Posts Tagged With: Trial

“Freedom’s Battle at Christiana”

On September 11, 1851, the small town of Christiana, Pennsylvania became the epicenter of an event that sent shock waves across the nation. Bloody conflict occurred, foretelling a national reckoning over the practice of slavery. Though this story contains a small connection to the Lincoln assassination story, the event widely known as the Christiana Riot is not a niche piece of history. It is part of our national identity. The following is an in-depth look at the event that resulted in the largest treason trial in American history.

The Rule of Law

In 1850 a series of five bills passed the United States Congress and were signed into law by then President Millard Fillmore. The bills, known collectively as the Compromise of 1850, were enacted in order to reduce the sectional conflict that was occurring in the states involving the issue of slavery and its expansion into new territories. The Compromise bills resulted in the acceptance of California as a free state; the formation of the territories of Utah and New Mexico under the rule of popular sovereignty which granted the citizens of the territories the power to decide if they would or would not have slavery; prohibition of the slave trade in Washington, D.C. (but did not abolish slavery in the nation’s capital); a revision of the borders of Texas in exchange for debt relief by the federal government; and finally, a strengthening of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law.

An example of a slaveholder’s advertisement for the return of runaways. The “Minty” named in this example is better known as famed Underground Railroad agent, Harriet Tubman.

Slavery was part of the United States since the country’s founding. In 1783, Massachusetts became the first state to immediately abolish slavery within its borders. Pennsylvania had started a gradual abolition of slavery starting in 1780. Other states in the north followed thereafter. As the number of free states increased, the federal government was faced with the issue of what was to be done regarding enslaved individuals who escaped their bondage and made their way to free states. In 1793, Congress passed the first Fugitive Slave Act which provided the first set of legal protections to slave owners seeking to retrieve runaways who had sought refuge in free states. This initial act was, as you might expect, extremely unfair to those accused of being runaway slaves. The burden of proof was on the accused to prove that he or she was not a runaway slave and this was nearly impossible as any black person seized was not allowed to testify on their own behalf or allowed a trial by jury. This resulted in countless free blacks being kidnapped from their homes in free states and being sent down south to become slaves. As time went on many free states began instituting jury trials for accused runaways and even granted them legal representation. Since it was up to the judge in the locale where the runaway was found to pass judgement, the effect of the initial Fugitive Slave Act weakened as abolitionist attitudes became more and more widespread in the north. This is what led to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law which strengthened the provisions of the act back in favor of slave owners much to the detriment to both runaway slaves and free blacks.

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law changed the responsibility for the recovery of runaway slaves to Federal, rather than local, authorities.  Federal commissioners were appointed and it was their responsibility to issue warrants and rulings on the cases. Federal marshals were tasked with carrying out the warrants and making arrests, once again circumventing any local authorities. But the new Fugitive Slave Law was more than just a redistribution of responsibilities. The new law provided for the payment of the Federal commissioners based on their judgements. If a commissioner found in favor of the slave owner and authorized the return of a runaway (or kidnapping of an unrelated free black man or woman) he would receive a fee of $10. If he ruled in favor of the black defendant, allowing him or her to go free, the commissioner would only receive a fee of $5 from the government. As you might expect, the financial difference made most commissioners find in favor of slave owners even when their evidence of identity was flawed or contradicted. The Fugitive Slave Law also increased the fine charged against those who knowingly and willingly obstructed or hindered the recovery of a runaway. Those found aiding runaways and obstructing their retrieval could face a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in prison. The most hotly contested part of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was how it made public assistance in the capture of runaway slaves mandatory. In the original 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, if one was asked by a person of authority for assistance in capturing a runaway, the person could decline. So long as they did not actively disrupt the efforts to capture the runaway there were no legal repercussions. The 1850 law, however, made it mandatory to assist Federal marshals recapture a runaway slave if asked. If any man over the age of 15 was commanded by a federal marshal to help him capture a runaway in the vicinity he had to comply or face arrest himself. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law essentially made every citizen of the United States a slave catcher and made all blacks, those born free and those who had escaped to freedom, subject to slavery on the command of any federal marshal or greedy commissioner.

It was for this reason that those free black and runaways who had the means escaped from the United States entirely in the 1850s. Many found refuge in Canada where communities of former slaves sprang up in Ontario. For those blacks who remained, especially those in rural areas or in close proximity to the borders of slave states, many formed self-protection societies. These groups would keep an eye out for gangs of slave catchers and federal marshals. They would pass word around about prospective “kidnappers” as they were called and come to the defense of those being forcibly abducted. One such protection society existed in the rural town of Christiana, Pennsylvania and it was informally headed by a runaway named William Parker.

The Call of Freedom

William Parker was born in about 1822, but like most enslaved people was never truly certain of his birthday or age. As he later recalled, “Slave holders are particular to keep the pedigree and age of favorite horses and dogs, but are quite indifferent about the age of their servants until they want to purchase. Then they are careful to select young persons, though not one in twenty can tell year, month, or day. Speaking of births, – it is the time of “corn-planting,” “corn husking,” “Christmas,” “New Year,” “Easter,” “the Fourth of July,” or some similar indefinite date. My own time of birth was no more exact; so that to this day I am uncertain how old I am.”

The location of William Parker’s birth was a sizable farm named Roedown Plantation. The farm still stands today in Anne Arundel County, Maryland near Davidsonville, Maryland. However, there are no extant buildings from Parker’s time there. The plantation belonged to a family by the name of Brogden, and by 1830, William Parker was considered the property of David McCulloch Brogden or, as he was known to the enslaved people on his farm, “Master Mack”. Growing up, Parker considered Master Mack to be a lenient owner who wouldn’t, “allow his hands to be beaten, or abused, as many slaveholders would, but every year [he] sold one or more of them, – sometimes as many as six at a time.”  When Parker was ten years old he witnessed his first slave sale when he and all the other slaves were called to the big house for inspection. Parker and another young boy ran after seeing the proceedings and hid in a nearby wood until the sale was over. When they returned, they found they had luckily not been missed, but Parker’s Aunt Rachel and her two children had been among those who had been sold away. It was then that William Parker states he first started contemplating escape to states north or to Canada. However, it would take him a few years more to do so.

As the years went on, Master Mack continued to sell off his slaves a few at a time. Parker began to resent the methods in which the enslavers kept their human chattel in check and the hypocrisy of their condition. “There were many poor white lads of about own age, belonging to families scattered around, who were as poor in personal effects as we were; and yet, though our companions, when we chose to tolerate them, they did not have to be controlled by a master, to go and come at his command, to be sold for his debts, or whenever he wanted pocket money…I felt I was the equal of these poor whites, and naturally I concluded that we were greatly wronged, and that all this talk about obedience, duty, humility, and honesty was, in the phrase of my companions, ‘all gammon.’”

Things finally came to a head for William Parker on a day in June in about 1839 when he refused Master Mack’s order to go to the fields to work. While Parker had managed to reject the white propaganda that had tried to convince him of the importance of obedience, he still felt that running away required a reason more than just a belief in personal liberty. After getting into a bit of trouble with Master Mack after following the orders of a nearby neighbor, Parker decided that he would force a final reason to warrant his escape. After refusing to go out to work, Master Mack, “picked up a stick used for an ox-gad, and said, if I did not go to work, he would whip me as sure as there was a God in heaven. Then he struck at me.” That strike was the final straw that William Parker needed to break free from the mental chains that had oppressed him. William Parker fought back and at 17 was a strong and muscular young man. “We grappled, and handled each other roughly for a time when he called for assistance. He was badly hurt. I let go my hold, bade him good-bye, and ran for the woods. As I went by the field, I beckoned to my brother, who left work, and joined me at a rapid pace.” William Parker was now a runaway.

William Parker’s escape route from Maryland to Pennsylvania

William Parker was one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape out of his neighborhood and make his way up to Baltimore. After hiding among the city’s black population for a week, Parker and his brother made their way up to York, Pennsylvania. Though now in a free state, this area of southern PA was filled with slave catchers and the pair was given advice to leave the area as soon as they could. The two men crossed over the Susquehanna River into Columbia, PA which was considered safe. It was here, in Lancaster County, that William Parker would make his home.

The Lion

Between his escape in 1839 and 1851, William Parker would be forced to live a fairly nomadic life in Lancaster County. While free from slavery, life was not easy for blacks in free states. The jobs open to blacks paid very little and consisted of only menial labor. The influx of Irish immigrants also created huge competition for even these low paying jobs.  Parker was fortunate early on to find a job with a nearby doctor who was an abolitionist. Parker lived with the doctor for over a year and often listened as the doctor read abolitionist newspapers aloud to him. At one point, Parker had the opportunity to attend a speech by the noted anti-slavery speakers, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass as he appeared in 1843, about the time William Parker heard him speak

In a strange twist of fate, Parker had met Frederick Douglass when both men were slaves in Maryland years before. The speeches made a lasting impact on Parker, specifically the one from Frederick Douglass: “I listened with the intense satisfaction that only a refugee could feel, when hearing, embodied in earnest, well-chosen, and strong speech, his own crude ideas of freedom, and his own hearty censure of the man-stealer. I believed, I knew, every word he said was true. It was the whole truth, – nothing kept back, – no trifling with human rights, no trading in the blood of the slave extenuated, nothing against the slaveholder said in malice. I have never listened to words from the lips of mortal man which were more acceptable to me.”

Though William Parker could not read, write or speak as eloquently as men like Frederick Douglass, he shared in their vision of the end of the abomination that was slavery. From his new home in Pennsylvania, Parker began making efforts to help out in his own unique way. While Lancaster County was considered a safer haven than other parts of Pennsylvania, it was still relatively close to the border with Maryland and, as such, was subject to gangs of kidnappers.

“Kidnapping was so common, while I lived with the doctor, that we were kept in constant fear. We would hear of slaveholders or kidnappers every two or three weeks; sometimes a party of white men would break into a house and take a man away, no one knew where; and again, a whole family would be carried off. There was no power to protect them, nor prevent it. So completely roused were my feelings, that I vowed to let no slaveholder take back a fugitive, if I could get my eye on him.”

Parker, along with a group of five to seven other black men made the decision to band together to protect their community against kidnappers.

“[We] had formed an organization for mutual protection against slaveholders and kidnappers, and had resolved to prevent any of our brethren being taken back into slavery, at the risk of our own lives…Whether the kidnappers were clothed in legal authority or not, I did not care to inquire, as I never had faith nor respect for the Fugitive Slave Law.”

It was in this way that Parker became a de-facto black leader in Lancaster County. Though still a young man of about 17 when the mutual protection organization started, over the next twelve years he became a respected member of society in the region.  While there were many whites in the region who were considered abolitionists, most were “non-resistant” or non-violent Quakers. The protection society was run solely by blacks for their own protection. Over the course of 12 years, William Parker put himself in danger many times freeing those who had been kidnapped by slave catchers. In one of the more daring stories, William Parker was shot in the ankle after helping to free a kidnapped man. For this and other acts of bravery in service to his fellow-man, one of the local Quaker underground railroad stationmaster described Parker as, “as bold as a lion, the kindest of men, and the warmest and most steadfast of friends.”  Despite the danger to his own life that these recovery efforts caused, Parker was determined to protect his fellow-man.

Even after Parker married and started a family, his daring efforts did not abate. In about 1845, William Parker married another escaped slave from Maryland named Eliza Ann Howard. Little is known about Eliza’s life prior to her escape to Lancaster County. William Parker only stated that her, “experience of slavery had been much more bitter than my own.” William and Eliza had three children during their time in Pennsylvania. At the time the new Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, William Parker and his family were living in a two-story stone home just outside of Christiana which they rented from a Quaker named Levi Pownall.

The home of William and Eliza Parker in Christiana circa 1890

The Parkers were joined in their home by Eliza Parker’s sister Hannah, and her husband Alexander Pinckney. In 1851, the extended Parker family also invited a fellow runaway from Maryland, Abraham Johnson, to live with them. William Parker and the other men of the house made a living working as farmers and laborers on the nearby farms of rural Christiana while maintaining their protection organization in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law.

The Runaways

A year before the newly strengthen Fugitive Slave Law was passed, four enslaved men named Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, George Hammond, and Joshua Hammond  had made their way into Lancaster County. The men were runaways from a property called Retreat Farm in Baltimore County, Maryland. In November of 1849, they had stolen some grain from the barn of their enslaver, and had sold it in attempt to raise some money. Unfortunately, their middle man in the transaction, a free black with no land of his own to raise grain was questioned by the buyer as to where the grain had come from and he had admitted that he had acquired it from four slaves belonging to a Mr. Edward Gorsuch. When the four men learned that the scheme had been found out and that they would shortly be identified as the perpetrators in the theft, they made their escape. The theft of grain and subsequent escape of four of his slaves greatly disturbed fifty-four year old, Edward Gorsuch who considered himself a benevolent master.  Compared to other plantations in the region, Retreat Farm was a small piece of land and Gorsuch worked side by side with his slaves in the fields. As Anthony Rice, PhD wrote in his thesis, A Legacy Transformed: The Christiana Riot in Historical Memory:

“Gorsuch labored alongside his human chattel developing a paternalistic relationship common to the antebellum era where he considered his slaves inferior members of his household rather than simple African savages…These were all self-serving emotions no doubt, a master’s method for rationalizing the necessity of enslaving others and assuaging the guilt that process entailed, but to Gorsuch these feelings were very real in constructing a self-image of the kindly master watching over his loyal slaves. Weaned on a southern culture that regarded the practice of enslaving others as symbolic of a gentleman’s wealth and status, Gorsuch considered the escape of his slaves a disgraceful insult. It was a personal betrayal, an impudent act that embarrassed him in the eyes of the community and stained his personal honor.”

To Gorsuch, it was inconceivable that his slaves would leave their homes and his benevolent care to become desperate runaways with no one looking out for them. Gorsuch’s paternalist view of slavery, which saw blacks as needing white man’s protection and guidance, made retrieving his “boys” paramount to not only to restore his self-identity, but, in his mind, for the sake of his slaves own well-being. According to Gorsuch descendants in 1911, Edward Gorsuch “had such confidence in his benevolence as their master that he always believed if he could meet or communicate with his runaways he could get them back.” The idea of freedom for its own sake was clearly a concept that the slave owner could not accept. While Edward Gorsuch received a few leads that made him believe his boys had made their way to Pennsylvania his requests to the Pennsylvania Governor for assistance in recovering his slaves fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until nearly two years later (and the subsequent passage of the newly strengthened fugitive slave law) that Edward Gorsuch finally received some help in his search.

The assistance came via an unsolicited letter from a Lancaster County resident named William Padgett. Padgett wrote to Gorsuch stating he knew the location of the four men he was looking for and that if Gorsuch and a party would come up to Lancaster County, employ a federal marshal, and pay him for this knowledge, Padgett would lead the party to the runaways. As stated before, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law created a lucrative business opportunity for slave catchers and informers in free states. According to a resident of Christiana at the time, William Padgett was a white farmhand and a mender of clocks. He would go around the county meeting runaway slaves. Through casual and seemingly friendly conversation, Padgett would learn where the runaways came from and the names of their former masters. He would then write to their masters, guide the slave catching parties and then get a reward. In this way, William Padgett betrayed many runaways to whom he portrayed himself as their “faithful friend”.

Original portion of the Gorsuch Tavern in Sparks Glencoe, Maryland

After receiving the letter from Padgett, Edward Gorsuch made preparations to take a party into Pennsylvania to capture the men. Local lore states that Gorsuch and his posse met to prepare for their trip in the old Gorsuch Tavern which still stands today in Baltimore County. The tavern had been built by one of Gorsuch’s ancestors and was situated on a farm adjacent to his own and belonging to his cousin. A highway marker in front of the old building mentions the tavern’s connection the subsequent events in Christiana.

The posse of slave catchers Edward Gorsuch assembled consisted of six: himself, his son Dickinson, his nephew Dr. Thomas Pearce, his cousin Joshua M. Gorsuch, and two neighbors, Nathan Nelson and Nicholas Hutchings.

A Watchful Eye

On September 8, 1851, Edward Gorsuch took an express train from Baltimore up to Philadelphia where he obtained four fugitive slave warrants the next day. Gorsuch was assigned a deputy marshal named Henry Kline to assist him in carrying out the warrants. Gorsuch also chose to employ two other officers to assist in the capture and paid them in advance. Unbeknownst to Gorsuch or Kline, the activities occurring in Philadelphia on September 8 and 9 were being observed by a secret vigilance committee of black abolitionists. The group, led by abolitionist William Still, had a series of men stationed around the fugitive slave offices whose aim was to intercept information about possible slave catchers and their activities. One of the agents learned that Gorsuch had been talking to Marshal Kline and then began shadowing Kline to learn of his destination. The agent’s name was Samuel Williams and when Gorsuch, Kline and the two other officers boarded a train departing Philadelphia late on September 9th, Williams followed them and even sat in the same train car as the posse. Samuel Williams had made no effort to hide himself and attempted to use his presence as a way of scaring the men off of their task. At one point in the journey, Kline got off the train early and Williams made the decision to continue following the marshal. Kline’s early departure from the train was to secure a wagon and a horse for the posse.

Dickinson Gorsuch was the second son of Edward Gorsuch and joined his father’s slave catching group in Christiana

The remaining men of Gorsuch’s group, including his son and neighbors were coming up from Baltimore on a different train. The plan was for them all to meet near Christiana in the early morning hours of September 10, meet up with Padgett the informer, and capture the men quickly and under the cover of darkness. In the meantime, all of the men, including Marshal Kline would make as though they were after a couple of horse thieves. Dickinson Gorsuch and the other men arrived outside of Christiana at around two o’clock in the morning of September 10. The large group now waited for Kline and the wagon to arrive. In a bit of bad luck for the slave catchers, however, the wagon Kline hired for the group broke down on his way to his destination and so he had to walk back to get another one. This delay caused Kline to miss his rendezvous with Gorsuch and the rest of the group just outside of Christiana. Not wanting to attract attention, the group retreated somewhat from Christiana. When Kline in his second wagon found there was no longer a group waiting for him at Christiana, he began roaming the backroads of Lancaster County looking for his group.

All the while Kline was being shadowed by Samuel Williams who had hired a horse of his own. In the early morning hours of September 10, Kline stopped in a tavern and asked if the bartender had seen any Marylanders stating that they were on the trail of horse thieves. The bartender replied in the negative and when Kline turned around he saw and recognized Samuel Williams behind him. Kline was likely unsurprised as he and the other two officers had also seen Williams on the departing train from Philadelphia. “Hello, Sam,” Kline remarked, “what are you doing here?” Samuel replied with, “Your horse thieves were here and gone. You might as well go home.” When Kline pretended not to understand Williams’ meaning the black abolitionist said to the marshal, “Oh, I know what you are about.”

Somewhere along the line of Samuel Williams stalking of Marshal Kline, Williams had become aware of Kline’s ultimate destination, Christiana. After their confrontation at the tavern, Williams left Kline behind and headed to Christiana where he began to spread the word that kidnappers were in the area. This news quickly made it to the ears of William Parker who said it “spread through the vicinity like a fire in the prairies.” All day on September 10, the region kept its eyes out for slave catchers.

Marshal Kline eventually found the Gorsuch posse at around 9:00 am on the 10th. It was now past dawn and too late for the men to make their attempt today. The presence of Samuel Williams had complicated things considerably. The two officers who had joined the group no longer felt they had the element of surprise on their side. They made arrangements to take a train back to Philadelphia. Gorsuch tried to persuade them to stay with the posse and even gave them more money to do so. The two officers took Gorsuch’s money and stated that they would return on the night train, bringing reinforcements with them if they could find some. The remaining group of seven men spent the day of September 10th in Gallagherville about 15 miles east of Christiana. At 11:00 pm the rested group boarded the outbound Philadelphia train to cover the final few miles to Gap which was situated just north of Christiana. The party was disappointed to find that not only were there no reinforcements on the train, but even the two officers had failed to return from Philadelphia as promised. At Gap the posse retrieved their rented wagon and met up with their disguised guide, who was almost undoubtedly their informer William Padgett. Gorsuch’s slave catching group set out under the cover of darkness in the early morning hours of September 11, 1851.

“Kidnappers!”

The posse traversed the backroads of Christiana when they came upon a house where the guide informed them one of the fugitives was living. Gorsuch sought to split the group in half, with some staying here to capture the one runaway and the rest moving on to get the others. Marshal Kline disagreed and believed they required all of the men to retake the fugitives. In the end, Gorsuch decided to leave this house unmolested for now. The runaway living in this home had a wife who was still enslaved by Gorsuch. After retrieving the other men, Gorsuch believed he could convince this runaway to return with him without much difficultly. The party continued on to the next home, which according to the guide was where two of the runaways were staying. At one point during the trip, the group stopped along the side of the road for a break. According to the Marshal Kline, “One of the party had a carpet bag, and we took out some cheese and crackers which we [ate], and we fixed our ammunitions and started.” The group’s progress was slower than expected and a soft light was beginning to glow as dawn approached rapidly. “It was a heavy, foggy morning” which aided in concealing the group even as the light began to grow. Finally, the posse arrived at a short lane leading to a home where two of the runaways were staying. The guide pointed to the home, a two-story house made of stone, and then left so that he would not be seen with the slave catchers.

As the remaining seven men, six Marylanders and Marshal Kline prepared to march up and enter the house, a black man came whistling down the lane. This man was Nelson Ford, one of Gorsuch’s runaways who was leaving the home early for work. In a moment, Ford locked eyes with the master he had fled from two years ago. The shared recognition was instantaneous. In a blur, Ford spun around and ran back up the lane. He threw open the house’s door and woke up the rest of the household with the yell of, “Kidnappers! Kidnappers!”  Gorsuch’s posse quickly moved to surround the house and prevent any escape and when that was done, Edward Gorsuch and Henry Kline barged through the open door after Ford. They found that the whole household had fled up the stairs and there were sounds of firearms and makeshift weapons being gathered above their heads. Despite this, Gorsuch believed that his success was at hand and that very shortly two of his runaways would be returned to him. He had the rule of law with him and was likewise confident in his own ability to bring his boys back into the fold. Unbeknownst to Gorsuch however, was that he and his posse had just entered the lion’s den for the man who owned this house; the man who was sheltering two of Gorsuch’s runaways was the lion himself, William Parker.

How long Nelson Ford and Joshua Hammond had been staying with Parker and his extended family is not known for certainty. One account said they had fled to Parker’s only the day before out of concern regarding the rumors of slave catchers. Other accounts make it appear that one of both of them had been living with the family for some time. Regardless when the Parker household ran upstairs they numbered the same as the slave catching group. There was William Parker, his wife Eliza, Hannah Pinckney and her husband Alexander, Abraham Johnson, Nelson Ford and Joshua Hammond.

When Gorsuch and Marshal Kline entered the home, the slave owner yelled for his boys to come down and give themselves up. He promised that if they surrendered themselves quickly and came away peacefully he would forgive them and treat them as kindly as before. He was there under the authority of the law and they had no choice. William Parker, appeared at the head of the stairs. “Who are you?” Parker demanded of the two men. Kline stepped forward and stated, “I am the United States Marshal.”

Entry for Henry Kline in the 1855 Philadelphia directory

“I told him I did not care for him nor the United States, “ Parker recalled, “I then told him to take another step, and I would break his neck.” With that, Kline retreated a step, attempting to cool the situation down a bit. He spent time reading aloud the legal warrants he carried with him for the capture of Ford and Hammond.

There were mixed emotions upstairs in the Parker home. Alexander Pinckney, himself a runaway slave, briefly felt the situation hopeless. “Where is the use in fighting? They will take us.” Marshal Kline overheard this statement and yelled up to the group, “Yes, give up, for we can and will take you anyhow.” Parker, the lion who fought for his people, urged Pinckney and the rest not to relent and reminded them of the greater cause they were fighting for. He urged them, “not to be afraid, nor give up to any slaveholder.” Parker announced downstairs that they were all willing to fight to the death in order to maintain their freedom.

Edward Gorsuch had grown tired of the continued parley. He believed Parker’s threat to be merely bluster and was determined he could reason with his boys if he could get them away from this blowhard. “Come, Mr. Kline, let’s go upstairs and take them. We can take them. Come, follow me. I’ll go up and get my property. What’s in the way? The law is in my favor, and the people are in my favor.”

Parker called down to Gorsuch stating, “See here old man, you can come up, but you can’t go down again. Once up here, you are mine.” With that a metal fishing spear was suddenly hurled down the stairs at the men. The projectile missed them but scared them enough to cause the two men to retreat outside the home for a bit.

Nothing was going according to Edward Gorsuch’s plan. How could this black man stand in the way of law and order? Who was he to defy not only Gorsuch but the laws of the United States? Angry, Gorsuch yelled up at the house demanding the return of his property. Parker answered him with, “Go in the room down there and see if there is any property there belonging to you. There are beds and a bureau, chairs and other things. Then go out to the barn; there you will find a cow and some hogs. See if any of them are yours.” Gorsuch replied, “They are not mine; I want my men. They are here, and I am bound to have them.”

Raising the Alarm

As William Parker verbally spared with Gorsuch and Kline, an unexpected sound arose from another of the house’s windows. Eliza Parker, sharing in her husband’s defiance, blew into a tin horn which emitted a loud trumpeting over the early morning countryside. The sound of a horn at an unusual hour was a local custom of alarm and brought neighbors promptly to the site of the alarm to see what the problem was.

“What do you mean by blowing that horn,” Marshal Kline angrily demanded and with that he ordered the other men in the posse to shoot at the trumpeter. Eliza Parker was suddenly engulfed in a barrage of bullets. She dropped down to the floor but did not give up her blowing. With the horn on the window sill and bullets ricocheting off of the stone walls, Eliza continued to blow the trumpet over and over again. It was these shots, fired by the gang of Marylanders at his wife, that Parker claimed were the first bullets that flew that morning. Parker and the other men upstairs in the house proceeded to fire down at the posse. The gunfire ended in a stalemate, with neither side inflicting a hit. Once again Gorsuch and Kline attempted to negotiate the household’s surrender with Kline highlighting the dangers in store for them if they should continue to resist.

Gorsuch called out to Parker, “Give up and let me have my property. Hear what the Marshal says; the Marshal is your friend. He advises you give up without more fuss, for my property I will have.” Parker once again denied having any property belonging to Gorsuch. “You have my men,” Gorsuch replied, once again forced to admit that he was seeking human beings. Standing in view of the window Parker asked Gorsuch, “Am I your man?” to which Gorsuch replied no. Parker then brought his brother-in-law Alexander Pinckney to the window and inquired, “Is that your man?” Gorsuch once again replied in the negative. Lastly, Parker brought Abraham Johnson to the window and repeated the question. Gorsuch again answered no. Rather than bringing Hammond and Ford forward, as they would undoubtedly be recognized, Parker was forced to bring Pinckney and Johnson in front of the window again having them pretend to be two more men not yet seen. Parker then told Gorsuch that those were the only men in the house, which Gorsuch knew to be a lie since he had seen Nelson Ford run into the home. At that point one of the other men in Gorsuch’s party, perhaps his cousin Joshua Gorsuch, attempted to use theology to end the situation to his group’s satisfaction. The man stated that while abolitionists claim men could not be property, the Bible was the conclusive authority and said otherwise. Edward Gorsuch, a religious leader back home who had instilled the importance of scripture into his own slaves took up this gambit.

The title page of an 1851 book defending the practice of slavery using biblical passages

“Does the Bible not say, ‘Servants, obey your masters?’” Gorsuch called out. Parker agreed that it did but counter that the book also stated to “Give unto your servants that which is just and equal.” At this point a mutual scripture inquiry began between Gorsuch and William Parker. Parker had been well-educated in the Bible during his time as a slave and knew all the arguments of obedience that Gorsuch would employ. During his time in Lancaster County, Parker had increased his knowledge of the Bible and was known as “preacher” to many in the area. The two men parried with each other, Gorsuch quoting Scripture in defense of slavery, and Parker quoting scripture in defense of liberty.

“Where,” Parker asked Gorsuch, “do you see it in Scripture that man should traffic in his brother’s blood?” To this accusation Gorsuch replied, “Do you call a nigger my brother?” When Parker replied yes, Edward Gorsuch became enraged. He screamed out, “My property I will have, or I’ll breakfast in hell!” and he stormed back into the house. Gorsuch was halfway up the stairs when he looked up and saw the Parker household all trailing their weapons on him. Gorsuch’s 25 year old son, Dickinson, rushed inside to stop his father. Dickinson, and the guns pointed in his direction, cooled Edward Gorsuch for the time being, but he was still determined to retrieve his property.

Upstairs in the house, Alexander Pinckney was losing his nerve once again.  The resolve in Gorsuch’s eyes a few moments before had shaken Pinckney up. “We had better give up,” Pinckney said to Parker. “I am not afraid…but where is the sense in fighting against so many men, and only five of us?” Pinckney apparently did not count the two women, Eliza and his own wife Hannah, amid the group of fighters. Parker tried once again to calm his brother-in-law but Pinckney was more adamant this time. “No, I will go down stairs”. To that Parker stated that if Pinckney made an attempt to go down the stairs he would blow his brains out himself. “Don’t believe that any living man can take you,” he said. “Don’t give up to any slaveholder.” Rallying support, Parker turned to his friend Abraham Johnson asked him what he wanted to do. Johnson replied “I will fight till I die.” At that moment, Eliza Parker also joined the call. The woman who Pinckney had completely disregarded a moment earlier seized up her weapon, a large corn knife, and “declared she would cut off the head of the first one who should attempt to give up.” With this display Alexander Pinckney, whether through fear, shame, or renewed passion, went back to his place at one of the second floor windows. From his vantage point, he witnessed a sight that removed any lingering doubts in his mind: the cavalry was coming.

Surrounded

A corn knife said to have been present at the Christiana Resistance

Eliza Parker’s blowing of the tin horn had echoed through the countryside. The local blacks, already on high alert from Samuel Williams’ warning of kidnappers in the region, answered the call quicker than usual. While the horn could also signal fire in the area, pretty much all of the black citizens came to the Parker house with some form of weapon. Like Eliza Parker, many carried long corn knives. Others had clubs and axes. Only a few had guns. The number of men who reported to the Parker home varies considerably from different sources. Witnesses at the subsequent trial would identify a group between 50 and 150, but most historians feel that this number is exaggerated given the number of people living in the vicinity of the Parker place. The true number of blacks who came upon the Parker home in response to Eliza Parker’s alarm may be as low as 15 to 25, but to the seven people huddled upstairs surrounded by slave catchers, those 15 to 25 men were an army.

It was now the posse of Marylanders’ turn to feel uneasy. Nothing had worked out the way they had planned. What was supposed to have been a quick extraction under the cover of darkness had turned into a prolonged and now crowded affair by the dawn’s early light. For quite some time the three distinct groups, Parker’s group inside, Gorsuch’s posse outside, and the gathering blacks surrounding them did nothing. Gorsuch refused to leave without his property despite the seemingly increasing danger.

Into this situation rode up two local white citizens, a Quaker storekeeper named Elijah Lewis and a miller named Castner Hanway. They had been alerted by local blacks that kidnappers were around William Parker’s place and that it was hoped they might help defuse the situation. As they arrived, they were greeted by Marshal Kline who was no doubt happy to see additional white faces. Lewis and Hanway informed Kline that they had been told that a kidnapping was underway here and they had come to see for themselves if it were true. Kline presented Lewis and Hanway a copy of his warrants for the two men inside the Parker home. Though abolitionists themselves, both Lewis and Hanway could see that the recovery of the Gorsuch runaways was perfectly legal and not a case of kidnapping in the literal sense. Kline then sought to employ Lewis and Hanway to assist in the capture of the men. Lewis and Hanway refused. Kline explained that the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law required them to assist him. Again, however, the two white men refused. They would not interfere with the legal capture of runaway slaves, but they would not be a party to it either, no matter what the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law said. Wanting to avoid any violence, the two men stated to Kline that they would assist him by attempting to persuade the assembled men to leave the area.

Castner Hanway, Elijah Lewis and Joseph Scarlett

As this was going on, an additional reinforcement arrived on Parker’s side. This man was Noah Buley, another of Gorsuch’s runaways who, rather than taking this moment to flee, came to the defense of Parker and his fellow runaways. Buley rode up on a horse, fastened it to the lane, loaded his gun, and watched. Lewis and Hanway’s attempt to disperse the gathered group of men was, unsurprisingly, unsuccessful. Hanway told the Marshal that, “the colored people had a right to defend themselves and [he] had better clear out, otherwise there would be blood spilt.” With that Elijah Lewis and Castner Hanway began riding out down the lane heading away from the home. Marshal Kline followed them on foot begging for them to try harder to disperse the group surrounding his posse.

The arrival of reinforcements and the retreat of Lewis and Hanway bolstered the group inside the house. As a sign of their strength and determination not to be taken, Parker and the men of the house, including Gorsuch’s runaways, exited the house and stood together. Edward Gorsuch was seething over what was occurring and over his slaves’ overt display of defiance. They were no longer hiding but were standing like equals in his presence and refusing to obey him. Some of the others in the posse, including Gorsuch’s son Dickinson attempted to convince his father to allow them to depart. But Gorsuch would not yield. Seeing his runaways in broad daylight openly defy him was the last straw.  “My property is here, and I will have it or perish in the attempt.”

Bloodshed

The exact details of what occurred next are difficult to know for certainty due to the conflicting accounts of those who were present. The most reliable accounting of events places an incensed Edward Gorsuch walking right up to the line of men outside of Parker’s home. Edward Gorsuch approached Joshua Hammond, one of the runaways he sought to retrieve. Hammond stated, “Old man, you had better go home to Maryland.” “You had better give up, and come with me,” shouted Gorsuch. At that, Hammond clubbed his former master with a revolver, knocking him down. When Gorsuch tried to get up, Hammond pistol-whipped him again. With Edward Gorsuch at the ground at his feet, Joshua Hammond took his revolver and fired once at his former master. Dickinson Gorsuch ran towards the men hoping to come to his father’s aid, when he was clubbed in the right arm causing him to drop his gun. Now disarmed, Dickinson turned to run when Alexander Pinckney unloaded two shotgun blasts on him. Dickinson was hit in the right side and crawled to a fence corner where he collapsed.

The remainder of the posse, who as you’ll recall were without horses of their own, could do nothing but run. Marshal Kline, Nathan Nelson, and Nicholas Hutchings were already a distance down the lane when the violence erupted at the house. They were able to make their escape following the departing Elijah Lewis. As attention was drawn on the beating of Edward Gorsuch, Dr. Pearce, his nephew, elbowed his way through the crowd, jumped the fence and ran down the lane toward Joshua Gorsuch who was standing near Castner Hanway’s horse. Dr. Pearce’s flight was followed by bullets which whizzed by him with one passing through his hat and grazing his skull. Out of the posse of men, it was only Joshua Gorsuch who got a shot off though it was fired wildly and at no one in particular. In making their escape, Dr. Pearce and Joshua Gorsuch found themselves running beside Castner Hanway. Dr. Pearce would later tell people that Hanway used his horse to shield himself and Joshua Gorsuch from the mob.  This protection did not last long however as Hanway did not want to endanger his own life for these slave catchers. He put the spurs to his horse and galloped down the lane. Finding themselves being overtaken, Pearce and Joshua Gorsuch split up. Pearce successfully made it into a field but Joshua was overtaken. A group of men beat him severely over the head with a gun but did not kill him. Joshua wandered away from the beating in a daze but was fortunate enough to run into Marshal Kline who took charge of the man and found him medical attention.

Dickinson Gorsuch’s thank you letter to Levi Pownall

Back at the Parker home, Edward Gorsuch, the 56 year-old Maryland slave holder, lay dead. Despite later newspaper accounts that stated that Gorsuch was beaten beyond recognition, the coroner’s inquest stated he only had a fracture of the left humerus (upper arm) and died from a single gunshot wound. Dickinson Gorsuch was bleeding from the over 70 shot he had received in the side from Alexander Pinckney’s shotgun when he was found by a local Quaker by the name of Joseph Scarlett. Acting as a sort of Paul Revere, Scarlett had been riding through the neighborhood raising the alarm of kidnappers at Parker’s and had only arrived on the scene after the shooting had stopped. Scarlett gathered up the critically wounded Dickinson and took him to the nearby farm of Levi Pownall. Dickinson would spend the next few days at the Pownall farm being tended to. He would later write in deep appreciation to the Pownalls for their assistance in his time of need.

Escape

The victory over the Fugitive Slave Law came at a high price. In the immediate hours after the resistance at Christiana, Gorsuch’s runaways fled the region, the assembled reinforcements returned to their homes, and William Parker, Alexander Pinckney and Abraham Johnson hid on the nearby farm of Levi Pownall, the same man who was at that time caring for the wounded Dickinson Gorsuch. At nightfall Parker and the other two inquired with Levi Pownall about Dickinson’s condition. Pownall told them that the young man was near death and that authorities would assuredly be arriving en masse soon.  According to author Anthony Rice:

“It was at this moment when the black men grasped the gravity of the situation they now faced. Their actions went beyond anything the mutual protection association had done in the past. This was not a case of beating up a few slave catchers and disappearing mysteriously into the night. Parker and his compatriots had blood on their hands; they were fugitive slaves who killed a respected slaveholder and gravely wounded his son before dozens of witnesses. Black had conquered white in a country that knew only the opposite and would demand its just recompense. Although they could claim self-defense, their resistance was so charged with political implications that receiving an impartial trial seemed remote. The black men soon came to the realization that one of two things awaited them in Pennsylvania – a prison cell or the gallows. They reluctantly decided to leave their friends and families behind in order to flee north and hopefully cross into Canada.”

The journey was undertaken with Parker, Pinckney and Johnson travelling together without their wives or children. The assumption that the women present in the home during the fight would not face trial proved to be a correct one for while Eliza Parker and Hannah Pinckney would find themselves arrested in the immediate aftermath, they would eventually be released without charge. The three men slowly made their way north. On September 20, nine days after the bloody dawn of the resistance, Parker and his group found themselves 500 miles from Christiana in Rochester, New York. They were on the final leg of their journey as a crossing of Lake Ontario to the north would find them in Canada. In Rochester, Parker, Pinckney and Johnson found shelter and assistance from a familiar Underground Railroad agent, noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

As stated previously, Parker had been acquainted with Douglass years before when they were both enslaved in Maryland. After escaping to Pennsylvania, Parker was incredibly moved after hearing Douglass speak in the area. Now, for the third time, their paths would cross and this time it was Douglass who was moved by Parker. As Douglass would later write in one of his autobiographies, “I could not look upon them as murderers. To me, they were heroic defenders of the just right of man against manstealers and murderers…What they had done at Christiana, and the cool determination which showed very plainly especially in Parker, left no doubt on my mind that their courage was genuine and that their deeds would equal their words.” Both Parker and Douglass knew the danger that the famous abolitionist was putting himself in for harboring the fugitives and so they only stayed over the course of a day while Douglass made arrangements for them to book passage on a ship bound for Canada. Despite the danger, however, word spread through Rochester’s abolitionist circle that William Parker, the hero of the Christiana Riot was stopping at Douglass’ home. In a short time, Douglass found his home inundated with visitors who wished to meet Parker. “The hours they spent at my house were therefore hours of anxiety as well as activity,” Douglass recalled. At 8 o’clock in the evening, Douglass rode with Parker, Pinckney and Johnson to the Genessee River where a steamer was scheduled to depart in 15 minutes. Douglass stayed on the steamer with the men until the last possible minute before providing them with ten dollars and shaking their hands. In gratitude for his help and for the work he would continue to do on behalf of the enslaved, Parker gave Douglass a parting gift, the revolver carried by Edward Gorsuch that Parker had picked up after the slave-owner’s death. With that, Douglass stepped off of the ship and watched as it departed down the river. In the next edition of Frederick Douglass’ weekly abolitionist newspaper, a front page story titled, “Freedom’s Battle at Christiana” contained specific details of the event that Douglass could only have gotten from Parker himself, but the article made no mention of the fugitives’ recent stopover in Rochester. Both Parker and Douglass would stay quiet about this part of the escape for years and even when Parker wrote about the event in 1866, he would still protect the identity of the “friend of mine” who aided them in Rochester.

Frederick Douglass and the other abolitionist newspapers would continue writing about the events in Christiana, working as a counterpoint to the propaganda being generated by Southern newspapers. When news of the event flashed across the nation it was subsequently dubbed the Christiana Riot by the pro-slavery South. The number of “rioters” numbered in the hundreds instilling fears of massive slave uprisings. Sensational stories regarding the condition of Edward Gorsuch’s body and the savage treatment it received abounded. Gorsuch, it was said by some newspapers, was scalped, riddled with bullets, and was even said to have had his genitalia cut off. The demand for justice over Gorsuch’s death was widespread and it was only in the abolitionist newspapers that the event was given its proper context.

Retribution

Christiana was beset by gangs of men of differing levels of authority in the aftermath of the resistance. Local police, federal marshals, and even forty-five marines were dispatched to the small Pennsylvania town to arrest those responsible. Added to these deputized groups were also the roving gangs of Marylanders and slave catchers who took advantage of the confusion. The posses ran rampant over the area, kicking in doors, tearing up houses under the guise of looking for the fugitives, and attacking residents both black and white. Warrants were made out for the three white men who had been present during and after the battle. Elijah Lewis, Castner Hanway, and Joseph Scarlett were carted off to Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia where they would remain until tried. This condition was also suffered upon by countless blacks in the area who were rounded up in the ensuing days.

Ezekiel Thompson, one of the men actually present at the Christiana Resistance who suffered arrest and imprisonment.

Francis Lennox, a white Christiana schoolmaster, recalled the days’ scenes, “There were a number of United States Marines; I asked one what they were doing here; he said, ‘We are going to arrest every nigger and damned abolitionist…’ I walked away. Sure enough they scoured the country for miles around arresting every colored man, boy and girl that they could find.” The resistance at Christiana was the pretext for a widespread incarceration of the black population in Lancaster County. Even those blacks who had white neighbors vouching to the fact that they were nowhere near the Parker home were taken away. Countless slave catching groups used the opportunity to kidnap suspected runaways and take them south for a profit. After a few days the arrests stopped as local abolitionists decried the mass and unwarranted arrest of the citizenry. Marshal Kline was then required to identify those among the imprisoned who were actually present at the riot. He was aided in this nearly impossible task by a local black man named George Washington Harvey Scott, who Kline had identified among those present at the riot and had arrested. Scott provided corroborating testimony and helped Kline identify among the other arrested blacks who had been present. In the end, 38 individuals were indicted in the murder of Edward Gorsuch, including the absent William Parker and his men.

A monument erected in 1911 in Christiana lists the 38 men indicted in Edward Gorsuch’s death. Click to enlarge

The trial of the Christiana resistors had deep implications to those in the South. The case was far more than the murder of a single slaveholder, but spoke of open and bloody defiance against the Fugitive Slave Law. Residents of the South had severe doubts over the ability of a Pennsylvania jury, tainted with their abolitionist views, to mete out justice and prevent disunion. Governor Louis Lowe of Maryland wrote an open letter to President Millard Fillmore pressuring the federal government to take action in this case on behalf of law and order, “I do not know of a single incident that has occurred since the passage of the Compromise measures, which tends more to weaken the bonds of union, and arouse dark thoughts in the minds of men, than this late tragedy. Nor will its influence and effects be limited within the narrow borders of our States. They will penetrate the soul of the South. They will silence the confident promise of the Union men and give force to the appeals of the Secessionists.” Gov. Lowe made himself clear, “There is but a single corrective,…the most complete vindication of the laws and the fullest retribution upon the criminals.”

In the end, the Fillmore administration realized the precarious nature of their position and the need to appease the South to prevent Civil War. Thus the United States government elevated a murder trial of a Maryland slaveholder into the largest treason trial in American history. The bloody defiance of a few blacks in Christiana was deemed not just the breaking of the Fugitive Slave Law but fomenting of insurrection against the entire United States government.

The Trial of Castner Hanway

The task of proving treason was the job of John W. Ashmead, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Ashmead decided the best course of action was to try the defendants individually rather than as a group. Ashmead would start with his strongest case first portraying the subsequent defendants as following this ringleader. In the end, the government sought to portray the white miller, Castner Hanway as the defacto leader of the treasonous group of blacks. While the bloody actions of the resistors were without question, the prejudiced thinking at the time held that the idea of rebellion could not have started in the underdeveloped minds of these negroes. Surely it was the abolitionists and the white residents of Christiana like Castner Hanway who poisoned the minds of these otherwise obedient blacks. Even the court that sought punishment for the ultimate crime against the government could not acknowledge the independent and equal thought of the perpetrators because of their race.

While it was the government’s strongest case, there was an understanding in the Fillmore administration that a verdict of treason was highly unlikely given the evidence. Hanway was a fairly recent arrival in Christiana and, though anti-slavery in feeling, he was not known to be an ardent abolitionist. Among the biggest pieces of evidence against him was the testimony of Marshal Kline. Kline claimed that upon Hanway’s arrival on the scene, the occupants of the Parker home let out a cheer of joy. Kline believed that the blacks were reinvigorated by the presence of Hanway, their leader. In truth, the shout of joy was in response not to Hanway’s appearance, but the growing crowd of armed blacks come to the Parkers’ defense. In addition, Kline says that it was just after Hanway and Lewis went up to the assembled blacks that the violence erupted resulting in Gorsuch’s death. Kline believed that Hanway gave the blacks the signal to attack the posse. Supporting Kline in these assertions was Harvey Scott, the same black man who had helped to identify the others present at Parker’s. The defense poked holes in this testimony, noting how Hanway had actually helped shield Dr. Pearce and Joshua Gorsuch as they were fleeing from the mob, hardly the actions of an abolitionist leader bent on insurrection against slaveholders.

In addition, when the defense cross-examined Harvey Scott, the young man admitted on the stand that everything he had stated before was perjury. Scott admitted he had been arrested in the chaos that followed the resistance but had not even been at the house. Kline identified him as one of the men present even though he was not. Kline threatened Scott, telling him if he did not assist him he would suffer the same fates as the others and so Scott committed perjury to protect himself. This revelation on the stand caused an audible laughter from the assembled crowd. Here was one of the government’s key witnesses admitting that he was coerced into testifying falsehoods. Despite this setback, Ashmead and the rest of the prosecution continued with their case of treason. They attempted to show that the entire existence of Parker’s mutual protection organization (which they unsurprisingly attributed to Hanway and the other white residents for encouraging) was evidence of open treason and a group determined to levy war against the laws of the U.S. When the time came for the closing arguments, the prosecution was sure to mention the dire predictions for the future should the verdict fail to uphold the law, “Bigots, fanatics, and demagogues have endeavored to stimulate the populace to illegal and monstrous acts.” The prosecution warned that if agitators such as Castner Hanway were not stopped they, “would bring upon this country of ours civil war, disunion, and all that is horrible.”

On December 16, 1851, the jury for the Christiana treason case retired from the trial room in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. After only fifteen minutes of deliberation the jury reconvened in the courtroom and brought a verdict of “not guilty” in Castner Hanway’s case of treason. Likely prepared for this outcome, U.S. Attorney Ashmead declared that the government would not try Hanway for the lesser charges against him. Hanway was a free man once again. All other treason charges against the remaining defendants were dropped.

One of the sides of the Christiana Memorial relays the verdict in Castner Hanway’s treason trial

Justice

While Hanway and the remaining white defendants were set free, the bulk of the black defendants were still facing state charges of riot and murder. When a group of nine men were transferred back to Lancaster County on December 31, 1851, the local district attorney found the evidence presented was insufficient to warrant their detention and trial. The nine men were released that same day. In January of 1852, the lawyers for the remaining defendants charged with rioting and murder being held in Philadelphia filed suit against Marshal Henry Kline for making false statements under oath. This indictment gave the lawyers some bargaining power. On January 16, a settlement was made where neither the charges against Kline nor against the remaining defendants would be prosecuted by the state. The remaining Christiana prisoners were released and returned home.

Peter Woods, another participant in the Christiana Resistance, was imprisoned but eventually let go. This photograph of Woods is taken about 60 years after the event.

One last case relating to the Christiana Resistance was brought up in January of 1852. This time it was a federal case against Samuel Williams, the black abolitionist who followed Gorsuch’s party to Christiana and warned the region about the kidnappers. According to his defense lawyer the case against Williams was taken up merely to “avoid the implication of imbecility” after the government’s loss in the treason cases. Williams was charged with a federal misdemeanor for obstructing the fugitive slave law. This was the same punishment that Kline had threatened Elijah Lewis and Castner Hanway with when they failed to assist him at Parker’s. Kline was called as the chief witness against Williams and, though the case was fairly straight forward from a legal perspective, Kline’s tarnished reputation worked against him. The fatigued nature of the Christiana trials and the fact that one of Williams’ defense lawyers was the son of the presiding judge in the case, resulted in Williams being found not guilty. The Christiana Resistance ended with no one being held accountable for the death of Edward Gorsuch or the defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law.

Despite the verdicts of not guilty in the Christiana cases, the warnings of Civil War did not come to fruition at that time. The gambit that the Fillmore administration enacted had worked out. The Federal government had come to the aid of the Southern states and had charged treason against those who defied the Fugitive Slave Law. Though the Southern states were furious at the outcome and continued to speak out against the traitorous northerners who defied the law, the process had appeased them to some degree.

William Still, an abolitionist leader in Philadelphia

For abolitionists the Christiana Resistance and subsequent trials provided a surprising windfall of new sympathizers to their cause. William Still, the black abolitionist leader in Philadelphia, wrote that the Christiana case was, “doubtless the most important trial that ever took place in this country relative to the Underground Rail Road passengers, and in its results more good was brought out of evil than can easily estimated…The tide of public sentiment changed – Hanway, and the other ‘traitors’ began to be looked upon as having been greatly injured, and justly entitled to public sympathy and honor…”

Frederick Douglass likewise wrote that the affair at Christiana, “inflicted fatal wounds on the fugitive slave bill. It became thereafter almost a dead letter, for slaveholders found that not only did it fail to put them in possession of their slaves, but that the attempt to enforce it brought odium upon themselves and weakened the slave system.” Or as William Still more succinctly put it, after Christiana, “…slave holders were taught the wholesome lesson that the Fugitive slave Law was no guarantee against ‘red hot shot’.

Canada

The aftermath of the trials did nothing to alleviate the dangers faced by William Parker and his men. They knew that if they returned to the United States they would face punishment. So, the three men began building lives for themselves in Canada. Eliza Parker and Hannah Pinckney joined their husbands two months after the resistance. They had been arrested and released twice, and Eliza had put her children under the care of her mother and other neighbors. Upon learning that her former master had been made aware of her location, Eliza fled north without her children to avoid capture. In time William and Eliza Parker’s three children would join them in Canada. The Parkers, Pinckneys, and Abraham Johnson took up residence in a black community in what is now North Buxton, Ontario.

Known then as the Elgin settlement, the region had been settled in 1849 by a Presbyterian minister named William King. Rev. King was an Irishman by birth but had immigrated to America and had married into a Louisiana slaveholding family. After the death of his wife, Rev. King inherited a number of her slaves. After doing some missionary work in Canada, Rev. King came up with the idea of starting a community of black pioneers and former slaves in Canada. Starting with his own former slaves, the colony grew quickly over the next few years. Within three years of its founding, over 130 families had settled in Buxton, including the Christiana fugitives. While Rev. King maintained a place of honor among the residents, all of the day-to-day operations of the community were enacted by the black citizenry. When Frederick Douglass visited the colony in 1854, he held it to be one of the greatest proofs that the black man, “can live and live well, without a master, and can be industrious without the presence of the blood-letting lash to urge him on to toil.” Out of nothing but 9,000 acres of forest, in just over four years the residents of Buxton had built themselves a school, church, store, hotel, blacksmith shop, pearl ash factory and dozens of family homes. They cleared and planted rich fields of corn, grass and grain and boasted over seven hundred residents. On his own 50 acre plot of land, William Parker built a home for his growing family.

Even in Canada, William Parker’s fame followed him. A 1856 editorial in The Provincial Freeman described him as “A Noble Fellow” and that “a hundred such villains as Kline of Pennsylvania, would be made to tremble and quake before the masterly eye of such a man as Mr. Parker.” When visiting Canada to give speeches on abolition, Frederick Douglass stated that Parker and “his noble band…who defended themselves from the kidnapper with prayers and pistols, are entitled to the honor of making the first successful resistance to the Fugitive Slave Bill.”

John Brown, Jr. circa 1857

Parker’s fame eventually brought him to the attention of a 38 year-old white abolitionist who was looking for black recruits to take part in plot against slaveholders. The man wrote a letter on August 27, 1859 to another member of the plot detailing having met a man of great interest in Buxton. Writing in code due to the sensitive nature of their plot, the recruiter never gives Parker’s name but the description provided perfectly matches the hero of Christiana:

“At (‘B-n’) I found the man, the leading spirit in that ‘affair,’ which you, Henrie refered to. On Thursday night last, I went with him on foot 12 miles; much of the way through new paths, and sought out in ‘the bush’ some of the choicest. Had a meeting after 1 o’clock at night at his home. He has a wife and 5 children; all small, and they are living very poorly indeed, ‘roughing it in the bush,’ but his wife is a heroine, and he will be on hand as soon as his family can be provided for. He owes about $30; says that a hundred additional would enable him to leave them comfortable for a good while.

After viewing him in all points which I am capable of, I have to say that I think him worth in our market as much as two or three hundred average men, and even at this rate I should rate him too low. For physical capacity, for practical judgement, for courage, and moral tone, for energy and force and will, for experience that would not only enable him to meet difficulty, but give confidence to overcome it, I should have to go a long way to find his equal, and in my judgement would be a cheap acquisition at almost any price.

I shall individually make a strenuous effort to raise the means to send him on.”

The author of his letter was John Brown, Jr. and he was recruiting for his father’s upcoming plot to start an armed slave revolt by raiding the arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The ill-fated raid occurred two months later but, despite Brown’s glowing endorsement of Parker and how hard he would work to make him a part of his father’s plan, there is no further evidence that Parker took part in this event. Perhaps Brown could not come up with the money needed to bring Parker into the fold. Regardless, it is eerily coincidentally that William Parker was involved, in some manner, in two of the most notable slave rebellions in the pre-Civil War years.

Life and Death

The issue of slavery finally came to a head in the United States and Civil War broke out in 1861. Abraham Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863, granted African-Americans the ability to enlist and fight on the side of freedom. Of the three men who took up residence in Buxton, it was Alexander Pinckney who answered the call to fight on the side of liberty. The man who was once fearful at the sight of a slave catching posse in his yard travelled south and enlisted in March of 1863. He joined the most famous of the colored regiments, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, where he was promoted from private to sergeant. Alexander Pinckney was one of the soldiers who took part in the famous Battle of Fort Wagner, which is well-known today due to it being the subject of the 1989 film Glory. Pinckney survived the unsuccessful charge on Fort Wagner and when the Fort was finally abandoned by the Confederates in September of 1863, Pinckney was assigned as one of the permanent boatmen who ferried men between the fort and the mainland. Pinckney was discharged from the service in August of 1865 and subsequently moved with his wife Hannah to Michigan where their trail runs cold.

The ultimate whereabouts and fates of Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, George Hammond, and Joshua Hammond, the four men who set all of these events in motion when they stole grain from Edward Gorsuch in 1849 is unknown. They are said to have escaped up to Canada following the incident at Parker’s farm.

Dickinson Gorsuch survived his near fatal wounding and returned home to Maryland. For the rest of his life, his side would be pitted from the shotgun blasts he received from Alexander Pinckney. He lived and worked on the family farm until his own death in 1882.

Abraham Johnson, the man who vowed to “fight till I die” when Gorsuch’s party surrounded his home lived out the remainder of his life in the Buxton settlement, living on a plot of land right next to the Parkers. He married, had a family and his descendants continued to live on his original farm until just a few years ago.

After an inquest was held, the body of slain slaveholder Edward Gorsuch was transported back to Maryland. On September 14, three days after his death, Edward Gorsuch was laid to rest in a small private cemetery on his Baltimore County property. Dickinson was not present at his father’s funeral as he was still recovering at the Pownall’s farm in Christiana. The funeral was conducted by Gorsuch’s eldest son, Rev. John Gorsuch. The cemetery the elder Gorsuch was placed in was bounded on all sides by a low stone wall with no door or gate. A 1911 book commemorating the Christiana incident contained this single image of the small cemetery:

Through a  great deal of sleuthing it was discovered that the cemetery still stands today. Surrounded by trash and overgrown with vines, weeds, and other thorny plants, the cemetery is located next to a private home only a quarter of a mile away from the tavern from which the slave catcher planned his ill-fated journey.

The cemetery today, as in 1911, contains only three small headstones that are almost impossible to find among the brush.

It is said that the center stone, belonging to Edward Gorsuch is marked by his initials E.G. but the current state of the cemetery made it impossible to see these markings.

Edward Gorsuch’s assumed gravestone

The Parkers

William and Eliza Parker spent many happy years together in Buxton. By 1871, they had 10 children together, seven of which had been born in Canada. During their time in the Elgin settlement William began taking classes at the local school and he possibly learned how to read and write at that time. As early as 1858, there was interest in publishing William Parker’s life story. After the Civil War had ended, Parker was assisted by other educated black men to pen the story of his life. Titled, The Freedman’s Story, Parker’s biography was published in two parts in the February and March 1866 issues of the Atlantic magazine. Though some later historians questioned the authorship of this piece, certain details contained in the narrative could have only come from Parker himself. Others may have assisted Parker in improving the manuscript, but the story is definitely Parker’s.

In the summer of 1872, over twenty years after the event that caused him to flee, William Parker returned to Christiana for the first time. He visited his old home which still stood and was entertained by many of his old friends who still resided in the area. Among those he visited with were Peter Woods and Samuel Hopkins, two men who had been present at the resistance two decades before. Parker was the guest of honor at the commencement of Lincoln University, a black secondary school and college situated some 15 miles south of Christiana. The school had been founded in 1854 partly due to the attention the Christiana Resistance had brought upon the plight of blacks in Pennsylvania. It appears that Parker remained in Christiana throughout the summer as he was also present at a meeting of the black citizens on August 30, 1872 regarding the upcoming Presidential election.

It appears that sometime during Parker’s visit to Christiana in 1872, he became reacquainted with a woman he had known twenty years before named Martha Simms. Martha’s husband Henry Simms had been one of the men present at the resistance and was later imprisoned as one of the 38 indicted for treason. He, like the others, was released and returned home. Henry Simms died not long before Parker’s return to Christiana.

Apparently William Parker became infatuated with the widow Simms during his visit and the two ran off together. Peter Woods was under the impression that Parker was a widower himself and took Martha Simms back with him to Canada. However, Eliza Parker was very much alive and caring for the couple’s ten children whose ages ranged from 26 down to 1. William Parker and Martha Simms did not go up to Canada, but instead settled in Kenton, Ohio, some 480 miles from Christiana and 200 miles from Buxton. According to descendants of Abraham Johnson, when William Parker made his 1872 trip down to the United States, he was never heard from again by Eliza or their children. For the rest of their days, they assumed William had been the victim of foul play due to his notoriety.

Living in Kenton, William Parker was a member of the Masonic order and was known to his neighbors to have been an agent of the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. It does not appear that anyone connected him with the famous William Parker of Christiana fame. William Parker and Martha Simms lived as husband and wife for almost 20 years.

1880 census record showing William Parker and Martha Simms living as husband and wife

William Parker’s death came on April 14, 1891, when he was about 70 years old. He was buried in Kenton’s Grove Cemetery. Though William Parker has no stone of his own in his Grove Cemetery plot, there is a unique marker which bears his surname. In 1880, two of Martha Simms’ daughters from her marriage with Henry Simms died within six months of each other. They were buried in a plot in Grove Cemetery and shared a grave stone. William Parker was buried next to these women upon his death in 1891. When Martha Simms Parker died in 1919 she too was buried in the plot. On the stone which contains the names of Martha Simms daughters, there is the faint inscription of the name “PARKER”.

The memorial to Martha Simms’ daughters in Grove Cemetery, Kenton, Ohio which contains the Parker surname. Photo courtesy of Peyton J. Ennis

The Parker name in Grove Cemetery, Kenton. Photo courtesy of Peyton J. Ennis

Eliza Parker was perhaps the true hero of the Christiana Resistance. As a young woman, Eliza had the strength to escape from her especially bitter enslavement to start a new life in Pennsylvania. She gave birth to, and cared for, three children while her husband put himself in danger running his mutual protection organization. When the battle for freedom arrived at her door, it was Eliza who saved them all by raising the alarm even in the face of bullets directed at her. When her husband had to make his escape, she stayed behind and faced imprisonment in his place. It was only the certainty of a return to slavery that caused her to make her own escape, temporarily leaving her children behind. She braved a pioneer life in Ontario, helping to build a home out of the unfamiliar forest and land. And when her husband disappeared in 1872 never to be heard from again, she persevered and raised her ten children alone. Eliza Parker died on May 28, 1899 but as late as 1969, she was still fondly remembered by her aged grandchildren. In 2013, one of her descendants erected a plaque next to her faded grave in Buxton. The plaque notes that Eliza was “a heroine in the tumultuous time preceding the Civil War”.

Eliza Ann Parker’s Grave in North Buxton, Ontario. Photo courtesy of Douglas Gammon and ckacemeteries.ca

Remembering

While the memory of the Christiana Resistance has faded somewhat from public consciousness, it has never been totally forgotten. The town of Christiana itself has been on the forefront of preserving this story. In 1911, the first memorial to the Christiana incident was erected.

The Christiana Memorial outside of the Zercher’s Hotel.

The tall obelisk stands in front of the Zercher’s Hotel where the inquest over Edward Gorsuch’s body was held. The memorial, erected during the tumultuous time of Jim Crow laws and lynchings, deals almost solely with the white participants in the event and is titled with “In commemoration of the Christiana Riot, September 11, 1851 and the Treason Trials Sept. 25 – Dec 17, 1851”. One on side, the monument states, “Killed Edward Gorsuch He died for Law” and goes on to list Dickinson and Joshua Gorsuch as being wounded. Another side mentions Castner Hanway’s treason trial and that “He suffered for Freedom”. The final side merely lists the names of the 38 men who were indicted. In more recent years, more work has been down to truly address the legacy of the Christiana Resistance. In 2009, the Christiana Historical Society installed a second marker next to the obelisk which gives special attention to William Parker as more than just a name on a list.

The plaque, affixed to a large stone, states, “Dedicated to the Memory of William Parker ‘Bold as a Lion’ A leader in the Fight for the Freedom of his People. September 11, 1851.” This plaque serves as an important counterpoint to the dated 1911 obelisk.

Sadly, the home of William Parker in the Christiana countryside no longer stands. The home was continually occupied until about the 1880s. As time went on the owners of the home get tired of the visitors who wanted to visit the site of the infamous riot and left the house to fall apart.

Resistors Samuel Hopkins and Peter Woods outside of the ruins of the Parker home before it was torn down.

In the 1890s the house was in a dilapidated condition and it was finally demolished by the farm’s owner around 1898. A historic highway marker stands on the outskirts of Christiana, about a third of a mile north of the house site.

In 2008, archaeology was undertaken which found the foundation of the home but the site remains on private property. Today, the Parker home site sits in the middle of fields belonging to an Amish family.

The home of William Parker sat on the field between the creek and the tree line on the left hand side of his photograph.

Radicalizing an Assassin

In closing, it is worth noting that the Christiana Resistance is connected to the assassin of President Lincoln. In the fall of 1849, eleven year-old John Wilkes Booth began attending the Milton Academy located in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The boarding school (which still stands today as an upscale restaurant) was located only two miles down the road from the Gorsuch farm and was where many of the Gorsuch clan were educated. One of Booth’s classmates at the Milton Academy was Thomas Gorsuch, the youngest son of Edward. Though three years Booth’s senior, the two boys developed a friendship and it would not be too much of a stretch to imagine that Booth may have visited his friend’s nearby farm.

Booth was still attending the Milton Academy in September of 1851 when Thomas’ father was killed in Christiana. How the death of his friend’s father, and the subsequent acquittal of all those involved impacted the young man is unknown but it is likely such events during his formative years helped to turn John Wilkes Booth against the cause of abolition.

Nine years later, in December of 1860, John Wilkes Booth had just come off his first series of engagements as a star actor which had put in the Southern states of Alabama and Georgia. The election of Abraham Lincoln a month earlier instigated the beginning of the secession crisis. While staying with his mother and sister in Philadelphia, the twenty-two year old actor witnessed several oratories given by northerners opposed to secession. Hearing the eloquent speakers motivated Booth to write his own speech to counter the attacks on the South and help others see the injustices the southern states had endured. In the speech, Booth mentions the events in Christiana as one of those injustices.

“The fugitive slave law. Gentlemen, when I was a school boy, my bossom friend was a boy 3 years my senior named Gorruge [Thomas Gorsuch], he was as noble a youth as any living. He had two brothers grown to be men. And an old father who loved and was beloved by them. He was all that a man of honour should be. Two of his negroes committed a robbery, they were informed upon. They nearly beat the informer to death. they ran away from Maryland, came to this state [Pennsylvania]. The father, the two sons, and the boy, my playmate, came to this state under the protection of the fugitive slave law (not only to recover their property, but to arrest the thieves who belonged to them)[…]”

Unfortunately this paragraph marks the end of a page and the rest of the manuscript after this page has been lost to history. So while we cannot be certain of what additional details Booth was going to include about the Christiana Affair, it is clear that this event helped shape Booth’s view of who was and who wasn’t on the right side of the law. Though in the speech Booth rallied against disunion he nonetheless expressed his belief that a reckoning had finally come between the north and the south.

“Riot”

The Christiana Resistance was an important precursor to that reckoning of Civil War. The compromise bills of 1850 had hoped to bridge the gap between the northern and southern states, but the bloody conflict in Christiana only widened the fissure between abolitionists and enslavers. The country may have always been destined to cleanse the evil of slavery away by war, but the events of September 11, 1851 made that course abundantly clear. Christiana paved the paths to both the end of slavery through Civil War and the first American presidential assassination.

The newspapers called the event the Christiana Riot as a form of propaganda against those black men and women who struck out against an unjust law. Most historians today correct this bias by referring to it as the Christiana Resistance. But even if the name Christiana Riot is left, it still can be applicable. When those in power through oppression refuse to listen, sometimes riot is the only language that can reach their ears. The men and women in Christiana, Pennsylvania followed in the footsteps of our country’s forefathers when they were forced to commit treason to gain their liberty. Though imperfect beings, William Parker and his neighbors were willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause of freedom. While corn knives and pistol balls can bring chaos and bloodshed, they can also lead to a new birth of freedom.

References:
Resistance at Christiana: The Fugitive Slave Rebellion, Christiana, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1851 by Jonathan Katz (1974)
Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North by Thomas P. Slaughter (1991)
The Freedman’s Story by William Parker (1866)
The Christiana Riot and the Treason Trials of 1851: an Historical Sketch by William U. Hensel (1911)
Commemoration of the Christiana Riot and the Treason Trials of 1851 Souvenir Program (1911)
A Legacy Transformed: The Christiana Riot in Historical Memory by Anthony Rice (2012)
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper
Christiana Resistance Collection – Moores Memorial Library
The video is a clip of Lancaster County historian LaVerne “Bud” Rettew demonstrating the sound Eliza Parker’s tin horn made on the morning of September 11, 1851 in Christiana, Pennsylvania. It is from the following interview Mr. Rettew did in 2011.

Special Thanks To:
Peyton J Ennis of Delaware, Ohio who confirmed, visited and photographed the final resting place of William Parker in Kenton, Ohio.
Bryan Prince of North Buxton, Ontario who was the first one to discover William Parker’s death in Kenton. Bryan was kind enough to share his expertise on the Christiana Resistance and provide Eliza Parker’s will.
Shannon Prince of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, North Buxton, Ontario
Trish Nigh and Douglas Gammon of ckcemeteries.ca for their permission to use their photographs of Eliza Parker’s grave in North Buxton, Ontario.

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Lola

Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Millions of people have gazed upwards and seen her face. Armed with a sword, shield, and avenging eagle, her scene represents War. As a manifestation of Freedom, she stands victorious over her enemies. The adherents of tyranny and kingly power located at her feet flee from her sight. Located just below the saintly figure of George Washington, she is one of the most iconic parts of the masterpiece that covers the interior of the U.S. Capitol Dome.

The War scene in Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Unknown to many, the figure of Freedom represented in the dome’s The Apotheosis of Washington is based on a real woman. Her name was Lola and this is her story.


Lola Virginia Germon was born about 1845 in Washington, D.C. She was the daughter of Vincent Germon, a leather currier. In 1855, Vincent Germon died, leaving his wife, Eliza, to care for Lola and her siblings. Even as a young girl, Lola was noted for her beauty. She was described as, “without exception, the handsomest young lady in Washington.”

Lola Virginia Germon

Lola’s looks were a family trait that also happened to be shared by a cousin of hers named Effie Germon. Effie used her looks to find success as an actress and was likewise complimented as having, “a fair young face, strikingly beautiful.” Though Effie Germon found her looks to be an asset that helped her achieve success, for Lola, her beauty would forever prove to be a double-edged sword.

As a young girl growing up in D.C., Lola, then called Jennie, was surrounded by unique urban types. According to later accounts, at one point Mrs. Germon decided to open up her house to boarders in order to help support her family. One of the gentlemen who allegedly found residence in the Germon household was an Italian artist named Constantino Brumidi. Brumidi was born in Rome on July 26, 1805 and had learned the art of fresco painting. He had done work in the Vatican Palace and even painted Pope Pius IX after his ascendance to the papacy. After political unrest swept through Rome and Brumidi spent time in prison under false charges, he decided to immigrate to America to continue his artist work. Brumidi arrived in America on September 18, 1852. He spent two years making a living doing portraits and frescos in private residences and churches throughout the northeast. He even traveled down to Mexico to complete an altar for a Catholic church. Brumidi arrived in Washington, D.C. in December of 1854 and arranged to meet Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, the engineer in charge of construction and decorations on the extensions being done to the U.S. Capitol building. Through Meigs, Brumidi was hired to be the Capitol’s chief artist and he would spend over 25 years painting the Capitol.

Constantino Brumidi, 1859

The story goes that Constantino first met Jennie in 1858 when she was between 13 and 15 years old. As she developed, Brumidi came to see Germon as his muse. She was said to have possessed, “all the perfecting features of beauty which poets choose to accord their heroines of that race, and, in addition, was grandly tall and as faultless in physique as a sculptor’s ideal.”  Brumidi is said to have become enraptured with Jennie Germon’s beauty. In time, the 56 year-old Brumidi began living with young Jennie separately from Mrs. Germon. A sexual relationship developed between the two though Jennie’s age precluded it from truly being an equal, consensual situation. Despite the relationship that the two would share in the years to come, it’s clear that Brumidi was one of the first to take advantage of the reluctantly beautiful Jennie. On May 12, 1861, Jennie Germon, who was between 16 and 18 years-old, gave birth to Brumidi’s son. The child was named Laurence Stauro Brumidi.

Evidence points to the idea that Jennie Germon appears to have left Brumidi not long after the birth of their son. It seems probable that Jennie sought to escape the relationship that had resulted in her pregnancy. In either late 1861 or early 1862, Jennie found employment in the Treasury Department as one of the first female clerks assigned to help with the process of cutting and sorting the government’s new paper money. The Treasury Department was one of the first government agencies to hire female employees and sought to hire only girls and women who demonstrated a true need for employment to help provide for their families. While such an arrangement helped women who were in otherwise dire financial situations, like Jennie Germon, it also created an environment where the clerks were powerless to stand up to the predatory attacks from their male superiors. Sadly, Jennie left one abusive relationship and was forced into another while at the Treasury department. It appears that Jennie Germon’s beauty once again made her a target as she was one of the women preyed upon by Spencer Clark, the first superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (for context, it may be helpful to read the prior post about Clark).

Spencer Clark

When an investigation regarding the rumors of sexual misconduct on the part of Treasury department superiors occurred, Jennie Germon revealed that she was coerced into sexual situations several times by Spencer Clark in exchange for money which she used to support herself and her young son. Jennie’s full statement, which she hoped would not be given publicity and yet was later released by the investigator, Lafayette Baker, can be read here.

Jennie escaped the abuse she suffered at the Treasury the only way she knew how, by getting married. On September 21, 1863, Jennie married a man named Francis A. Clover. After departing the Treasury, the new Mrs. Clover also chose to retake her given name of Lola rather than her childhood nickname of Jennie. It appears that during Lola’s marriage to Clover she allowed Constantino Brumidi visiting rights to his son, Laurence. This re-introduction of the artist may have put a strain on her marriage, or perhaps Lola’s marriage to Clover had only been out of convenience sake. Regardless, Lola’s first marriage failed after only a year. On October 25, 1864, Lola was granted a divorce from Clover.

The exact details of what occurred over the next few years is not known for certain. What can be concluded is that Brumidi and the now about 20 year-old Lola reconnected and began living together once again. In later years, Lola would claim that the two were actually married in Baltimore during this time, but no official record of marriage between the two can be found. Later evidence also appears to cast doubt on the idea that Lola and Brumidi ever married. It was between this period of time though, from 1864 – 1870, that Lola began calling herself Mrs. Brumidi. It was also during this time that Brumidi began incorporating Lola’s likeness into many of his frescos at the U.S. Capitol. The most well-known of Brumidi’s works is the aforementioned The Apotheosis of Washington which adorns the interior of the dome of the Capitol building. Brumidi modeled the figure of Freedom in the War scene exclusively on Lola.

Lola Germon as Freedom in Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Lola was not the only one from whom Brumidi drew inspiration. The figure of Liberty who is seated at the right hand of George Washington was modeled after Lola’s similarly beautiful cousin, the actress Effie Germon. When John Wilkes Booth was cornered and killed after assassinating President Lincoln, Effie Germon’s carte-de-visite was one the photographs found on his body.

Effie Germon as Liberty in Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Brumidi also used a few well-known models for the figures of tyranny and kingly power which Lola’s figure of Freedom is shown vanquishing. Specifically, he chose to use the likenesses of the recently defeated leaders of the Confederacy as his traitorous models.

Confederate likenesses Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington (click to enlarge)

While Brumidi was known to have continued his work on the Capitol between 1864 – 1870, he also took prolonged breaks in work for outside commissions. The U.S. government was not always timely in its payment for Brumidi’s services and so he would often take out-of-town commissions to maintain his finances. At the end of 1866, for example, Brumidi spent a few months painting in Cuba. Aside from absences such as these, however, Lola, Brumidi, and their young son, Laurence, all lived together in D.C.

Laurence Brumidi circa 1865

This second relationship between Lola and Brumidi did not last however. While we do not know the circumstances, on May 23, 1870, Lola married a man named Joseph Walsh, Jr. in Alexandria, VA. The circumstances of how they met or reliable background information on Mr. Walsh is not known. The few facts that can be gained from this marriage is that Walsh was fairly affluent and that Lola began residing outside of Washington with her new husband. She, Walsh and Laurence began splitting their time between D.C. and Brooklyn, New York. In 1873, 12 year-old Laurence was enrolled in the first grade at the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute. Coincidentally, or perhaps purposefully, Constantino Brumidi took a number of commissions that brought him to New York during Lola’s residence there. Brumidi was known to be working at churches and sites in New York for periods of time in 1870, 1871 and 1873. It seems likely that Brumidi would visit his muse and his son during these commissions.

In yet another sad experience for Lola, she would come to learn that her new husband Walsh was not the man she thought he was. In 1875, Lola, then residing back in D.C. petitioned for a divorce against Walsh. Newspaper accounts stated that Lola, “charges her husband with various acts of unfaithfulness.” In particular, Lola alleged that she had reliable evidence that her husband was known to frequent a brothel while they were residing in Washington. She even went so far as to name the specific brothel (Lizzie Peterson’s) and prostitute (Nellie Sherman) that her husband visited. On June 10, 1876, Lola was granted a divorce from Joseph Walsh on the grounds of desertion.

Divorced for the second time (third if you include the possibility of a legitimate marriage to Brumidi), 31 year-old Lola Germon Clover [Burmidi] Walsh, took up residence on the 900 block of G St. NW. This is place where Lola would call home for the next 20 years.

Lola’s son Laurence was growing rapidly. At the time of her divorce from Walsh in 1876, Laurence was already 15 years old and had been bitten by the painting bug. The occasional visits from his revered artist father made Laurence want to pursue a future in art and this was supported by Lola. As evidence of the once again softening of their relationship, Lola allowed Laurence to act as a sort of apprentice to his father as the elder Brumidi continued his work on the Capitol building frescos. Constantino was now over 70 years old and suffered from a variety of ailments including asthma. As difficult as the actual sketching and painting was, the mere process of making one’s way onto the scaffold from which to work was a long and laborious process as this account relates:

The scaffold Constantino Brumidi used to paint the friezes in the Capitol

“This wonderful old man has daily to climb up to an elevation of fully eighty feet, enter a window & then descend a ladder at least twenty five feet long to the little pent up crib where he toils. He is so aged and feeble that he requires help to reach the place, & you can easily imagine the fatigue attendant upon the mere labor of getting to and away from his work. Besides in stormy wet tempestuous weather he cannot get there at all…”

In time, Brumidi was granted an elevator system which was merely just a box in which the artist would sit which was then hoisted up to his scaffold via a pulley on the ceiling. Young and strong Laurence Brumidi was no doubt one of the assistants who helped hoist his father to his massive canvas. In addition to providing his father strength, Laurence also got the benefit of learning from a master and he quickly started to pick up his father’s artistic eye.

Lola observed all of this closely. Though her motivations are unclear, by 1878, Lola had allowed Brumidi to move into the home that she and Laurence shared on G street. Perhaps she was taking pity on the artist and sought to help care for him and his infirmities. Perhaps she hoped Brumidi’s close residence would further support her son’s education. Or perhaps, for some inexplicably reason, Lola actually had feelings for the man who had taken advantage of her when she was little more than a child. If Constantino Brumidi’s art is to be taken as evidence, it does appear that he did love Lola, at least in some fashion. It was likely a selfish love, one that Brumidi took in order to further his talents, but he did have a connection to Lola. What deep feelings and conflicts Lola had for Brumidi is not known. However, her conduct in the years after his death show her to be very protective of him and his legacy despite all of the trouble he had caused her. Though the two were now living together once again, they did not marry (or perhaps remarry). Lola was still documented in the city directory as Lola Walsh during this time.

Constantino Brumidi in his later years

On February 19, 1880, at 6:30 am, Constantino Brumidi died at the age of 75. Newspapers reported that his death was a combination of asthma and kidney failure. When the end was coming, Laurence had sent for a doctor but none arrived in time. While we do not have a record of Lola’s whereabouts when Brumidi died, it seems likely that she was there with him. Obituaries for the artist of the Capitol were published throughout the country. Many lamented that while Brumidi had completed many beautiful works of art from the Apotheosis of Washington to the Brumidi Corridors in the Senate wing, the large frescos he was working on at the time of his death in the inner ring of the dome were still incomplete. The call went out for an artist to finish the job. Though Laurence Brumidi applied to complete his father’s work, he was judged too inexperienced to be tasked with such a project. As compensation though, the government chose to pay Laurence $1,500 for the sketches his father had made for the remaining unpainted frescos and used them as the template to complete the project. In addition, out of appreciation for Brumidi’s years of work, the government also decided to gift Laurence, and his half-sister from the artist’s first marriage in Italy, with $250 each for the services their father had provided and had not yet been paid for. The government also included an extra $200 gift payable to “Brumidi’s heirs” to help offset the cost of the artist’s funeral and burial.

While her name is not mentioned directly in the bill which provided the funds, it was Lola who took charge of Brumidi’s body upon his death. Lola buried him in Glenwood Cemetery, in the very same plot that held her own parents, the Germons. Despite the money received by the government, it does not appear that Lola put up a gravestone for Brumidi at the time of his death. Whether the funds actually went towards his burial, or use in her son’s education, we don’t know.

What we do know is that Lola did not let her son give up on his dreams. She sent him to the National Academy of Rome in the 1880’s to learn all he could. When he returned from abroad he moved out to Kansas City, Missouri for a time where he helped establish and served as the first director of the Kansas City Art Institute.

Throughout the 1880s and 90s, Lola maintained her home on G street in Washington. To make money, she opened up her few rooms to boarders and settled into the life of a boardinghouse keeper. It was also during this time that Lola stopped referring to herself as Lola Walsh and instead portrayed herself as Lola Brumidi, once again. Most people considered her to have been Brumidi’s legitimate widow even though they were definitely not married at the time of his death and probably had never been married in the first place.

Lola maintained the name of Lola Brumidi for about 20 years, until she found herself changing it once again. In 1900, 55 year-old Lola decided to marry again. Her husband was a 59 year-old widower by the name of Edwin Kirkwood. This marriage, unlike Lola’s other attempts, appears to have been a happy one, or at least, not one that ended with a divorce. While some men might have been intimidated to marry a woman whose personal history was so involved and dramatic, it was actually Lola who was taking a risk. Edwin Kirkwood was a convicted felon.

Edwin Columbus Kirkwood was born in Maryland in 1841 and had served in the Union army for one year during the Civil War before moving to D.C. He married his first wife, Alice, in 1862 and the two started a family. After a couple years, Kirkwood found employment as a clerk in the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery where he would eventually rise through the ranks and become a lead financial clerk. Then in June of 1884, a reckoning came for Edwin Kirkwood when he was arrested and charged with fraud. It appears that during a period of time lasting from 1876 – 1884, Kirkwood and Daniel Carrigan, the chief clerk at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, repeatedly embezzled money from the government by way of fraudulent claims for reimbursement. After rumors of fraud came to the bureau’s knowledge, the then Surgeon General of the Navy asked the first chief of the Secret Service, William Wood, to investigate. Wood had previously been in charge of the Old Capitol Prison where many of those involved in the Lincoln assassination were held in 1865. Wood found evidence to support the idea that Kirkwood and Carrigan had brought in many third parties who would pose as business owners looking to receive payment for services and materials rendered to the bureau. The two clerks would create fraudulent claims containing lists and prices of materials and the third parties would present these claims to the treasury for reimbursement. Once the third parties received the money, they would split the funds with Kirkwood and Carrigan. The clerks’ long history with the bureau allowed them to get many fraudulent claims signed off by the different Surgeon Generals of the Navy. Most often, the clerks would place the fraudulent claims between the duplicates of legitimate claims. The Surgeon General of the Navy would consult the first claim on top, verify it was genuine and that the materials had been supplied, and then sign it and the duplicate copies underneath without reading them. After the fraudulent claims had been cashed, Kirkwood would then adjust the financial books to hide the payouts.

Through this scheme, the two clerks and their revolving group of “businessmen” successfully defrauded the government of over $44,000. In March of 1884, sensing that the game may have been found out, Daniel Carrigan resigned from the bureau and went west to the Dakotas. Kirkwood, however, stayed in D.C. and was still working at the bureau when he was arrested. His initial bail bond money was put up by a friend of his named James Pumphrey. Pumphrey was the owner of a stable and, in 1865, it was from Pumphrey’s stable that John Wilkes Booth had rented the horse he used to escape Washington, D.C. after shooting the President. As the bond amount increased with each additional case against the former bureau clerk, Pumphrey eventually stopped paying Kirkwood’s bond. For the next few months, Kirkwood was tried alongside various co-conspirators and Carrigan, in absentia. On March 7, 1885, Edwin Kirkwood was sentenced to 6 years in Albany Penitentiary for one instance of false claims with a third party businessman named Bill Mann. Though several more businessmen like Mann were brought to trial for their part in receiving monies from false claims, the government decided not to prosecute Kirkwood in these additional cases. Had they chose to pursue Kirkwood in each separate case of his fraud, his combined punishment could have been around 80 years in prison. Shortly after Kirkwood’s sentence of 6 years, Carrigan returned from the west and surrendered himself. He entered in a plea bargain confessing to four instances of fraud rather than being tried for all of the cases against him. Like Kirkwood, Carrigan was given a 6 year prison sentence. While at his initial trial Kirkwood claimed that he acted under the orders of Carrigan and did not know the claims he was helping to compose were fraudulent, Kirkwood later made a full confession of his crimes while in prison. Despite attempts by his lawyer to have him imprisoned in D.C., Kirkwood was sent up to Albany where he was put at hard labor. He was released early for good behavior and returned to D.C. on March 14, 1889.

During his time in prison, Kirkwood’s wife, Alice, died. His eldest son, Horace, took guardianship over his little sister and entered into the restaurant business. When Kirkwood returned home he decided to follow his son’s lead. Kirkwood purchased a property on the Rockville Turnpike leading out of Georgetown called The Willows. It served as a bar and restaurant. To avoid notoriety, Kirkwood operated the tavern under the name of Columbus Kirkwood, his middle name. It’s possible that Lola Brumidi met Kirkwood at his establishment.

At around the time Lola and Kirkwood met, Edwin’s son and daughter had moved to Richmond. After their wedding in 1900, Edwin moved his new wife down there as well. For the next few years, Edwin Kirkwood would work as a manager in his son’s restaurants and then as a grocer. In the 1910 census, Lola Kirkwood is shown living in Richmond with Edwin and her son, Laurence Brumidi.

Laurence Brumidi as an adult

After leaving Kansas City, Laurence Brumidi had traveled to Paris where he continued his studies and exhibited his work. Then he returned to the States where he focused not on frescoes, as was his father’s forte, but on landscape and portrait paintings. While he found some success as an artist, he never gained the fame of his father. Laurence was also troubled. He suffered from bouts of severe depression which impacted his art and his social life. It is likely he was living with his mother and stepfather in Richmond in 1910 for the emotional comfort they could provide him.

Still, depression and mental illness were not fully understood or accepted in those days. At some point after 1913, Edwin, Lola, and Laurence moved back to D.C. By 1916, Lola was so worried about her 55 year-old son’s well-being that she took the only option available at that time. On June 22, 1916, Laurence Brumidi was judged to be of unsound mind stemming from severe depression and he was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Insane Asylum. He would reside there for the rest of his life.

In 1918, Lola Kirkwood was about 73 years-old and in failing health. On April 2nd of that year she completed and signed what would prove to be her last will and testament. In that will, Lola instructed that upon her death all of her estate was to be transferred into the creation of a trust. The purpose of the trust was to provide for the “board and maintenance of my beloved son Lawrence [sic] S Brumidi during the term of his natural life.” The executor of Lola’s will and the one who was to oversee the trust was a successful real estate broker named Edward P. Schwartz. Having made arrangements for her son’s future, Lola added her signature to the will.

Less than six months later, Lola Virginia Germon Clover [Brumidi] Walsh Kirkwood passed away. Her death occurred on September 26, 1918 at the home she shared with her final husband, Edwin. Lola was interred at D.C.’s Glenwood Cemetery in the same family plot where she had buried Constantino Brumidi 38 years earlier.

After the loss of his wife, Edwin Columbus Kirkwood was not long for this world. He died less than a month later on October 14, 1918. He was interred in the Germon family plot as well.

After the death of Lola Kirkwood, Edward Schwartz began the process of setting up a trust for her son Laurence. He began taking account of all of Lola’s possessions. Per his accounting he found that, at her death, Lola had over $10,000 in bank notes, cash, and possessions. She also owned a piece of property in Washington valued at $2,750 that was being leased at a rent of $25.50 per month. This made Lola a fairly wealthy woman when she died.

In addition to the above named assets, Edward Schwartz also began a search for a group of paintings and sketches that had been done by Constantino Brumidi. Schwartz would later state that Lola had informed him that a collection of her “husband’s” work were in storage somewhere but she did not know where. Upon her death and the creation of the trust for her son, Schwartz searched high and low for this collection, scouring old warehouses in the city. After almost a year of searching, Schwartz had found nothing.

Then, in October of 1919, Schwartz found himself at the National Savings and Trust Company in D.C. He was merely making a visit to a banker acquaintance of his named J. M. Boteler who knew Schwartz from his real estate business. The conversation was light and covered the topics of the day such as the approaching start date of Prohibition. Then Schwartz casually mentioned his ongoing quest to find a collection of paintings that had been done by Brumidi. According to a newspaper account,

“Boteler’s eyes bulged, and, waving his hands in the air, he said: ‘Thank goodness the mystery is going to be solved at last and we will find out what on earth is in those two big boxes that have been in our vaults for the last thirty years and which have accumulated storage charges of almost $300!’”

It appears that around 1889, nine years after Constantino’s death, Laurence Brumidi put two large boxes into storage at the National Savings and Trust Company. Schwartz, by sheer luck, had stumbled upon their hiding place. He subsequently sought permission from the courts to pay the storage fees, retrieve the boxes, and open them. Schwartz invited a few prominent Washingtonians to witness the opening of the boxes including representatives from the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, and the art custodian of the Capitol building.

A journalist from the Evening Star was also there for the unboxing. He wrote:

“The boxes were so securely fastened together with screws and nails that it required the entire colored janitorial force of the bank half an hour to get them open. The packing was evidently done by Brumidi himself, because they were so arranged so expertly as to sustain no damage whatever. By far the most interesting painting found was that of an exact duplicate of the great painting in the dome of the Capitol. It is altogether probable that the artist painted this picture first and then used it as a model during the years he worked in the dome. It is in a splendid state of preservation.”

At least 27 paintings were rediscovered in those storage boxes that day, including Brumidi’s model for The Apotheosis of Washington. Also included in the cache, however, were two paintings of a more personal nature.

“Two large portraits of Brumidi’s American wife (he was twice married before leaving Italy), in heavy gold frames, were found among the other pictures in the first box that was opened. She was evidently a very beautiful woman.”

The above quoted Evening Star article on the discovery ran two full pages, with one of Lola’s paintings taking up a large portion of a page.

With the lost paintings found, Schwartz started the process of taking and accounting them for Lola’s estate. In less than a month, however, Schwartz found himself faced with legal challenges. It appears that during the interim between Lola’s death and the discovery of the paintings, Schwartz had made at least one enemy while going about his work as executor and director of Laurence’s trust. In trying to get a reckoning of Lola’s possessions, Schwartz made the surprising discovery that Lola was never named as an heir in Constantino Burmidi’s will. In fact, upon Constantino’s death in 1880, he left everything, all of his possessions, to his son, Laurence. Schwartz discovered that he was in an awkward position of being in charge of a trust for Laurence’s benefit based on Lola’s estate, but that some of the possessions that Lola had considered to be in her estate had always belonged solely to Laurence. This meant that there were assets out there that were technically Laurence’s that Schwartz had no control over, including the lost paintings. To rectify this, Schwartz petitioned the government to effectively make him Laurence’s guardian and gain control over all of his assets, not just Lola’s trust. This was granted by the courts and, at that point, Schwartz sought out items and possessions he believed belonged to Laurence. One object Schwartz sought to recover was a diamond ring that was valued at around $1,000. Schwartz was under the impression that the ring had been owned by Constantino before it came into Lola’s possession. During Lola’s last years, she had given the ring to her niece, Elizabeth Thompson. Schwartz approached Thompson and informed her that she had to surrender the ring. Thompson balked at this and stated that it had been a present from Lola. Schwartz responded that, since Laurence was Constantino’s only heir, the ring had never actually belonged to Lola and she was not authorized to give it away. As Laurence’s custodian, Schwartz demanded the ring’s return. Rather than giving in, Elizabeth Thompson hired a lawyer. Thompson’s lawyer, a man named E. Hilton Jackson, then worked through legal means to have Schwartz removed as Laurence’s custodian. This endeavor to remove Schwartz was still underway when Schwartz discovered the Brumidi paintings.

After the discovery of the paintings became news, several other relatives of Lola’s came forward and joined Elizabeth Thompson’s petition to remove Schwartz as custodian. It is likely that the value of the paintings motivated some of Laurence’s cousins to suddenly become so interested in their lunatic relative’s estate. Despite the legal challenges against him, however, the courts ruled that Edward Schwartz was acting within his court appointed fiduciary duties and that the petitioners did not have adequate evidence to have him dismissed. E. Hilton Jackson appealed the ruling of the D.C. court without success. On November 8, 1920, the case was decided conclusively in favor of Schwartz.

The very next day, November 9, 1920, Laurence Stauro Brumidi died at St. Elizabeth’s Asylum.

He was 59 years-old. In the obituary that appeared in Washington papers, Laurence was spoken of kindly as a talented portrait painter who assisted his father in his great work. Schwartz, as his custodian, had Laurence buried next to his mother and father in Glenwood Cemetery.

With Laurence now dead, Schwartz’s role now changed. In Lola’s will she had made it clear that, upon the death of her son, the remaining balance of her estate was to be split among five of her nieces and nephews, including Elizabeth Thompson. Despite the legal challenges Thompson had made for him, Schwartz was now compelled to work on her behalf. In addition, since Laurence never married or had any heirs of his own, it was decided that his estate would be split about his cousins. To facilitate this, Elizabeth Thompson’s lawyer, E. Hilton Jackson, was brought in to act as the cousins’ representative. Though it took some time, things went relatively smoothly from there. The family divided up some of Lola and Laurence’s personal possessions including a family photo album.

Photo album belonging to Lola Germon featuring images of Constantino Brumidi and Lola Germon

The heirs also chose to retain some of Brumidi’s sketches for the Capitol dome friezes. This photo album and the sketches were later donated to the Capitol.  The very valuable paintings that Schwartz had discovered, however, were to be sold at auction and the proceeds split equally among the heirs.

The auction of Brumidi’s paintings occurred on May 7, 1924 by care of C. G. Sloan and Company. A total of 27 of Brumidi’s paintings were auctioned off including his oil painting model of The Apotheosis of Washington. That specific painting would stay in private hands for the next 88 years. In March of 2012, the miniature version of the dome fresco was auctioned off by Skinner. A bit of a bidding war ensued for the piece, but, in the end, the winning bid came from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Smithsonian paid a whopping $539,500 for the model of Brumidi’s most famous painting.

Oil painting of The Apotheosis of Washington by Constantino Brumidi on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In a strange twist of fate, the graves of Constantino, Lola and Laurence Brumidi remained unmarked in Glenwood Cemetery for many years. While the U.S. government had provided Lola and Laurence with $200 to help offset the funeral costs for Constantino in 1880, it does not appear that either used these funds, or any subsequent funds, to pay for a headstone. Lola and Edwin died within a month of each other and Laurence was not considered sane enough to handle his own matters so their graves also remained unmarked. For a long period, the only gravestones in the family plot were those of Lola’s parents, Vincent and Eliza Germon. Thanks to a persistent woman who had some sway in Congress, however, all that changed.

Myrtle Cheney Murdock was the wife of Arizona representative John R. Murdock. Rep. Murdock was first elected to Congress in 1937 and served until 1953. During the Murdocks’ time in Washington, Mrs. Murdock became enamored with the artistry in the Capitol building. She sought to learn more about the man who had designed and painted so many beautiful works of art. What started as mere curiosity became a passion and soon Mrs. Murdock was looking for everything she could about Brumidi. In time, she had enough material on Brumidi to write a book on the artist. When she learned that the great artist of the Capitol was buried unmarked in Glenwood Cemetery, she persuaded her husband to petition Congress to help pay for a memorial on Brumidi’s grave. She persisted and in July of 1950, President Truman signed a bill allocated $500 for the erection of a bronze marker on Brumidi’s grave and the perpetual care of it. In February of 1952, the new grave marker for Constantino Brumidi was dedicated.

At some point following 1952, someone, possibly Mrs. Murdock or other admirers of Brumidi, commissioned to place markers on the graves of Lola and Laurence as well. Lola now sleeps flanked by her son and the artist she inspired. Her final husband, Edwin Kirkwood is still unmarked, sharing the same grave site as his wife.

In more recent years, the reputation of Constantino Brumidi has continued to grow. In 1998, Dr. Barbara Wolanin, Curator for the Architect of the Capitol, published an impeccably researched biography of Brumidi and his work. Her book, Constantino Brumidi – Artist of the Capitol, brought Brumidi’s life and accomplishments to a new generation. In 2008, President Bush signed legislation posthumously awarding Brumidi a Congressional Gold Medal. The medal was released in 2012 and bears a portrait of Brumidi on the obverse while the reverse contains the center ring of his Apotheosis of Washington. The story of Constantino Brumidi will, undoubtedly, continue to be told.


And so we return once more to the intended subject of this biographical sketch, Lola Germon. Due to a shortage of documentation regarding her own words and thoughts, it has been regrettably necessary to tell Lola’s story largely through the lens of the relationships she had with men, both famous and infamous. Lola was known for her beauty and her beauty helped to inspire many great works of art. However, she was more than just a pretty face. Lola Germon faced an immense amount of abuse and adversity during her lifetime. She struggled to raise a child, briefly witnessed the success of her emotionally draining labors to that end, and then had to endure his gradual mental decline. She was the muse to a great artist whose pieces have stood the tests of time, but he clearly took away pieces of her in the process. She suffered through too many marriages of unhappiness and unfaithfulness. Through it all, however, Lola Germon survived. Like the figure that bears her likeness in The Apotheosis of Washington, Lola never stopped vanquishing her foes. She never gave in or surrendered to the tyranny that sought to crush her. Instead, she continued to raise her sword high and fight for a better life for herself and her son despite the personal toll.

That is the story of Freedom. That is the story of Lola.


References:

  • Biographical facts about Lola and the others were painstakingly put together by utilizing the census records, marriage records, divorce records, city directories, and wills available on Ancestry.com. This material was supplemented with newspaper articles found via GenealogyBank.com, Newspapers.com, and the Library of Congress – Chronicling America.
  • Lola “Jennie” Germon’s statement regarding her abuse at the hands of Spencer Clark at the Treasury comes from The Treasury Investigation: The Suppressed Documents
  • Further details of Constantino Brumidi’s life and art come from Dr. Barbara Wolanin’s book, Constantino Brumidi – Artist of the Capitol. Several of the images in this post also come from that book.
  • Additional facts about Laurence Brumidi’s life were discovered by using Wolanin’s book and the legal records regarding his insanity and estate cases.
  • The details of Edwin Kirkwood’s crime and punishment were pieced together by consulting the plethora of newspaper records covering his trial and its aftermath.

This post took over a week to research and compose and, as such, is far longer than most offerings. I’d like to thank those of you who took the time to read it, especially since the main subject, Lola Germon, is really not connected to the story of Lincoln’s assassination. Despite this fact, I couldn’t help but take inspiration from Lola and wanted to share her story. I hope you found it worthwhile. – Dave Taylor

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Following Orders: The Arrest and Case of John McCall, Assassination Sympathizer

Recently, there was a comment posted by Gary Goodenow in the Grave Thursday entry for General Dodd relating a story about a possible relative of Gen. Dodd’s who participated in the execution of King Charles I of England, and was later executed himself for treason by the restored King Charles II. Gary mentions that the colonel in question attempted to use the defense that he was following the command of his superior when he participated the Charles I’s trial and death. This defense did not succeed for Col. Axtell. However, the idea of a “following orders” defense reminded me of another legal case related to the Lincoln assassination. It was a case brought forward by a man named John McCall who lived in Mendocino County, California.

Abraham Lincoln Bierstadt

Abraham Lincoln in September of 1861

Before getting to Mr. McCall, however, some background knowledge on a specific legal aspect of the Civil War is necessary. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus, which is Latin for “you may have the body”, is the right for an individual detained by an authority to appear before a court in order to contest the reasons for their continued detainment. In its simplest sense, habeas corpus prevents authorities from locking people away for indefinite periods of time without charge or trial. According to the U.S. Constitution the only time habeas corpus can be suspended is “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” So, when Lincoln suspended the writ in 1861, it could be argued that he was in his legal right, due to the open rebellion of the Confederacy. However, the above quote about when one can suspend the writ is detailed in the Constitution under the section describing the powers of Congress, not the executive branch.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

The debate over who had the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus loomed large in the early Civil War years. Lincoln’s actions were challenged by those who had been imprisoned for their southern sympathies and continually held. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney staunchly believed that the executive branch had no legal right to suspend the writ, while Lincoln argued that since the rebellion began when Congress was in recess he had the right to suspend the writ in their absence. Eventually, on March 3, 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, which retroactively gave the President the authority to suspend habeas corpus for the duration of the rebellion and protected the President and his subordinates from any liability for their previous actions:

“SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That any order of the President, or under his authority, made at any time during the existence of the present rebellion, shall be a defence in all Courts to any action or prosecution, civil or criminal, pending or to be commenced, for any search, seizure, arrest, or imprisonment, made, done, or committed, or acts omitted to be done, under and by virtue of such order, or under color of any law of Congress; and such defence may be made by special plea, or under the general issue.”

Lincoln then paired this act with a proclamation of his own on September 15, 1863, declaring the classes of people who could be arrested and held under the suspension of habeas corpus:

“Whereas, in the judgment of the President, the public safety does require that the privilege of the said writ shall now be suspended throughout the United States in the cases where, by the authority of the President of the United States, military, naval, and civil officers of the United States, or any of them, hold persons under their command or in their custody, either as prisoners of war, spies, or aiders or abettors of the enemy, or officers, soldiers, or seamen enrolled or drafted or mustered or enlisted in or belonging to the land or naval forces of the United States, or as deserters therefrom, or otherwise amenable to military law or the rules and articles of war or the rules or regulations prescribed for the military or naval services by authority of the President of the United States. or for resisting a draft, or for any other offense against the military or naval service”

In short, Lincoln’s proclamation gave military officers the authority to hold without charge or trial those they believed were prisoners of war, spies, deserters, draft dodgers, and aiders or abettors, even if the belief could not be proven. The act of March of 1863, subsequently protected the officers from liability in enacting this authority.

Lincoln assassinated headline San Fran

When Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, the news spread around the country. In some of the western states and territories the reactions to Lincoln’s death were mixed, especially due to the unique blend of Northerners and Southerners who had moved there. It was not uncommon to find ardent Unionists and Confederates living in the same small area.

This was the case in an area of northern California called Potter Valley in Mendocino County. The valley was split in its sympathies with those with Southern sympathies settling in the upper part of the valley and those with Union sympathies in the lower part. The original school in Potter Valley had been built in the Southern leaning upper part and, during the Civil War, a second school was built in the Unionist lower part to ensure that the different students in the area received the appropriate political education.

When the news of Lincoln’s death arrived in Potter Valley there were those who mourned the fallen leader with intense grief, and those who greeted the news with great joy. One of those joyful men was an older resident of the valley named John McCall.

McCall was about 60 years old and originally from Tennessee. At least twice in April of 1865, McCall made statements while on the public road in Potter Valley about his satisfaction with Lincoln’s death. According to Unionist witnesses who later reported on him, McCall stated that, “Lincoln was shot, and that the damned old son of a bitch should have been shot long ago, and that some more of his kind would go the same way shortly.” A few days later, McCall followed up on this line of thinking and stated, “That he did not believe that General Lee had surrendered, and believed that General Lee was still carrying on the war; and that he did not believe for a long time after hearing of the president’s assassination that it was true; and said, I am only afraid that it is not so – if three or four more of the leaders of the abolition party were killed it would be a good thing, as it would be the downfall of that party.”

These words would be John McCall’s downfall. Others around the country were learning the danger of speaking positively about Lincoln’s death. The backlash against those who celebrated Lincoln’s death was intense. Mob justice was prevalent with some supporters of Lincoln’s death being swiftly lynched. Even those in isolated towns would band together to punish those gloating rebels.

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

On April 17, 1865, a general order was sent out by Union Major General Irvin McDowell who was the commander of the Department of the Pacific stationed in San Francisco. General Order 27 stated the following:

“It has come to the knowledge of the major-general commanding that there have been found within the department persons so utterly infamous as to exult over the assassination of the President. Such persons become virtually accessories after the fact, and will at once be arrested by any officer or provost-marshal or member of the police having knowledge of the case. Any paper so offending or expressing any sympathy in anyway whatever with the act will be at once seized and suppressed.”

With this order, Gen. McDowell was essentially authorizing the arrest of any person in his district who was demonstrating joy in Lincoln’s death.  Whether he knew of this order or not, John McCall made himself susceptible to its consequences with his words on April 20th and April 29th. On June 1, 1865, John McCall saw Union troops riding up to his farm and found himself under arrest. The arresting officer was Captain Charles D. Douglas who was the commander of Fort Wright, located almost 60 miles north of Potter Valley.

McCall was not the only seditious citizen arrested that day. Captain Douglas also arrested men by the names of Andrew J. LaFever, Simon Wurtenberg and Thaddeus Dashiell, all of whom had spoken positively of Lincoln’s death with Dashiell having given a celebratory Rebel Yell at the news. Also arrested was the teacher of the Confederate leaning upper school, a Miss Harriet Buster, who allegedly stomped on the American flag after hearing of Lee’s surrender to Grant. Miss Buster was released shortly after her arrest and the men were marched three miles to an adobe hut where they spent the night under confinement.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall's fellow prisoners, in their later years.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall’s fellow prisoners, in their later years.

The next day the soldiers and their prisoners made the trek of almost 60 miles north to Fort Wright. There were not enough animals for all of the men to ride and so John McCall and the other prisoners had to walk for most of the way. They passed through the mountains which were high and cold, and had to endure a hail storm as they went. They finally arrived at Fort Wright at between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock at night. At Fort Wright the men met another prisoner, named James Patrick, in identical circumstances. They slept that night, cold and wet, on the floor of the guard house. The gang stayed at Fort Wright for three days, during which time one of the men, Andrew LaFever took the oath of allegiance and was released. Whether the oath was offered to the others is unknown.

From Fort Wright the prisoners were taken by mule to Fort Bragg, a coastal town some 75 miles away. Traveling over mountains meant it took two days to make the trip, but by the evening of June 7th, they arrived in Fort Bragg. McCall would later describe each leg of the journey as being “pulled, dragged and hauled” across the roughest of terrain.

The men were placed on a lumber schooner called the Albion at nearby Noyo Harbor but, due to rough waters, the schooner failed to depart as planned on June 9th. The next day it successfully began its sail to San Francisco. Fellow prisoner Thad Dashiell described the trip: “The schooner barreled down the coast, one time out of sight of land, most of the time in sight of the coast.” Upon arriving in San Francisco on June 11th, Dashiell and the other prisoners were surprised to find that, for the first time, their guards held their revolvers on them with “pistols cocked, fingers on the trigger.”

McCall, Dashiell, Wurtenberg, and Patrick were marched at gunpoint through the streets of San Francisco to the provost marshal’s office. They were placed in a 10 x 12 ft guardhouse which was “a very filthy place,” Dashiell recalled. The men were handcuffed for the first time and spent two days in the provost marshal’s guardhouse. Captain Douglas, who had escorted the prisoners the entire distance, relinquished his custody of the men to the provost marshal and would make his was back to Fort Wright.

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

On June 13th, the four men were put in a small boat and transferred to Fort Alcatraz. At Alcatraz they were given hard labor. According to Dashiell, they were, “put to work breaking rocks into small pieces” alongside military prisoners and endured many hardships. McCall would later state that, “My arm was rubbed raw in one place. I asked for a change of irons. They would not get me any.”

The disloyal men from Mendocino County spent six days doing hard labor at Alcatraz. They managed to acquire the services of a lawyer and, despite the suspension of habeas corpus that could have kept them there indefinitely, the lawyer managed to persuade the provost marshal to release them. They were removed from Alcatraz and had to spend one final night at the provost marshal’s guardhouse with drunken soldiers before they were allowed to take the oath of allegiance. Upon taking the oath, John McCall, Thad Dashiell, Simon Wurtenberg, and James Patrick were released and began the long journey back to their homes in Potter Valley about 140 miles away.

One would think that the story would end there and that the disloyal secessionists got what they deserved for celebrating at a time of national tragedy. But John McCall was very angry about the treatment he had endured and did not believe that his arrest was justified. By October of 1865, John McCall announced that he was bringing a suit against Captain Douglas and General McDowell seeking damages of $100,000.

Alcatraz suit 10-12-1865

The announcement of the case received wide press with some newspapers announcing that, rather than suing, McCall should, “consider himself very fortunate that he escaped a justly deserved hanging.”

Immediately though, John McCall’s case against Gen. McDowell and Cap. Douglas hit a snag. According to Section 5 of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act passed by Congress in March of 1863, any suit brought against authorities in regards to habeas corpus was to be taken up by the Circuit Court and not by the state courts. McCall, likely hoping to receive a jury trial which would be more sympathetic to his cause, petitioned heavily that his case not be taken to the Circuit Court level where only a judge would decide his case. McCall’s lawyer challenged Congress’ authority to circumvent the lower state courts. On September 17, 1866, McCall’s motion to keep the trial at the state level with a jury was denied.

While McCall was waiting to hear about his motion to keep his case at the state level, an act was passed by Congress to further clarify the legal protections granted to authorities during the suspension of habeas corpus. The act, passed on May 11, 1866, granted protection to those who had carried out an order, “written or verbal, general or special, issued by the President or Secretary of War, or by any military officer of the United States holding command of the department, district, or place within which such acts . . . were done or omitted to be done.” This act, meant to help and clarify the defense of military officers, would actually cause trouble for one of the defendants in McCall’s case.

In March of 1867, all of the evidence and testimony for the case was taken. Captain Douglas testified about his role in arresting and transporting McCall stating that no deliberate malice was done to the prisoners while he was in charge of them. General McDowell also testified, acknowledging that he gave the order to arrest those celebrating Lincoln’s demise. “I issued this order,” McDowell said, “and I think it quieted the country. And there would have been bloodshed. I think this order saved the lives if not the property of prominent citizens of the city.” Thaddeus Dashiell testified on John McCall’s behalf about the circumstances surrounding their arrest and imprisonment.

Judge Matthew Deady

Judge Matthew Deady

On Friday, April 5, 1867, the case McCall v McDowell et al was argued before Judge Matthew Deady of the U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco. McCall’s attorney, Henry Irving, made the case that his client’s utterances were not enough evidence to suspect him of being an “aider and abettor” of the Confederacy and thus he did not fall under President Lincoln’s September of 1863 proclamation as a class of citizen eligible for arrest without the benefit of habeas corpus. Irving also argued that Gen. McDowell had not been authorized by the President or Secretary of War to issue the order to arrest assassination sympathizers, a condition seemingly necessary in order to protect him from legal action according the act of May 11, 1866. At the end of the day, Judge Deady announced that a decision would come at the end of the month because the, “points involved were of paramount importance.”

On April 26, 1867, Judge Deady announced his decision on McCall’s case. Judge Deady threw out McCall’s case against Captain Douglas due to the March 3, 1863 Congressional Act and act of May 11, 1866 which protected subordinates following the orders of their superiors. It was not proven that Douglas had acted with malice towards his prisoners and thus he was completely free from any liability. The acts from Congress protected Captain Douglas for having “only followed orders”.

Gen McDowell Fined

Surprisingly, however, Deady found that General McDowell was liable for the false imprisonment of John McCall. He agreed with McCall’s attorney that the act of May 11, 1866 did not protect McDowell from liability since McDowell was not given any orders by either the President or the Secretary of War to issue the arrest of assassination sympathizers in his district. So while Captain Douglas was protected for following the order, Gen. McDowell was not protected for issuing it.

Deady did acknowledge that McDowell was acting for the safety of the public when issuing the order and not out of malice, but contended that he was still subject to legal action due to that order. Deady reassessed the possible damages owed to McCall and decided that he deserved compensation for the money he spent during his time of confinement and an additional $500 for his pain and suffering. In the end, it was the judgement of the court that General Irvin McDowell was to pay $635 to the plaintiff, John McCall.

The judgement rocked California. No one had expected John McCall to win his suit against the military authorities who had once imprisoned him. Newspapers reported the names of other former imprisoned rebels who were preparing their own suits against General McDowell and commanders in other districts. Editorial letters denouncing Deady’s decision and poking holes in his logic filled the news. To military leaders out west, the decision of McCall v McDowell was a terrifying one.

More suits against McDowell to come

Though not the $100,000 he wanted, John McCall was no doubt happy about his success against the military might of the abolition party. This last rebel victory, however, would be extremely short lived. For even as Judge Deady was deciding in John McCall’s favor in the west, back east an act had already passed Congress which would overrule it.

On March 2, 1867, Congress passed an act establishing the validity and conclusivity of all acts and proclamations of the President regarding martial law and the suspension of habeas corpus from March of 1861 to July of 1866. In addition, the act specifically fills in the gap of protection that Judge Deady observed, by declaring that, “all officers and other persons in the service of the United States, or who acted in aid thereof, acting in the premises shall be held prima facie to have been authorized by the President”. In other words, this act maintained General McDowell’s authority to issue orders as he saw fit and that all such orders had the implied approval of the President.

The awareness of this act of Congress did not reach California until early May. When the news did arrive, it was immediately picked up by the newspapers. It was reported that, “under this law, which has only been received within a day, Judge Deady himself would have decided for the defendant.”

In the end, General McDowell’s attorneys appealed Deady’s ruling based on this newly passed act of Congress, and the decision was overruled. John McCall never received a cent from General McDowell and any planned suits against him by other formerly imprisoned rebels were ended.

Unfortunately, John McCall sort of drifted back into obscurity after that. I have been unable to find any record of his later life and death. General Irvin McDowell died in 1885 and is buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery. His subordinate, Captain Charles Douglas, died in 1913 and is buried in Monterey, California. McCall’s neighbor and fellow prisoner, Thaddeus Dashiell, is buried right back in Potter Valley where it all started. Dashiell was elected twice as a county supervisor for Mendocino County and in his later years started to vote Republican. Asked by his friends why he would begin voting for the party of Lincoln, the elder Dashiell would say that he had, “packed sand at Alcatraz for the privilege of expressing any political opinion,” he wanted.

Abraham Lincoln Thinking

Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus continues to be one of the most debated parts of his legacy. Though he had reason for suspending one of the most important personal liberties, it was not an easy decision to make. In addition to stripping away a crucial right of every citizen, suspending habeas corpus also removed one of our national protections against the creation of a despotism. That is why our Constitution only allows for its suspension during times of rebellion and invasion. Even in those cases, however, stripping personal freedoms can be a slippery slope. The not so distant past of the world demonstrates the damage that can occur when those in authority are allowed to imprison individuals without charge or trial. While Captain Douglas may have not have committed a crime when he arrested John McCall, we all know the tragedies of history that can occur in countries where personal liberties are suspended by those “only following orders”.

References:
McCall v. McDowell et al – Judge Deady’s full decision on the case is a fascinating read
The Privilege of Expressing My Opinion: Regionalism and Free Speech in Civil War California by Ronald Cannon
An ‘Un-Lincoln’ story for Abe’s birthday weekend by Gaye LeBaron
An Act relating to Habeas Corpus, and regulating Judicial Proceedings in Certain Cases, March 3, 1863
Proclamation 104 – Suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus Throughout the United States, September 15, 1863
The Act of May 11, 1866
The Act of March 2, 1867
NPS – Alcatraz Island
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Heritage Auctions
GenealogyBank.com
FindaGrave.com
Thank you, Gary, for inspiring this post with your comment

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Edwin Booth at the Trial

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

After his brother’s crime, Edwin Booth was spared the indignity of arrest.  The celebrated actor had just recently completed his illustrious run of 100 consecutive nights as Hamlet.  While his brothers Joe and Junius and his brother-in-law John Sleeper Clarke were arrested and imprisoned, Edwin remained untouched, as the grieving national treasure that he was.  Joe Booth spent only a couple of nights in jail before securing his release.  John Sleeper Clarke was arrested on April 27th and remained behind bars until May 26th.  Poor Junius spent the most time in prison due to his letter to John Wilkes in which he urged his brother to quit the oil business and return to the stage.  Junius was unaware that Wilkes used the term “oil business” as a cover for his plots against Lincoln.  Junius was arrested on April 25th and was remained imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison Carroll Annex until June 23rd.

During this time, Edwin wisely shied away from the spotlight.  However, he was spotted at a high profile event in Washington on the last day of May:  the trial of the conspirators

Edwin Booth at the trial

As the Washington Star noted above, Edwin Booth was at the trial of the conspirators to act as a witness.  However, in the transcript of the trial you will never find Edwin Booth’s testimony from the witness stand.  In a letter that Edwin Booth wrote to a friend in Philadelphia the next day, he explains his reason for being there:

 “…I was called for the defense – to prove that J. Wilkes had such power over the minds of others as would easily sway those with whom he associated, &c. &c; the idea is to set up a plea of insanity for Herald or Paine – or some of them.  I told Doster all I knew of John, and he concluded it wd be as well not to call me.  The Washington ‘Star’ had a description of me – stating I was there as a witness – I daresay the press all over the country will be filled with my ‘arrest’ and all sorts of awful things…”

It was probably an act of courtesy and compassion that led William Doster to decide against using Edwin Booth on the witness stand.  The lawyer for Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt found other ways to demonstrate John Wilkes Booth’s influential character without subjecting the country’s greatest actor to further humiliation.  The request from Doster also provided Edwin with an appropriate reason to travel to Washington to visit his brother:

“I spent the day (yesterday) in Washington, and the greater part of it with my brother Junius – I dined with him – in his ‘quarters’…”

“…I then left the court (after taking a good look at the criminals) and drove to C Prison & stayed with June until 5 o’clk.  I had all sorts of good words & Junius … shd be speedily released &c.”

Not everyone felt happy that Edwin was spared imprisonment and suspicion after Lincoln’s assassination.  Years later, after Edwin himself was almost assassinated by Mark Gray Lyon, a now jaded and disgruntled John Sleeper Clarke wrote the, “Booths…get all the notoriety without suffering!! for it…Look at me I was dragged to jail by the neck – literally dragged to prison – and Edwin goes scot-free gets all the fame – sympathy – who thinks of what I endured.”

John Sleeper Clarke - not happy that Edwin wasn't arrested, too.

John Sleeper Clarke – not happy that Edwin wasn’t arrested, too.

Perhaps it was a bit unfair that Edwin Booth escaped the trials that his brothers and brother-in-law endured.  However, as a celebrated and vocal supporter of the Union during the Civil War, such preferential treatment is not unfounded.  In the years that followed, the theater world purposefully forgot Edwin’s villainous relation, however the stigma of his brother’s crime would haunt Edwin far longer than his brothers’ incarceration.

References:
Evening Star, 5/31/1865
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur Bloom

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The Engravings of The Philadelphia Inquirer

During the months of April, May, June, and early July 1865, the front pages of the nation’s newspapers contained headlining information about the assassination, search, trial, and fate of the conspirators. Newspapers from across the nation sent correspondents to Washington to attend the trial of the conspirators in order to take down testimony and comment on the accused. With so many newspapers covering the same material, the big city newspapers found it necessary to differentiate their coverage to attract more readers. The Philadelphia Inquirer sought to set themselves apart by including engravings in their coverage of the events.

While newsworthy events had been photographed as early as the invention of the camera, it was impossible to reproduce the photographs in a newspaper until the 1880’s. Instead, photographs or drawings of events would have to be turned into engravings, a laborious and time consuming process, before they could then be printed alongside text. There were special illustrated magazines like Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine that had pages filled with such historic engravings, but these were only published on a weekly basis. Additionally, the amount of time it took to create and complete a quality engraving of an event was about a week and a half, causing a measurable delay between an event and a published engraving of it.   Harper’s Weekly, for example, didn’t report on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln until their April 29th, issue because that is how long it took them to produce engravings of the characters and events.

The first engraving of John Wilkes Booth that appeared in the April 29th, 1865 issue of Harper's Weekly.

The first engraving of John Wilkes Booth that appeared in the April 29th, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly.

The more detailed the engraving was, the longer it took to make. As a daily newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer could not afford the time or money it would take to create incredibly detailed engravings to supplement their coverage of the trial. Instead they produced and published the following very basic engravings:

Philadelphia Inquirer page

April 17th, 1865: Booth Map Philly

April 28th, 1865:

Escape Map Philly

May 5th, 1865:

Corbett Philly

May 13th, 1865:

Arsenal Philly

May 19th, 1865:

Herold Philly

May 20th, 1865:

Powell Arnold Philly

May 22nd, 1865:

Courtroom Philly

June 26th, 1865:

Spangler Atzerodt Philly

June 27th, 1865:

Arnold O'Laughlen Philly

There are a few more engravings of people like Jefferson Davis and Lafayette Baker that I haven’t put up here in the interest of space and focus. I’m sure several of you are thinking, “I don’t have those newspapers, but I’ve seen those before.” For one, I have most of the above conspirators’ engravings in their respective Picture Galleries. However, practically all of these pictures were also published in a book that was advertised in The Philadelphia Inquirer on July 10th, 1865:

T.B. Peterson Transcript Advertisement Philly 2
Once the trial of the conspirators was over, there was a race to see who would be the first to publish the transcript of the trial in book form. The nation had been following the trial daily in the papers and there was money to be made by the first publisher who could provide a permanent book version of it. The publisher T. B. Peterson and Brothers was the first to bring a trial transcript book to the market debuting it only three days after the execution of four of the conspirators. Peterson’s edition is called, The Trial of the [alleged] Assassins and Conspirators at Washington City, D.C., May and June, 1865, for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.  The swiftness of this publication was due to the cooperation Peterson received from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Essentially, the Peterson copy of the trial is a direct copy of The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s coverage of the trial in book form. They acknowledge this on the first page of the book stating that, “The whole being complete and unabridged in this volume, being prepared on the spot by the Special Correspondents and Reporters of the Philadelphia Daily Inquirer, expressly for this edition.” Along with the text, Peterson included the Inquirer’s engravings above.

Though not a verbatim account as it was advertised, the Peterson version of the trial provides unique details not found in the other two editions of the trial. Peterson copied over the Inquirer reporters’ accounts of the courtroom and the little asides and actions of the conspirators during the proceedings. Though Peterson’s edition is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to use in research, those courtroom gems and the engravings still make it worth reading and consulting from time to time.

There is, however, one engraving from the Inquirer that I posted above that did not make its way into Peterson’s book. It is this engraving of “Samuel C. Arnold”:
Samuel C Arnold Philly

I can understand why Peterson did not include this engraving. It looks nothing like the real Samuel B. Arnold. At first, I just assumed it was a bad engraving from a poor artist (not unlike another questionable image of Sam we’ve discussed previously). However, when compared with the engraving of John Surratt from the wanted poster, it appears that was supposed to be the subject all along:
John Surratt Wanted Poster and Samuel C Arnold engraving Philly
It seems clear that the engraver used this image of John Surratt as his guide. Though flipped, the hair, features, and clothes match perfectly. Whether this misidentification occurred during the printing of the newspapers or before then, I cannot say. Regardless, it appears that Peterson noticed the discrepancy before publishing his edition of the trial and scratched the engraving entirely.

Photojournalism is something we take for granted today. Back in 1865, however, it took an immense amount of time and effort to provide readers with visuals to complement the written word.

References:
The Philadelphia Inquirer Online Civil War Collection
The Trial of the [alleged] Assassins and Conspirators at Washington City, D.C., May and June, 1865, for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln by T. B. Peterson and Brothers

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A Sketch of Seward’s Assassin

“Looking again to the right, and omitting the alternate guard, we come to one of the most remarkable faces of the group – a face which, once seen, may never be forgotten; on whose moral stature is readily determined by his face.  This man is clothed sparingly.  He is in his shirt sleeves – a sort of steel mixed woolen shirt; his pantaloons dark blue cloth; his neck bare and shirt collar unbuttoned.  He is fully six feet high; slender body; angular form; square and narrow across the shoulders; hollow breast; hair black, straight and irregularly cut and hanging indifferently about his forehead, which is rather low and narrow.  Blue eyes, large, staring, and at times wild, returning your look steadily and unflinchingly.  Square face; jaw irregular; nose turned at the top but expanding abruptly at the nostrils; thin lips, and slightly twisted; mouth curved unsymmetrically a little to the left of the middle line of the face; a wild, savage-looking man, bearing no culture or refinement – the most perfect type of the ingrained hardened criminal…” – Milwaukee Sentinel (05/16/1865)

For the time being all I can manage to post is this self created montage of Lewis Powell and a description of him from a period newspaper account. Of course Powell’s biographer, Betty Ownsbey, is the best source for information on Lewis Powell and happily discusses him on Roger Norton’s Lincoln Discussion Symposium.

I, myself, have been busy preparing for an upcoming move out of my home state of Illinois to the great state Maryland.  I recently got a new teaching job in Maryland and I am very excited about being closer to the history that I love.

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The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts

I have previously written about the wonderful resource tool that is, The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Ed Steers. William Edwards went through and painstakingly transcribed the bulk of the National Archives’ record group M599, the government’s collected evidence after Lincoln’s assassination. With editorial annotations by Ed Steers, the book is the best tool for researching the Lincoln assassination primary sources. When used in conjunction with Fold3.com to view the documents themselves, the book becomes of even greater value.

While I could sing the accolades of The Evidence for hours, this post is actually about a new and equally wonderful resource by William Edwards, The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts.

Now I know what you are thinking, “I already have a copy of the conspiracy trial. Why would I buy another one?” It is true that there are many editions and reprints of the conspiracy trial out there. There were three different versions of the trial (Pitman, Poore, and Peterson) and each have been reprinted many times over the years. Even William Edwards’ partner on The Evidence, Ed Steers, released his own reprint of the Pitman edition of the trial. However, as valuable as all of these versions are, William’s new eBook is better. Let me tell you why:

1. This transcription is the most accurate. This transcription was made straight from the microfilmed images of the court’s official copy of each day’s trial proceedings. The words and testimonies have not been summarized or altered in anyway. The words presented are exactly as they were written by the court’s team of stenographers in 1865.

2. This transcription is the most complete. While publisher Benjamin Perley Poore’s editions of the trial are equally accurate since they were taken from the same source material, they are also incomplete. His fourth and final volume of the trial transcript was never released due to a lack of public interest and low sales of the other volumes. Poore’s editions, therefore, are missing the testimonies of around twenty witnesses. In addition, Poore’s versions lack the closing arguments made by the prosecution and defense attorneys. These missing testimonies and closing arguments are found, in full, in this account.

3. This digitized version of the trial employs four different finding aids and is searchable. This digitized version of the trial makes reading and researching easy. Any part of the trial can be found based on section, NARA reel number, date of testimony, or witness name. Also, by pressing Ctrl+F while reading, you can do a search for any keyword in the entire trial.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a version of the conspiracy trial to purchase, look no further. If you already have a copy of the trial, you also need to get this version. For researching, there is no better version of the trial out there.

Buy it from Google Books today. You won’t regret it.

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To have Peace…

The following letter was received by the Department of the Secretary of State, on April 23rd, 1865:

“To the Honorable Secretary of State

Dear Sir,

In looking over some old papers yesterday my eye came in contact with the enclosed extract which under the existing state of affairs I thought was worthy of being pointed out to you especially as the state (Ala) is now in our possession and the authors of the proposition can be hunted out and brought to justice ever provided they are innocent of the murder.

I have the honor to be your Obt. Servant,
Henry L. Greiner”

Attached to this letter was this extract from the Selma Dispatch:

One Million Dollars Wanted, to have Peace by the 1st of March. – If the citizens of the Southern Confederacy will furnish me with the cash or good securities for the sum of one million dollars, I will cause the lives of Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward and Andrew Johnson to be taken by the first of March next.  This will give us peace, and satisfy the world that cruel tyrants can not live in the “land of  liberty.”  If this is not accomplished nothing will be claimed beyond the sum of fifty thousand dollars, in advance, which is supposed to be necessary to reach and slaughter the three villains.
I will give, myself, one thousand dollars towards this patriotic purpose.
Every one wishing to contribute will address box X, Cahaba, Alabama.  X.
December 1, 1864″

The author of this advertisement was George W. Gayle, a lawyer from Cahaba, Alabama.  Gayle ran this advertisement in the Selma Dispatch four or five times to express his, and his neighbors’, digust and hatred for the sixteenth president and his cabinet.  We can tell his threat was not a real one due to his million dollar fee.  Such a sum would be unobtainable in the war ravaged South.

While extravagant and crass, Gayle demonstrates the feeling that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant.  This idea was shared by many others who watched a war between brothers rage on.  One man who shared this view was John Wilkes Booth.

Gayle’s violent expression of disgust against Lincoln would come back to haunt him.  After the government received the above note and newspaper clipping, Gayle was hunted down and arrested on May 24.  The 57-year-old lawyer had no real connection to John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln’s assassination,  but the government used him as a warning to all of those who spoke ill of the late President.  Not only was his advertisement and character involved in the Trial of the Conspirators in 1865, but, he was still trying to clear his name in court as of December, 1866.

The people of the Confederacy learned quickly from Mr. Gayle’s example.  Those who agreed with what Booth had done censored themselves to protect themselves.  Many only committed their approval in the form of diary and journal entries.  To learn more about the how Southerners viewed Lincoln’s assassination, I recommend the book, When the Bells Tolled for Lincoln: Southern Reaction to the Assassination by Carolyn L. Harrell.  This book is a wonderful look at how varied the perception of Lincoln’s death was across the Southern states.

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