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CHAPTER XI. The Later Trials.
    Legal Proceedings in Lancaster County—Prisoners Remanded to Local Jurisdiction—President Fillmore’s Message—Attorney General Brent’s Report—Final Disposition of the Cases in the Lancaster County Court—“Sam” Williams Tried in Philadelphia and Acquitted.

There was, however, a very considerable political and legal aftermath to the proceedings at Philadelphia. The intimation of so eminent an authority as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to the effect that some official duty devolved upon the Lancaster County authorities could not be ignored. Accordingly District Attorney John L. Thompson, who was in his day one of the leaders of the Lancaster County Bar, framed bills of indictment to the January Sessions 1852 against many of those who had been arraigned for treason in Philadelphia. On Wednesday, December 31, Marshal Roberts brought to the Lancaster County prison from Philadelphia the following persons: Alson Pernsley, Lewis Gales, Lewis Clarkson, Charles Hunter, Nelson Carter, Thomas Butler, Henry Green, Collister Wilson and George Williams,—all these were on the same evening discharged by the District Attorney, as he deemed the evidence insufficient to warrant their detention.

On the same evening George Williams was arrested as a fugitive slave and taken to Penningtonville, where he took advantage of the sleepiness of his captors and walked off, and “straight was seen no more,” to the great chagrin of Henry H. Kline, the officer who made the arrest, and of the owner of the slave, who was asleep on the floor.

Saturday, January 3, 1852, Marshal Roberts brought to[Pg 92] Lancaster as prisoners John Morgan, Jacob Moore, Ezekiel Thompson, Isaiah Clarkson, John Williams, John Jackson, Benjamin Johnson, George Read, Daniel Caulsberry, Benjamin Pendergrass, William Williams, John Holliday, William Brown, Elijah Clark, William Brown, Jr., and Henry Sims, as prisoners, and five colored persons as witnesses. The witnesses were discharged on their recognizance to appear at Court to testify.

Public and political interest in the Riot and the Trials was not allowed to flag from inattention to the issues they involved by those high in authority. From “the seats of the mighty” deliverances were heard against what was interpreted in some quarters as successful offensive resistance to law. In his early message to Congress in December, 1851, President Fillmore had these paragraphs, relating to the events at Christiana.

“It is deeply to be regretted that in several instances officers of the Government, in attempting to execute the law for the return of fugitives from labor, have been openly resisted and their efforts frustrated and defeated by lawless and violent mobs: that in one case such resistance resulted in the death of an estimable citizen, and in others serious injury ensued to those officers and to individuals who were using their endeavors to sustain the laws. Prosecutions have been instituted against the alleged offenders so far as they could be identified, and are still pending. I have regarded it as my duty in these cases to give all aid legally in my power to the enforcement of the laws, and I shall continue to do so wherever and whenever their execution may be resisted.”

“Some objections have been urged against the details of the act for the return of fugitives from labor, but it is worthy of remark that the main opposition is aimed against the Constitution itself, and proceeds from persons and classes of persons many of whom declare their wish to see that Constitution overturned. They avow their hostility to any law[Pg 93] which shall give full and practical effect to this requirement of the Constitution. Fortunately the number of these persons is comparatively small, and is believed to be daily diminishing; but the issue which they present is one which involves the supremacy and even the existence of the Constitution.”

At an anti-slavery meeting, in Philadelphia, held on December 18, 1851, Joshua R. Giddings and Lucretia Mott were speakers. The large audience grew tumultuously enthusiastic over the presentation on the platform of Castner Hanway and Elijah Lewis.

After the trial William H. Seward sent the following Christmas greeting to District Attorney Ashmead, whose son, Henry G. Ashmead, historian of Delaware County and resident of Chester, cherishes the manuscript; Mr. Seward was then in his first term as United States Senator, but had already distinguished himself as an anti-slavery leader:

    Washington December 25, 1857

    My Dear Sir,

    I thank you for the kind remembrance manifested by you sending me a copy of your opening Argument on the late Trial for Treason. While I cannot but rejoice in the result of that trial as a new assurance of the security of Popular Liberty, I am not unable to appreciate the ability with which you have maintained the untenable position which the Government was made to assume. The argument is highly logical and eloquent, and I cannot better manifest my good wishes for you and for the Country than by expressing a hope that it may be the good fortune of the cause of truth and justice hereafter to enlist you on their side.

    I am, my dear Sir,
    Very respectfully & truly
    Your friend,
    William H. Seward.

    John W. Ashmead Esq.,
    District Attorney of the United States

In his message to the General Assembly of Maryland at the following January Session, Governor Lowe referred at length[Pg 94] to the Gorsuch tragedy. Despite the assurances of the Federal administration through Secretary of State Daniel Webster, that all the energies of the law would be exerted to bring the offenders to justice, Maryland had felt constrained to actively participate in the prosecution. “The blood of a Marylander,” he declared, “cried out from the earth; whilst the Genius of the union called aloud for a vindication of outraged laws.” Otherwise “the flame of excitement would spread from the hills of Maryland to the savannahs of the extreme South, until every Southern State would unite in one common feeling of horror and indignation.” Senator Cooper had been retained by him; and despite the high ability and signal service of both him and Maryland’s Attorney General, there had been a gross miscarriage of justice. With a fervor of rhetoric that was more common then in State papers than it is now, he declared: “Shall domestic feuds destroy our power, when the eyes of all nations are turned to the star of our empire, as the harbinger of their deliverance? Shall Kossuth blast Hungary with the breath of our discord? Shall O’Brien, in his lonely exile, see the hope of Ireland pass down the horizon, with the western sun? May so incalculable a calamity be spared to the nations of the earth. And yet, when American blood is made to flow upon American soil, as a grateful libation to American fanaticism; when whole communities stand listlessly by, and a prostituted press and venal politicians are found, in the open day, to glory in the human sacrifice; when the Law proclaims its own weakness from the Bench, and Treason stalks unpunished, through the halls of justice; the Nations can judge of the probable remoteness of that calamity.”

The official report of his Attorney General justified the Governor in becoming somewhat heated over the outcome at Philadelphia. Mr. Brent had suffered not only some personal irritation over his position there, but a keen professional disappointment in his failure to convict. The blame[Pg 95] for this he distributed very generally among the people of the North who sympathized with resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law; the partisan character of the jury panel; the partiality of the daily press reports; the sympathy of the spectators; the treachery of the prison officials; the bribery of Scott, the government’s witnesses; and egregious errors of law committed by Judge Grier. Even the amiable Marshal did not escape criticism, as evinced by this paragraph:

“I brought to the attention of the court, the fact stated in the ‘Pennsylvania Freeman,’ that the Marshal (Mr. Roberts) had actually dined with the prisoners, or some of them, during the trial, on Thanksgiving day, and when I was about to read the article from the paper I was stopped by his Honor, Judge Grier, who in behalf of the Marshal, denied the truth of the statement that he had so dined; but unfortunately for the Judge’s interposition, the Marshal immediately afterwards made his own explanation, and admitted that he had not only assisted at the dinner, ‘but had set down and partaken sparingly’ of the Thanksgiving dinner, with the white prisoners. I cannot but consider such conduct as highly unbecoming that officer from whom, next to the Judge, we had a right to expect impartiality and a due regard for decorum.”

It is only fair to all concerned to say that the Attorney General’s indignation was not taken very seriously. Attorney Jackson’s history of the case corrects some of his exaggerations, and especially points out that all of Mr. Brent’s colleagues exculpated Marshal Roberts from any misconduct. Judge Kane’s own son, was known to have extended various kindnesses and courtesies to the prisoners.

Mr. Brent’s complaint on this score seems almost ridiculous when one reads the full particulars of the affair, as published in the Philadelphia Freeman of December 4, 1851. That newspaper says:

“It affords us great pleasure to state, that the Christiana prisoners were not wholly forgotten on Thursday last in the[Pg 96] distribution of the good things pertaining to Thanksgiving. Thomas L. Kane, Esq. (son of the Judge), sent to the prison for their use six superior turkeys, two of them extra size, together with a pound cake, weighing 16 pounds. The turkeys were cooked with appropriate fixings, by order of Mr. Freed, the Superintendent, in the prison kitchen, by a female prisoner detached for the purpose. The dinner for the white prisoners, Messrs. Hanway, Lewis and Scarlet, was served in appropriate style in the room of Mr. Morrison, one of the keepers. The U. S. Marshal, A. E. Roberts, Esq., several of the keepers and Mr. Hawes, one of the prison officers, dined with the prisoners as their guests. Mayor Gilpin coming in, accepted an invitation to test the quality of the pound cake, Mrs. Martha Hanway who has the honor to be the wife of the ‘traitor’ of that name, and who has spent most of her time with her husband since his incarceration, served each of the 27 colored ‘traitors’ with a plate of turkey, potatoes, pound cake, &c., and the supply not being exhausted, all the prisoners on the same corridor were similarly supplied.

“Who will stand best with posterity—the father who prostitutes his powers as a judge to procure the conviction of peaceable citizens as traitors for refusing to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves, or the son who ministered to the wants of those citizens while incarcerated in a loathsome prison? Need we answer the question?”

The Maryland witnesses do not appear to have had as cheery a Thanksgiving as the prisoners. Dickinson Gorsuch’s diary had this entry:

    “Thursday, Nov. 27. Thanksgiving Day. This has been a great holiday here; there was no court today. We went to Mr. Ashmead’s office and stayed awhile. John Bacon went home after the clothes I wore when I was shot.”

During their imprisonment the colored people and their families were largely supported by outside friends and sympathizers; and many an item such as this, recorded in the[Pg 97] cash book of B. L. Wood (father of Mrs. David W. Jackson), is set down to the credit of sympathetic friends:

    10th mo. 8, 1851. Dr. 1 pair of pants and 1 shirt given to Elijah Clark in Moyamensing; also sent his wife qr. middlings.

In another respect the official complaints of Maryland’s Governor and Attorney General against Pennsylvania justice call for correction at even this late day. Both aver that “the murder” of Kennedy, a slave owner, at Carlisle, killed in resistance of the fugitive slave law, went utterly unpunished: The facts are that in that offense the rioters and rescuers were led by John Clellans and he and thirty-six others were indicted. Besides Clellans twelve of the accused were convicted of riot and of riotously rescuing fugitive slaves from the lawful custody of their owners. Judge Hepburn sentenced them to solitary confinement at labor in the Eastern Penitentiary for three years. Charles Gibbons represented them on an appeal to the Supreme Court; and Deputy Attorney General (District Attorney) Bonham for the Commonwealth, argued before that tribunal that Pennsylvania followed the law of England, which upon conviction for riot authorized fine, imprisonment and the pillory, and therefore sentence to the penitentiary was lawful. Justice Burnside delivering the opinion of the Supreme Court, declared “it was an aggravated case of riot”; but that as Pennsylvania had adopted the English common law, the imprisonment must be in the county jail, and the final judgment of the court was that as the prisoners had been confined in the Eastern Penitentiary about three-fourths of a year, “we deem this as severe a punishment as if they had been confined in the county jail, where they legitimately should have been sent, for two years.” (Clellans vs. Com. 8 Barr. 223.)

Meantime the friends of Hanway, Lewis and others, incensed at the continued prosecutions in Lancaster county, assumed the aggressive.

[Pg 98]They procured the indictment to the January Sessions, 1852, No. 38, in Lancaster County, of Deputy Marshal Henry H. Kline, for perjury. It was laid in this indictment that he had sworn falsely at the hearing before Alderman Reigart, wherein he averred that he had shown his warrant to Hanway, asked him and Lewis to spare his men, that they defied the warrant and encouraged the rioters and in various other particulars. Upon this bill of indictment appeared the names of a large number of witnesses, and Kline was held in $1,000 bail before Charles G. Freeman, alderman of Philadelphia, to answer at the Lancaster Court.

It appears from the subsequent history of the case that all parties involved were by this time willing to have “somebody help them to let go”; and accordingly at the January Sessions, Joseph McClure, of Bart township, being foreman of the jury, this bill against Kline for perjury, being No. 38, was ignored, and also the following, indictments all to the same sessions and for Riot: No. 57, William Brown; No. 58, Wm. Williams; No. 59, Henry Green; No. 60, William Brown, Jr.; No. 61, Benjamin Johnson; No. 63, Daniel Caulsberry; No. 64, George Wells; No. 65, George Williams; No. 66, Alson Pernsley; No. 67, Lewis Gales; No. 68, Lewis Clarkson; No. 69, Chas. Hunter; No. 70, Nelson Carter; No. 71, Jacob Woods, a brother of Peter Woods; No. 72, Peter Woods; No. 73, Israel Clarkson; No. 74, John Williams; No. 75, John Jackson; No. 76, Castner Hanway; No. 77, Elijah Lewis; No. 78, John Morgan; No. 81, Benjamin Pendergrass; No. 82, John Holliday; No. 83, Thomas Butler; No. 84, Elijah Clark; No. 85, Collister Wilson.

With this termination of the cases in the local courts all prosecutions were finally ended except that of Samuel Williams, in the United States District Court at Philadelphia. He was there charged with interfering with the execution of warrants for the arrest of Noah Buley and Joshua Hammond, runaway slaves. His case was first called for trial on[Pg 99] January 5, and continued until January 12. Mr. Ashmead and Messrs. Ludlow appeared for the prosecution, and R. P. Kane, W. S. Pierce and David Paul Brown for the defense. The following jury was empanelled to try his case; the last name on the list will be recognized as that of an estimable citizen of Lancaster County:

Pratt Roberts, Chester County; Thomas Vaughan, Philadelphia; Henry McMahen, Philadelphia; Patrick McBride, Philadelphia; Michael Keenan, Philadelphia; Fredk. Boley, Sr., Philadelphia; Joseph Dowden, Chester County; Samuel Culp, Germantown; Minshall Painter, Delaware County; Joseph Thornton, Philadelphia; Francis Parker, Chester County; Peter McConomy, Lancaster.

Kline was the principal witness on this trial, and his testimony was practically a repetition of what he had sworn to in the Hanway case. The trial judge fell ill during the progress of the case and it was continued the third time and resumed on February 2, argued to the jury on February 3, and, on February 4, a verdict of “not guilty” was rendered.

This closes the record of all judicial proceedings arising out of the Christiana Riot.


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