Historical Background

Masthead of The North Star, dated May 12, 1848.

The North Star - May 12, 1848

An image of the article transcribed below.

The Recaptured Fugitives.

The following letter is from the Albany Evening Journal. Mr. Slingerland, the writer, is a member of Congress from this State.

Washington, April 22.

Friend Weed,––Last evening, in passing the Railroad depot, I saw quite a large number of colored persons passing round one of the cars, and from manifestations of grief among some of them, I was induced to draw near and ascertain the cause. I found in the car to which they were so eagerly gazing, fifty colored persons some of whom were nearly as white as myself. A large majority of the number were those who attempted to regain their liberty, last week, in the schooner Pearl. About half of them were females, a few of whom had but a slight tinge of African blood in their veins; they were finely formed and beautiful.

The men were ironed together, and the whole group looked sad and dejected. At each end of the car stood a ruffian-looking guard with canes in their hands. In the middle of the car stood the notorious slave-dealer of Baltimore, who is a member of the Methodist church, in good and regular standing. He had purchased the men and women around him, and was taking his departure for Georgia. While observing this old grey headed dealer in the bodies and souls of men, the Chaplain of the Senate, a Methodist brother, entered the car, and took his brother Methodist by the hand, chatted with him for a short time, and seemed to view the heartrending scene before him with as little concern as he would look upon cattle. I know not whether he came to sanctify the act, or pronounce the parting blessing; but this I do know, that he justifies slavery.

A Presbyterian Minister, who owned one of the fugitives, was the first to strike a bargain with the slave-dealer, and make merchandise of God's image. Some of the colored people outside, as well as in the car, were weeping most bitterly. I learned that many families were separated. Wives were there to take leave of their husbands, and husbands of their wives; children of their parents, and parents of their children. Friends parting with friends, and the tenderest ties of humanity severed at a single bid of the inhuman slave-broker before them. A husband in the meridian of life, begged to see the partner of his bosom. He protested that she was free–that she had free papers, that she was torn away from him and shut up in the jail. He clambered up to one of the windows of the car to see his wife, and, as she was reaching forward her hand to him, the black-hearted slave-dealer ordered him down. He did not obey.

The husband and wife, with tears streaming down their cheeks, besought him to let them speak to each other. But no! he was knocked down from the car, and ordered away! The bystanders could hardly restrain themselves from laying violent hands upon the brute. This is but a faint description of the scene which took place within a few rods of the Capitol, and under enactments recognised by Congress. Oh, what a revolting scene to a feeling heart, and what a retribution awaits the actors. Will not their wailings of anguish reach the ears of the Most High? "Vengeance is mine–I will repay, saith the Lord."

You have already heard of the fugitive case and the mob here. A very exciting discussion has been going on in the House for the last two days, growing out of these riots. The galleries were thronged, and the most intense interest was maintained while Northern and Southern members were discussing.

I have the honor to be your sincere friend and obedient servant, John S. Slingerland.

Masthead of The North Star, dated October 13, 1848.

The North Star - October 13, 1848

An image of the article transcribed below.

From the N. Y. Globe.

Beauties of the Slave System.

The following narrative of the heart-rending case of the schooner Pearl, now under investigation in the court of the United States, will be read with interest. The narrator is a gentleman familiar with the history of the sad affair, and his description of it will be likely to command the attention of the American people. No friend of our free institutions can peruse the history of this case, without feeling that the character of our country, its Democracy and its humanity, have been outraged by it. that the seat of the Federal Government should be the place in which such deeds transpire, is well calculated to alarm the friends of free institutions throughout the world:

District of Columbia–Extraordinary Judicial Proceedings–Trial of Drayton and Sayres–The Schooner Pearl–The Persons who attempted to achieve their Freedom–Illustrations of the Slave System.

Washington, Aug. 25, 1848.

Preston King, St. Lawrence County.


[. . .]

Let me state the case–the whole of it–simply as may be: A numerous family, supposed by the best lawyers in Washington, and by the community, to be fairly and legally entitled to their freedom, whilst it was yet in controversy, applied, through a colored man, to Drayton, to take them off. Without knowing their names, or the circumstances further, he consented to do it, if they could get on board his vessel. As was perhaps inevitable, other persons, who were actually sold, or were liable to be every day, became acquainted with the fact, that the mast of a vessel not unfriendly to them was here, or would be here, at a certain time. In the depths of their distress, at the idea of an immediate transportation to the horrors of a New Orleans slave market, they rushed on board of a vessel, which they trusted in God might land them on a friendly free soil! Drayton never saw one of them, nor heard the name of one of them, till he was on his way down the Potomac, the day after they went on board. Nothing was proved against him on the trial, except that these persons were on the vessel with him–that is the whole of it–with every conceivable inference and implication on his side, that he intended to bring them to a free State. That was altogether sufficient to clear him from the imputation of theft or crime, in the rational construction of the law as it is. But I have said enough on this point; your reflections will well supply the incidents and drapery.

Let me detail to you a few facts connected with this affair of the schooner Pearl, and a few illustrations of Slavery in our Federal District.

THE BELL FAMILY.–Daniel Bell is a robust, worthy industrious man, a native of Prince George's county, below Washington. He has worked most of the time for twenty years past at the Navy Yard, in the smith's shop, where heavy iron work is cast and moulded. Many years since, the master of Bell, in a rage because the owner of his wife had set her free by deed, sold him to the speculators. They came into the shop while at his work–without warning, he was knocked flat to the floor by them, ironed and carried to the trader's pen, then kept in Seventh street, on the Avenue. Bell had friends, who pitied him, and his distressed wife and children. They induced a Colonel somebody, of the marine corps, to purchase him, and give him a chance to work out his freedom. Bell was to pay a thousand dollars for himself. He had actually paid the amount, or near it, when his owner, the Colonel, was ordered to Florida, where he died. It was then found that he had mortgaged Bell to his sister-in-law, for a thousand dollars, before leaving home. She demanded of Bell the whole sum, but he sunk in despair, and told her he must die a slave after all, for he never could raise that amount. Through the intervention of a trusty friend, Thomas Blagden, who had from the first endorsed Bell's notes for him, he got the price finally reduced to five or six hundred dollars. The sum of the matter is, Bell has the receipts to show that he has actually paid $1,630 for himself! He got his freedom papers complete only last year, some time. His wife, some years since, when she hand six children, was made free by the express deed of her master, which was to take effect at his death, and that took place a few days after the deed was executed. She was recorded in the Clerk's office as free, and remained so for eight years, having had two children in the time. Her children, by the deed, were to be free as they suc[c]essively arrived at a certain age–say twenty-five. After a lapse of eight years, and when there were eight children and two grand children, the widow set up a claim to the whole group, eleven in all. Poor Bell had recourse to lawyers and courts, but with little prospect of a redress of grievances! The widow was constantly seeking to lay hands on them, to obtain the price of their sinews from the speculators, or she took their wages without allowing them the first red cent for clothes. This is the conduct of the widow Greenfield, living near the Navy Yard!

As his last and only hope, poor Bell put his family on the Pearl. They were brought back, and with the exception of his wife and two younger children, were all sold and scattered over the South, God knows where! The wife and one child Mr. Blagden redeemed for Bell, and the sum is now making up at the North–four hundred dollars. This is the family that were referred to with so much effect by Mr. Slingerland, the representative from our Albany district, at the time of the flagitious transaction last spring.


Your friend and fellow-citizen, Hampden.