was the phrase 'IMPORTANT SLAVE CASE'. The article relates to an escaped slave case that began with a slave by the name of Brown who had been murdered by his owner Mr. Somerville of Maryland. Mr. Somerville was later also the victim of murder and the brother of the killed slave was accused and tried for the offence. Astonishingly he was acquitted but Somerville's family sold the brother into what was described in the Magnet as the "desolating bondage of the South". He then escaped and reached Philadelphia, where he expected to live in some safety. He also had a wife and seven children in Maryland that he was anxious to free as well and had assumed the name of Russell. Somerville's family learned of his whereabouts and sent men from New Orleans to claim that Brown was a murderer. "This is a favorite and hackney mode of seizing a victim" Two men showed up in Philadelphia at a magistrate's office and had the man put in prison but the Abolitionists succeeded in having him released as the warrant was improperly done.
     After such a narrow escape,  the man made his way to Canada accompanied by Rev. Young from New York.  They laid a case before Lord Elgin claiming the protection of the British crown, which the Governor General agreed to. On the next day, the two bounty hunters arrived in Montreal demanding Brown's surrender. They were turned away but the writer carried on saying "some magistrate, from ignorance of the facts, may possibly give him up on a charge of murder, although this is not likely. However to prevent it, we have to request our contemporaries, as an act of justice and mercy, to hand around this not of warning. Let it never be said that there is a single magistrate in the length and bread of British North America so ignorant, or so indifferent as to surrender a fellow man into the hands of the relentless slave holder - Globe"
     For good measure, the Magnet's editor added, "We have always been decidedly opposed to Lynch-law, and should deem it a very hard case if the above mentioned 'free and unlightened' citizens, during their 'n***** hunt' should happen to get unmercifully tar'd and feathered!" It is awkwardly worded but the editor is clearly outraged on behalf of the fugitive and his treatment.
     If only this had been the last time an American bounty hunter forgot that Canada is politically and legally separate from the U.S. and one cannot just come here and grab fugitives.
    Curious if there is any information on the escapee, I am delighted to find an article from the Maryland archives that the fugitive was named Isaac Brown and he escaped to Canada with his family.
Full article here: and there is more information included in this book: Fugitive Slaves and American Courts: The Pamphlet Literature, edited by Paul Finkelman. There are a large number of webpages devoted to the case which must have been very important in 1847. As well, a Canadian, researching his own family history with an ancestor also named Isaac Brown, wrote a book about the case and Brown's history. The book is called One More River to Cross by Bryan Prince. In it, he states that Brown kept his alias of Samuel Russell in Canada and eventually settled in Chatham, Ontario where he died. 

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