Runaways sheltered by friendly abolitionist communities often believed
that slave-catchers could not touch them in the heart of Ohio, but
they were wrong.
Such was the case in 1838 in Marion County. A black man by the
name of "Bill Anderson" or "Bill Mitchell" fled bondage in a Virginia
salt works and settled near Marion but he was soon recognized there.
A mail dispatch sent to Virginia caused the alleged slaveholder to
demand Bill's incarceration by local authorities.
Forty days after his capture, six strangers appeared in Marion
claiming ownership of Bill and brandishing bowie knives, pistols,
and clubs. During the trial, the men, one identified as "Smith"
produced notes of sale showing that three of them had purchased
"Bill" at different times with "John Smith" the most recent buyer.
After lengthy preamble, local UGRR stationmaster Judge Ozies
Bowen rocked the courtroom by announcing, "Mr. Smith and John
Smith might be two different persons, therefore I shall decide in
favor of the prisoner."
and the Virginians refused to accept the verdict. They drew weapoms;
Bill was jerked back and forth in a vicious tug-of-war, while
clubs and pistols pummeled bodies. Several Quakers gave as good
as they got. A local black man helped Bill escape, and Quakers
escorted them both to the Ruebem Benedict home near Marngo,
Morrow County. After a long and anxious night, Bill was on his
way north to Oberlin, a noted Lorain abolitionist stronghold, and
then to freedom in Canada.
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