Browsing Posts in Antebellum (1840-1861)

‘Americans Shall Rule America!’ The Know-Nothing Party in Cumberland County (1998)

Free Soil: The Birth of the Republican Party in Cumberland County (Summer 2000)

In Defense of Union and White Supremacy: The Democratic Alternative to Free Soil, 1847 – 1860 (Winter 2000)

In a series of three essays John Wesley Weigel traces the political history of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania between the late 1840s and the Republican victory in the Presidential election of 1860. Weigel’s articles are based in large part on primary sources, in particular three local newspapers: Carlisle (PA) Herald , Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, and the Shippensburg (PA) News. All three articles include extensive endnotes. Weigel’s essay of the rise of the Republican party in Cumberland county includes two maps and a graph related to voter turnout. In addition, Weigel provides two detailed charts that breakdown Cumberland county votes by party between 1839 and 1873.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Carlisle Barracks—1854-1855: From the Letters of Lt. Thomas W. Sweeny, 2nd Infantry” contains nine letters to Ellen Sweeny about Lt. Sweeny’s experiences and acquaintances at the Carlisle Barracks. Editor Richard J. Coyer introduces the letters with a biographical sketch of Sweeny, including details about his military service from the Mexican War through Reconstruction. This article includes extensive notes where Coyer indentifies figures and provides context for Sweeny’s letters.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.


Albert Hazlett

“Cumberland County’s Connection to John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry” (2009)

Joseph D. Cress uses reports from several local newspaper to explore the story of Albert Hazlett’s arrest in Chambersburg on October 22, 1859. Hazlett had participated in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, but he managed to escape. The Carlisle American and American Volunteer published reports about Hazlett’s case with contradicting evidence and testimony, which reflected the confusion over Hazlett’s identity. (When local authorities arrested him, Hazlett claimed that he was actually William Harrison). After three trials in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Judge Frederick Watts decided to extradite Harrison to Virginia. Hazlett was executed in Charlestown, Virginia on March 16, 1860.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.


“Shippensburg’s Locust Grove African-American Cemetery” (2009)

Professor Stephen Burg explores the history of the Locust Grove African-American Cemetery in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in this article. The grandson of Shippensburg’s founder gave the land, which had been used as a slave burial ground, to the town’s black residents in 1842. Burg also provides details on some of the individuals buried in this cemetery (also known as North Queen Street Cemetery), including several of the twenty six United States Colored Troops veterans. In addition, Burg includes an index of the headstones in this cemetery.

This article has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Dickinson College‘s 1860 commencement exercises occurred on Saturday evening, July 7, 1860.  Two local papers’ contrasting reports on the evening demonstrate the partisan nature of nineteenth century newspapers.  The Carlisle paper, The Herald, founded by Ekuries Beatty in 1799 originally supported the Whig party, but by 1860 printed articles with a strong Republican bias. In contrast the American Volunteer (another Carlisle paper) founded by William B. and James Underwood in 1814, reported the Democrat Party’s view of the news.  The Volunteer charged Dickinson’s commencement speakers with attacking the “vulnerable” democratic president James Buchanan, himself a Dickinson alum from “when the institution was worthy of the name of a college.” According to the Volunteer many of the commencement speeches were full of dangerous “Abolitionist preaching” which must “be stopped.” Mr. George A. Coffey, of Philadelphia, spoke at an alumni gathering on the Wednesday before commencement and particularly offended the writers of the Volunteer who labeled his speech as “fierce and outrageous.”  While the Herald admitted that Mr. Coffey introduced “topics which were offensive to many in the audience,” the paper concluded “it was a masterly speech.” Overall, the Herald presented a very different picture of the commencement exercises, carefully listing the names of the student speakers followed by a brief, usually complimentary, analysis of their speeches.  The two Carlisle papers’ distinctly partisan accounts of Dickinson’s 1860 commencement reflect the political spin of the press throughout the Civil War era.

For modern scholarship on the subject of partisanship and the press see David T. Z. Minchin’s Just the Facts: How “Objectivity” Came to Define American Journalism (1998). The Library of Congress also provides an online newspaper directory to find more information on newspapers from across the country.

Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania embraced the transportation and protection of fugitive slaves moving northward across the Mason-Dixon Line. Daniel Kaufman (alternately spelled Kauffman), born in Cumberland County in 1818, laid out designs for the town and helped make his presence known. His support for the Underground Railroad strengthened in Boiling Springs, as indicated by the events of October 24, 1847.

As shown by evidence later presented in court, thirteen slaves belonging to the Oliver family escaped in Maryland, crossed the border into Pennsylvania, and eventually found themselves in Kaufman’s barn in Boiling Springs. Kaufman consented to provide them with shelter and food, and within the next day he offered up his wagon to transport the slaves across the Susquehanna River. News of the fugitive slaves spread, and within a few short months the slave owner’s family filed a lawsuit against Kaufman.

The Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County opened the case Oliver et al. v. Kaufman against Kaufman and two other known associates, Stephen Weakley and Philip Breckbill. The defendants argued that the suit could not be tried in state court as the issue pertained to federal law. Nevertheless, the jury delivered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff; Kaufman had to pay $2000 in damages. When a panel of judges of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court oversaw the case, their “majority opinion” notably argued “that Congress possesses the exclusive right to legislate on the subject [of fugitive slaves] and that State Legislatures have no right whatever” and could therefore not recover any damages. The Cumberland County Court’s ruling was reversed. The case continued in 1852, this time in a federal court, only to conclude in favor of the plaintiff and with Kaufman liable to approximately $4000 in damages and fines.

Kaufman’s case occurred during a period of heavy debate in Pennsylvania regarding state sovereignty and the adherence to federal mandates including the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850. Prior to the case seen in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania judges gave credence to the state’s “common law” and “clear right to declare that a slave brought within her territory becomes ipso facto a freeman,” as quoted by a law journal in Paul Finkleman’s An Imperfect Union: Slavery, Federalism, and Comity. traced the evolution of state sovereignty in Pennsylvania.

For a more detailed summary of the cases, the House Divided record of the case provides access to several primary documents, including newspaper articles and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the ruling of the case. Finkleman’s book puts Kaufman’s trial into context, but his summary of the case will help those even vaguely familiar with its nuances. LexisNexis, though requiring a subscription, grants access not only to the court documents, but to modern scholarship on the case’s wider importance in the debate on Federalism and state’s rights. In Robert Kaczorowski’s article “Federalism in the 21ST Century,” the Fugitive Slave Laws emerge as the focal point for a much wider debate on the intent of the Founding Fathers with regard to state rights and federal mandates.

A historical marker is located at Front & 3rd Streets in Boiling Springs.

Charles Rawn, a lawyer who lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, wrote over 11,000 daily entries between 1830 and 1865. The entire journal is now online thanks to the efforts of Pennsylvania University State Professor Michael Barton and the Historical Society of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Rawn, who was born in Georgetown in July 1802, moved to Harrisburg in 1826 and got married seven years later. His journal entries largely contain notes about his daily life – from various legal matters to financial expenditures. While “he rarely mentioned grand ideas or personal feelings in his daily record,” Professor Barton argues that “[these] records are valuable guides to understanding everyday life in antebellum America.” Rawn was a “record keeper rather than a story teller,” as Baron explains. Yet Rawn’s journals include some interesting notes about political events in Harrisburg, including President-Elect Abraham Lincoln’s visit in 1861. On February 22 Rawn described:

“[Lincoln] rode in a Barouche drawn by 6 White Horses to Coverlys Hotel where he was addressed by Gov. Curtain & [replied?]. The enthusiasm of the people was perfectly and literally wild & unrestrainable…. Altogether it was such a day & time as Harrisburg has never before witnessed. The number Military here in time of the Buckshot Wars was approached nearly perhaps to the number here yesterday. Mr. L’s appearance is younger considerably than was generally expected and he is not so tall [nor so?] Rawboned as we had been given to believe from his pictures and what we had read.”

In addition, Rawn took detailed notes when he traveled into Virginia three months after Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in April 1861. On July 22, 1861, the day after the First Battle of Bull Run, Rawn observed:

“Dead, wounded and dying being brought in continually. I saw several of the wounded. One man with a Buck shot in the neck….From all accounts which of course are measurably wild and unforgettable [?] in a degree the slaughter on both sides has been immense—in the thousands. There was desperate fighting—desperate fright in some quarters and desperate getting out of the way in all many directions and in all imaginable disorder by some of our troops as I make out by the statements.”

Albert Hazlett was among several of John Brown’s raiders who were not with their leader on the morning of October 18, 1859 when US Marines attacked the engine house at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Instead, Hazlett and Osborne Anderson watched the short battle from afar. The two men had left Harpers Ferry undetected late on October 17. After they could not find the five raiders who also escaped, they decided to head north – which eventually brought them into southern Pennsylvania. While Anderson lived to publish a book in 1861 about his experience, Hazlett was arrested in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania on October 22, 1859. Local authorities, however, at first thought that they had in custody “a man supposed to be Capt. Cook.” (John E. Cook was arrested three days later outside of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania). The initial confusion offered an opportunity for Hazlett, who claimed that he was actually William Harrison and had nothing to do with Brown’s raid. On October 29 Hazlett appeared before a judge in Carlisle on a writ of habeas corpus, but Hazlett’s claim that he was the wrong person failed to convince the judge. While “there is no evidence that we have any man in our custody named Albert Hazlett,” the court ruled that “we are satisfied that a monstrous crime has been committed [and] that the prisoner…participated in it.” Hazlett was sent back to Charlestown, Virginia on November 5 for a trial and was executed on March 16, 1860. Historian David Reynolds, who wrote John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, notes that the judge sent Hazlett back to Virginia “even though the evidence linking him to Harpers Ferry was circumstantial.”

The Dickinson College Class of 1860’s graduation marked for many students the beginning of a necessary transition into an divided country. Given that thirteen students hailed from Slave States and eleven from Free States, the transition differed for each student as they returned to their homes on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. This dynamic map features several notable alumni that served, and perished, on both sides of the battlefield during the Civil War. While some did not enlist in the military, more than half of the class members noted on this map served either the Confederate or Union armies in some way.

George Baylor, born in Jefferson County, Virginia, entered Dickinson College in 1857 and graduated with the Class of 1860. He initially returned home and became an assistant teacher after graduation, but once the war began he enlisted in the 2nd Virginia Infantry. By 1863 Baylor engaged Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, was taken prisoner, and incurred various battle wounds. His reputation grew as a practical military leader and effective director of Confederate raids through Virginia in 1864. One such raid secured Baylor as a Dickinson legend. While in combat in Trevilan, Virginia, a Union soldier shot Baylor in the chest. Because Baylor wore his Union Philosophical Society badge in battle as a reminder of the organization he belonged to at Dickinson, the bullet did not penetrate his skin and he survived. The war ended soon thereafter, and Baylor sought out a profession in law.

John Henry Grabill followed a similar trajectory, for once the Civil War began he enlisted in the 33rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry centered near his birthplace in Mount Jackson, Virginia. In 1862 Grabill, at the age of twenty-two years old, recruited and trained his own unit of soldiers in the Shenandoah Valley. This unit went on to fight during the retreat to Appomattox Court House in 1865. Grabill fought in several key battles himself including the Battle of Brandy Station and Battle of the Wilderness. He elaborated on these engagements as part of his general service in the army in Diary of a Soldier of the Stonewall Brigade (1909). After the war Grabill entered the field of education as a superintendent in Shenandoah County.

Baylor, Grabill, and their classmates offered several stories that contribute much to one’s understanding of the Civil War and its lasting impact on Dickinson College and the surrounding area of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This dynamic map is one of several projects utilizing modern tools to examine these local and personal responses to the war.

When Dickinson College President Jesse Peck arrived in Staunton, Virginia, for a conference in the spring of 1849, local authorities detained him as a result of a prank by Dickinson students. As the Richmond (VA) Examiner reported:

“some reprobate student…wrote a letter to the Physician of the Hospital [in Staunton], giving him a description of some individual who had left Carlisle, the seat of Dickinson College, in a state of mental derangement; and stating, furthermore, that it was more than probable that the said individual had betaken himself to Staunton, inasmuch as it was a sort of monomania with him to regard himself as the President of [Dickinson College],…. It is needles to add, that the description of the insane person coincided precisely with the appearance of the Rev. Doctor himself – and that it required the reiterated identifications of the ministers of the Conference around, to save him from confinement!”

Moncure Conway (Dickinson College Class of 1849), who later became a southern abolitionist, admitted that he was one of the student leaders involved with the prank. You can read the full story here.