Passmore Williamson v. John K Kane (1855)
David W. Brown, ed., Passmore Williamson vs. John K. Kane: Action for False Imprisonment, before the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Thompson, 1857), 4-5.
Passmore Williamson was a white leader of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, which spearheaded Underground Railroad efforts in the region. In 1855, he was involved in the rescue of Jane Wheeler, a slave of the U.S. minister to Nicaragua, John H. Wheeler, who was traveling through Philadelphia. Williamson was arrested along with other vigilance leaders, including William Still, and faced trial. This transcript, however, concerns a counter-attack mounted by abolitionist lawyers on Williamson's behalf alleging “false imprisonment” for the officials responsible for his detention.
Printer Friendly View
The defendant pleaded five pleas:
1. The first alleges that the defendant was duly commissioned Judge of the District Court of the United States; that being such judge he was privileged from answering in any civil suit for anything done or commanded by him as judge; that, on the 27th of July, 1855, a motion was made in the District Court to commit the plaintiff for contempt, because he had refused to make return to a writ of habeas corpus directed to him by the Court; that the defendant, as judge, had adjudged the plaintiff guilty of the contempt charged; and thereupon a warrant, signed by defendant as judge, issued out of the court to the marshal, by virtue of which the plaintiff was arrested and imprisoned, which were the trespasses complained of in the declaration.
The defendant thereupon demurred specially, to the replication as applicable to the first, third and fifth pleas, and stated several causes.
1. That by the replication the plaintiff attempts to put in issue mere inference and matter of law.
On the second and fourth pleas he joined issue.
The plaintiff joined in demurrer.
The argument was opened by Mr. Sheppard, one of the defendant's counsel, who addressed the court at an adjourned court in September last.
Mr. Broomall, one of the plaintiff's counsel, who was to have followed Mr. Sheppard, having been obliged to leave the court during Mr. Sheppard's argument, the further hearing of the case was postponed to an adjourned court, to be held on the 17th of December, 1856.
Dec. 17, 1856. On the meeting of the Court, Mr. Broomall rose to address the Court, but being in ill health was able to utter only a few sentences, before be was obliged to withdraw, and Mr. Lewis was called upon, unexpectedly, to proceed.
Citation for this page
David W. Brown, ed., Passmore Williamson vs. John K. Kane: Action for False Imprisonment, Underground Railroad Digital Classroom, Dickinson College, 2008, http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/ugrr/case_1855.html.