Background information about abolitionism in cleveland


In Search of the Underground Railroad

Religious-inspired reform

According to conservative supporters, such as Elisha Whittlesey of nearby Tallmadge, Afro-Americans were too benighted and whites too antagonistic for both races to flourish in freedom in the same country. The county chapter of the organization was founded in by Jas. Clark, Samuel Cowles, and other town fathers.


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Although returning the entire southern labor force to Africa was hopelessly impractical, Cowles naively dreamed that American blacks would bring "the arts of civilized life" to the allegedly savage heathen there. The city elite soon heard from the rising Garrisonian reformers hoping to quench colonizationist enthusiasms and implant their own doctrines.

In May , Rev. Storrs, abolitionist president of Western Reserve College, Hudson, spoke at the Cuyahoga County courthouse on "the immediate emancipation of Slaves. In Cleveland, indifference more than outright antagonism greeted the abolitionists, whose postal campaign of aroused fierce mob action against the mailed propaganda and itinerant lecture agents. Protest was confined to a single meeting on 10 Sept. Huntington, and JOHN. FOOTE , all Cleveland business and social leaders, took the chief posts, but the society left few traces. The circumspection contrasted with the high-mindedness and sermonizings of the students and professors at nearby Oberlin College, a center of abolitionist influence, founded in Fugitive Slaves.

If abolition gained few converts, less radical approaches took root along the Cuyahoga. Most important was the operation of the "Underground Railroad. For instance, the belfry of ST. Folklore, however, laid claim to a tunnel under the church that housed scores of slaves. Early 20th-century investigators exposed the fiction.

Ohio Anti-Slavery Society

Not until passage of the rigorously enforced Fugitive Slave Law in were Clevelanders aroused to concerted action. Antislavery meetings drew crowds, particularly when fugitives told their dramatic stories of punishment, escape, and freedom. Ferris, "a fugitive slave of Oberlin, addressed the afternoon meeting. In , for example, Jas.

Adams of Big Kanawha, VA, fled with a cousin through Ohio, along a route used the previous year by 5 other fugitives from his neighborhood heading for Cleveland. A Cleveland antislavery clergyman, and then a white shoemaker whom the black travelers met on the outskirts of town, arranged their passage to Buffalo and from there to Canada.

Such assistance kept the antislavery cause very much alive, but it rested largely on personal difficulties with which one could identify, not upon larger matters of polity and justice for the race as a whole. Oberlinites mobbed a jail in nearby Wellington to rescue a fugitive long resident in their community. Some 37, including Simeon Bushnell, a Cleveland store clerk who had helped to whisk the slave to Canadian freedom, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Cleveland and held in jail in the spring of Thousands attended a rally in the square, where Giddings, Benjamin Wade, and others denounced the Fugitive Slave Law, Democrats, and southerners.

As Cleveland whites grew increasingly distressed about slavery and slave catchers, blacks also became more militant. For instance, in Nov. Manson took into custody Henry Seaton, a Kentucky slave. Although the prisoner was returned to his master without incident, one Geo. Hartman, who had betrayed Seaton by luring him into a trap, had to seek refuge from an angry black crowd, finding safety in the city jail. John Brown, a native of Hudson in neighboring Summit County, was the most famous beneficiary of Clevelanders' pride in protecting the hunted from their pursuers.

At the time of the Oberlin rescuers' release and celebration assembly, Brown sojourned in Cleveland 10 days, planning his assault on Harpers Ferry. There was a price on his head for his Kansas guerrilla activities and killings at Pottawatomie, but although he passed the federal marshal's office daily, no one turned him in.

By and large, such black activists as the Ohio canal boatman JOHN MALVIN and some white church people cooperated in aiding fugitives, but some local blacks, influenced in part by the record of race relations across the Canadian border, adopted the idea of emigration, one formerly held by the Western Reserve's colonization-minded elite—though for quite different reasons.

On 24 Aug. It could be said that the meeting was the birthplace of black nationalism—that is, a new consciousness of Afro-American culture. Although the CLEVELAND LEADER accurately surmised that "the objects of the convention met with but little favor from our colored citizens" of the city, Cleveland black spokesmen agreed with the convention's protests against "insufferable Yankee intrusion," civil and social discrimination, and abuse—in Ohio as elsewhere in the nation.

Political Antislavery.

The Slave's Cause

Neither Cleveland nor Cuyahoga County played a decisive role in the development of 3rd-party antislavery radicalism. Joshua R. The boy grew studious and stern, correcting neighbors' scriptural misquotes. John helped his father tan hides, delivered family cows to the Army for the War of and started hiding slaves. He briefly attended Eastern schools but ran short of money. At about age 20, Brown married Dianthe Lusk, calling her "a remarkably plain but neat, industrious and economical girl of excellent character.

The next year, Brown married Mary Ann Day, 17, big and strong. Thirteen more children followed, but seven died young, including a girl accidentally scalded by a sister. For a few years, the father prospered in Crawford County, Pa. But he returned to Ohio in debt in He helped Zenas Kent raise a tannery and a canal in the town later named for the tycoon's son.

Five Cities of the Abolition Movement

Borrowing heavily, Brown also opened a hotel, raised racehorses and bought land along the canal's expected route. But the canal took another turn, and a nationwide bust in brought Brown lawsuits and deeper debts. About then, he pledged his life at a Hudson church to freedom. He took in a black collegiate boarder. He also visited Cleveland and helped there to petition against the state's discriminatory "black laws. In , the sheriff hauled Brown and two of his sons to jail for refusing to yield their Hudson farm to a creditor. Brown declared bankruptcy but kept trying to pay his debts.

For two years, he flitted among three homes in Richfield.


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  • In , he leased a two-room house next door to landlord Simon Perkins Jr. Wrote Brown, "I think this is the most comfortable and the most favorable arrangement of my worldly concerns that I have ever had. But Perkins' wife, Grace, complained about his rowdy boys. They retaliated with itching powder in her outhouse. Soon Brown bought land in North Elba, N. But few freedmen came.

    Bettina L. Love, Ph.D. 9.6.19.

    Brown also opened a wool warehouse in Springfield, Mass. But prices plunged in the United States and in London, where he tried selling. He had to return to Akron and work for Perkins on harder terms than before. In , Brown joined five sons in the violent Kansas Territory. The next year, he led nocturnal raiders in dragging five slavery supporters from their homes and hacking them to death with swords. Soon his band captured 27 Missouri militiamen.

    He spent the next couple of years raising money and stashing weapons around the country. He stayed with famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N. The invaders seized the arsenal and took prisoners but were quickly surrounded.

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