“Sufferers’ Land” Post#43 – Runaway Slaves in Norwalk –

In early November 1842, bounty hunters captured twelve runaway slaves in nearby Fitchville Township and brought them to Norwalk. The sheriff wouldn’t allow the slaves’ captors to keep them in the county jail, so they took them to the Gauff House and held them there for a week before transporting them back to Kentucky.

The Gauff House was a hostelry across the street from the Norwalk Academy, and had wide verandas on the ground and second floor. The slaves stayed on the upper floor, and Henry occasionally saw them on the veranda as he passed by.

Hallet and Clarissa Gallup lived just west of where the slaves were held. Caleb Gallup, their son, threw apples up to the slaves when they came out onto the front veranda of the house for exercise.

Just before the slaves left, Caleb was throwing apples to them when one of them tossed something into the grass near where he stood. Because guards and other people were nearby, Caleb didn’t react, but took note of where it landed. Later, he told his father, who that night went to the house and found a bowie knife in the grass.

After the slaves went back to their owners, some citizens formed a committee to raise money to buy their freedom. Henry Buckingham and Hallet Gallup were leading members. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much interest, and the idea was dropped.

Henry Buckingham was outraged by what he had seen. Afterwards he said, “Such a thing can never be done again in Norwalk.” He was finally convinced that gradual emancipation was too slow and that something more decisive was necessary to solve the problem. But his ability to be a part of that solution was about to end. [1]

Not long after the runaway slaves left Norwalk for the south, Henry was the victim of an accident that finally took him out of public life, something the financial and emotional blows he had received couldn’t do. A horse kicked him in the head, knocking him unconscious. He never fully recovered. The man who had been such an important part of the town’s life was helpless. [2]

A short time long after the Henry’s accident, the Benedict family received bad news. On Friday, June 16, 1843, Platt and Sally’s oldest son David died in Danbury. Now Jonas and Clarissa were the only surviving Benedict children, and young Dave Benedict was the only grandson left to carry on the family name. Then there was another death. Dave and Fanny Benedict’s sister Mary died at the age of eight, bringing more grief to the family. [3]

Henry Buckingham lingered for two years after his accident. On Wednesday morning, April 2, 1845, his grandson Henry noticed something was wrong with him. He told his father, who went to the old man’s bed and found his mind wandering. Soon Henry was unconscious, and at eight o’clock the next morning he passed away peacefully. The man who had been the conscience of the village was gone. [4]

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Footnotes:

[1] From “The Ohio Fugitive Slave Law,” by G.T. Stewart, The Firelands Pioneer, July 1888, pp. 75-77.

[2] From “Obituary of Henry Buckingham,” by Levina Lindsley Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, 1888, p. 161

[3] Story of the tragedies that befell the Benedict family in the late 1830s and early 1840s are from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 6-7 & 17-18 & “Obituaries – Benedict,” The Firelands Pioneer, December 1902, pp. 920-921.

[4] “Biographies and Memoirs – Henry Buckingham,” by his grandson, Henry Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, July 1888, p. 125.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #42 – An Abolitionist Comes to Norwalk –

After the failure of his business, Henry had been elected County Treasurer. One evening in the fall of 1842, he came out of the Court House at dusk and noticed a respectable looking middle-aged man standing alone in front of the bank. The man appeared disturbed and uncertain what to do.

Henry greeted him and asked him what he was doing in town. The man told him he was an Abolitionist minister who had come to Norwalk to lecture about the evils of slavery, but had not received a warm welcome. People opposed to abolition threatened him and no hotel would give him a room. Henry immediately invited the minister to stay at his house, and stayed up late with him, debating the slavery question.

The next day, word got out and the village buzzed with gossip and outrage. Some people threatened to drive the “sneaking Abolitionist” out of town. Henry’s son George and his brother John, along with many neighbors, tried to convince him to turn the abolitionist away, but he told them, “This man comes well recommended, he appears to be a gentleman; I don’t quite believe in his doctrine, but he is a human being, made in the image of God. He has committed no crime. He needs food and shelter; and I have invited him to my house. He can stay as long as he likes free of charge and I will protect him!”

And that was that. Even with the sentiment against the anti-slavery movement in Norwalk, the man wasn’t molested and stayed at the Buckingham home until he finished his business in the village. [1]

Still, Henry was not an out and out abolitionist. However, later that fall, soon after the abolitionist minister left his home, an incident occurred that finally forced him to change his stance.

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Footnote:

[1] “The Ohio Fugitive Slave Law,” by G.T. Stewart, The Firelands Pioneer, July 1888, pp. 75-77.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #41 – Henry Buckingham and the Underground Railroad –

In 1842, Henry Buckingham still had not recovered financially from the loss of the Norwalk Manufacturing Company. Looking for a steady source of income, he ran for and was elected Treasurer of Huron County, a position he held when he first came to Norwalk.

Henry continued to be highly regarded in the community. People liked and respected him for being of a good nature, courteous and kind, even if they did not always agree with him. One issue where he departed from most of his fellow citizens was slavery – specifically the problem of runaway slaves who passed through the Firelands on their way to freedom in Canada.

By this time, slavery had polarized the United States. Ohio was a microcosm of the divide that split the nation. In southern Ohio, where many settlers had come from Virginia and Kentucky, the sentiment was decidedly pro-slavery. In 1837, a mob destroyed the office of an abolition newspaper in Cincinnati and killed the editor. [1]

In contrast, the Western Reserve, to include the Firelands, was more inclined to be anti-slavery due to the preponderance of settlers from New England. However, even here, the sentiment was not for openly helping fugitive slaves.

After the Civil War, a Sandusky lawyer who openly fought for the release of captured runaway slaves during the 1840s and 1850s would write about this issue.

An intelligent understanding of the question has required me to point out the unpopularity of anti-slavery movements, and compare the prevailing sentiments of those days with that which succeeded later. Thus will you also see why such an institution as the “Underground Railroad” was introduced. For in the light of the present day it seems almost impossible that it should have been necessary to resort to such secret measures to help a poor bondman to freedom in this free State of Ohio, and especially across these Firelands, settled as they were with a liberty-loving people. But slavery was not then regarded as it was afterwards; slaves were looked upon as the rightful property of their owners, and it was incumbent on law-abiding citizens to return them rather than aid them to escape. While people perhaps would not actively oppose the attempt of these fugitives to escape, they did not openly espouse their cause, and the popular feeling at this time may safely be said to have been unfavorable to aid being afforded them to escape. [2]

Many heated debates took place around dinner tables in Norwalk, to include the Benedict and Buckingham households. Although some members of these families took the antislavery position — Hallet Gallup and Henry Buckingham for instance — even they were not in favor of immediate emancipation or openly providing assistance for runaway slaves. They valued property rights and were torn between recognition of the rights of slaveholders to their property and the rights of all human beings to be free.

However, in spite what he said in public, one of the earliest stops on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves in Norwalk was the home of Henry Buckingham. His grandson later wrote: I remember well the feeling of the majority of the people towards Abolitionists in the early days, for my grandfather was one of the leading anti-slavery men of Ohio. He was a Henry Clay emancipationist, differing from the doctrines taught by Garrison. That he was an active “director” in the Underground Railroad, there is no question, though he never admitted it. When remonstrated with by his friends about it, he would say: “When a human being comes to my house whether at noon or midnight, and asks for something to eat, I give it to him; and I do not inquire whether he is white or black, bond or free; nor do I ask him if he is going to Canada or Kentucky. Every human being is entitled to something to eat and aid when in distress, where no crime has been committed. [3]

For years, Henry Buckingham was reluctant to speak openly of his convictions. However, in 1842, two events occurred that caused him to act, even if to do so risked the censure of the community.

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Footnote:

[1] From “The Underground Railroad of the Firelands,” by Hon. Rush R. Sloane, The Firelands Pioneer, July 1888, p. 30.

[2] This quote is from “The Underground Railroad of the Firelands,” by Hon. Rush R. Sloane, The Firelands Pioneer, July 1888, p. 32.

[3] This quote is from “The Ohio Fugitive Slave Law,” by G.T. Stewart, The Firelands Pioneer, July 1888, pp. 75-77.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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