Landmarks of the Underground Railroad:

From Christiana to Harpers Ferry

Summer 2007


Mark W. Davison                                                                                          Lesson Plan




Hometown History: The Constitution Tested in Buffalo New York by the Abolition Movement and the Fugitive Slave Act















Pictured in this early engraving is the “Suspension Bridge” currently the site of today’s “Whirlpool Bridge” in downtown Niagara Falls New York. The first food bridge was build here in 1848 across the 200 – foot- deep gorge and was followed by a railroad bridge in 1855. It is doubtful that escaped slaves would have tried to swim the swirling rapids below the bridge. First person narratives by escaped slaves did however describe using the river ferry a few miles north of this location at Youngstown New York near the mouth of the river where it meets Lake Ontario. At least one account located in the State University of New York at Buffalo archives mentions Harriet Tubman having brought some of her passengers across this bridge by train into Canada.


Millard Fillmore

Thirteenth President of the United States 1850 – 1853

Born: January 7, 1800 in Cayuga County, New York -  Died Buffalo NY March 8, 1874




Overview: In this lesson students will become acquainted with abolition and the concept of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) by examining local reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. [It should be noted for the purpose of this lesson that the President who signed this act into law, Millard Fillmore, was himself a native of Western New York]. They will also become more familiar with the specific provisions of the United States Constitution that those who opposed the Fugitive Slave Act felt were being ignored or violated. Finally the student will be directed to consider the implication of the actions taken by all participants in this event and asked to summarize their understanding of slave resistance prior to the Civil War. Additional time may be devoted to an examination of issues of race and prejudice in America and its lingering effects today.


Suggested Time Allowance: Three or four class periods.


Standards: This Lesson meets the following New York State Learning Standards for social studies – at the Commencement Level:


1. Analyze the development of American culture, explaining how ideas, values, beliefs, and    

    traditions have changed over time and how they unite all Americans.

2. Describe the evolution of American democratic values and beliefs as expressed in the

    Declaration of Independence, the New York State Constitution, the United States Constitution,

    the Bill of Rights, and other important historical documents.

3. Understand the interrelationships between world events and developments in New York State

    and the United States (e.g., causes for immigration, economic opportunities, human rights

    abuses, and tyranny versus freedom)

4. Analyze historical narratives about key events in New York State and United States history to

    identify the facts and evaluate the author’s perspectives 

5. Analyze evidence critically and demonstrate an understanding of how circumstances of time    

    and place influence perspective



Students will be able to:

·         Define the Underground Railroad

·         Demonstrate their current understanding of The Underground Railroad and their knowledge of participants

·         Evaluate the degree of public support for national law – even when unpopular.

·         Examine means of protest for laws thought to be unjust or unfair though legally implemented.

·         Explore their own attitudes toward race, gender issues and other issues involving personal civil rights.






Activities / Procedures:


  1. Group Work: Break up the class into five or more small groups. Each group of students should be directed to examine a specific section or two of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as assigned by the teacher and within the group they should discuss how that section may contradict the Constitution of the United States. Direct them to the copies of the Constitution found in the text or on line paying particular attention to the “Bill of Rights” contained in the Constitution.
  2. After discussion within the group each student should develop at least three questions about the Fugitive Slave Act or it various provisions that when answered can be used to clarify their understanding of the document. The remainder of the first class period should be devoted to answering student questions and clarifying any language or legal questions raised by the small groups.
  3. Assign the remaining documents for reading prior to the next class meeting
  4. Pass out a copy of focus questions to each student.  Do not pass out the questions prior to having the students complete the reading to avoid students only skimming the documents looking for answers.
  5. Group Work: Have students work in their groups to discuss both prejudice and racism today. Each group should develop a “functional definition” for both terms. Ask them to consider their own prejudices today. How did that attitude develop? What influences from home or school helped to foster that attitude? What steps can they take as individuals (or as a group) to reduce prejudice and racism?





The readings for this exercise refer to a specific incident in Buffalo New York but will certainly work for all students regardless of where they are living today. Teachers should make every effort to determine if incidents like this or others related to the Underground Railroad took place in their own communities. Whenever local history can be tied to events of national significance the events themselves take on a more personal and often a more human face that aids in the students’ understanding.

















Document #1:  Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 available in text form at:                

Section 1

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the persons who have been, or may hereafter be, appointed commissioners, in virtue of any act of Congress, by the Circuit Courts of the United States, and Who, in consequence of such appointment, are authorized to exercise the powers that any justice of the peace, or other magistrate of any of the United States, may exercise in respect to offenders for any crime or offense against the United States, by arresting, imprisoning, or bailing the same under and by the virtue of the thirty-third section of the act of the twenty-fourth of September seventeen hundred and eighty-nine, entitled "An Act to establish the judicial courts of the United States" shall be, and are hereby, authorized and required to exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

Section 2

And be it further enacted, That the Superior Court of each organized Territory of the United States shall have the same power to appoint commissioners to take acknowledgments of bail and affidavits, and to take depositions of witnesses in civil causes, which is now possessed by the Circuit Court of the United States; and all commissioners who shall hereafter be appointed for such purposes by the Superior Court of any organized Territory of the United States, shall possess all the powers, and exercise all the duties, conferred by law upon the commissioners appointed by the Circuit Courts of the United States for similar purposes, and shall moreover exercise and discharge all the powers and duties conferred by this act.

Section 3

And be it further enacted, That the Circuit Courts of the United States shall from time to time enlarge the number of the commissioners, with a view to afford reasonable facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor, and to the prompt discharge of the duties imposed by this act.

Section 4

And be it further enacted, That the commissioners above named shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the judges of the Circuit and District Courts of the United States, in their respective circuits and districts within the several States, and the judges of the Superior Courts of the Territories, severally and collectively, in term-time and vacation; shall grant certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the State or Territory from which such persons may have escaped or fled.

Section 5

And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of all marshals and deputy marshals to obey and execute all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, when to them directed; and should any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars, to the use of such claimant, on the motion of such claimant, by the Circuit or District Court for the district of such marshal; and after arrest of such fugitive, by such marshal or his deputy, or whilst at any time in his custody under the provisions of this act, should such fugitive escape, whether with or without the assent of such marshal or his deputy, such marshal shall be liable, on his official bond, to be prosecuted for the benefit of such claimant, for the full value of the service or labor of said fugitive in the State, Territory, or District whence he escaped: and the better to enable the said commissioners, when thus appointed, to execute their duties faithfully and efficiently, in conformity with the requirements of the Constitution of the United States and of this act, they are hereby authorized and empowered, within their counties respectively, to appoint, in writing under their hands, any one or more suitable persons, from time to time, to execute all such warrants and other process as may be issued by them in the lawful performance of their respective duties; with authority to such commissioners, or the persons to be appointed by them, to execute process as aforesaid, to summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county, when necessary to ensure a faithful observance of the clause of the Constitution referred to, in conformity with the provisions of this act; and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required, as aforesaid, for that purpose; and said warrants shall run, and be executed by said officers, any where in the State within which they are issued.

Section 6

And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due, or his, her, or their agent or attorney, duly authorized, by power of attorney, in writing, acknowledged and certified under the seal of some legal officer or court of the State or Territory in which the same may be executed, may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath and take depositions under the laws of the State or Territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped, with a certificate of such magistracy or other authority, as aforesaid, with the seal of the proper court or officer thereto attached, which seal shall be sufficient to establish the competency of the proof, and with proof, also by affidavit, of the identity of the person whose service or labor is claimed to be due as aforesaid, that the person so arrested does in fact owe service or labor to the person or persons claiming him or her, in the State or Territory from which such fugitive may have escaped as aforesaid, and that said person escaped, to make out and deliver to such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, a certificate setting forth the substantial facts as to the service or labor due from such fugitive to the claimant, and of his or her escape from the State or Territory in which he or she was arrested, with authority to such claimant, or his or her agent or attorney, to use such reasonable force and restraint as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, to take and remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates in this and the first [fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.

Section 7

And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States for the district in which such offence may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of the organized Territories of the United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed.

Section 8

And be it further enacted, That the marshals, their deputies, and the clerks of the said District and Territorial Courts, shall be paid, for their services, the like fees as may be allowed for similar services in other cases; and where such services are rendered exclusively in the arrest, custody, and delivery of the fugitive to the claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or where such supposed fugitive may be discharged out of custody for the want of sufficient proof as aforesaid, then such fees are to be paid in whole by such claimant, his or her agent or attorney; and in all cases where the proceedings are before a commissioner, he shall be entitled to a fee of ten dollars in full for his services in each case, upon the delivery of the said certificate to the claimant, his agent or attorney; or a fee of five dollars in cases where the proof shall not, in the opinion of such commissioner, warrant such certificate and delivery, inclusive of all services incident to such arrest and examination, to be paid, in either case, by the claimant, his or her agent or attorney. The person or persons authorized to execute the process to be issued by such commissioner for the arrest and detention of fugitives from service or labor as aforesaid, shall also be entitled to a fee of five dollars each for each person he or they may arrest, and take before any commissioner as aforesaid, at the instance and request of such claimant, with such other fees as may be deemed reasonable by such commissioner for such other additional services as may be necessarily performed by him or them; such as attending at the examination, keeping the fugitive in custody, and providing him with food and lodging during his detention, and until the final determination of such commissioners; and, in general, for performing such other duties as may be required by such claimant, his or her attorney or agent, or commissioner in the premises, such fees to be made up in conformity with the fees usually charged by the officers of the courts of justice within the proper district or county, as near as may be practicable, and paid by such claimants, their agents or attorneys, whether such supposed fugitives from service or labor be ordered to be delivered to such claimant by the final determination of such commissioner or not.

Section 9

And be it further enacted, That, upon affidavit made by the claimant of such fugitive, his agent or attorney, after such certificate has been issued, that he has reason to apprehend that such fugitive will he rescued by force from his or their possession before he can be taken beyond the limits of the State in which the arrest is made, it shall be the duty of the officer making the arrest to retain such fugitive in his custody, and to remove him to the State whence he fled, and there to deliver him to said claimant, his agent, or attorney. And to this end, the officer aforesaid is hereby authorized and required to employ so many persons as he may deem necessary to overcome such force, and to retain them in his service so long as circumstances may require. The said officer and his assistants, while so employed, to receive the same compensation, and to be allowed the same expenses, as are now allowed by law for transportation of criminals, to be certified by the judge of the district within which the arrest is made, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.

Section 10

And be it further enacted, That when any person held to service or labor in any State or Territory, or in the District of Columbia, shall escape therefrom, the party to whom such service or labor shall be due, his, her, or their agent or attorney, may apply to any court of record therein, or judge thereof in vacation, and make satisfactory proof to such court, or judge in vacation, of the escape aforesaid, and that the person escaping owed service or labor to such party. Whereupon the court shall cause a record to be made of the matters so proved, and also a general description of the person so escaping, with such convenient certainty as may be; and a transcript of such record, authenticated by the attestation of the clerk and of the seal of the said court, being produced in any other State, Territory, or district in which the person so escaping may be found, and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner, or other office, authorized by the law of the United States to cause persons escaping from service or labor to be delivered up, shall be held and taken to be full and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and that the service or labor of the person escaping is due to the party in such record mentioned. And upon the production by the said party of other and further evidence if necessary, either oral or by affidavit, in addition to what is contained in the said record of the identity of the person escaping, he or she shall be delivered up to the claimant, And the said court, commissioner, judge, or other person authorized by this act to grant certificates to claimants or fugitives, shall, upon the production of the record and other evidences aforesaid, grant to such claimant a certificate of his right to take any such person identified and proved to be owing service or labor as aforesaid, which certificate shall authorize such claimant to seize or arrest and transport such person to the State or Territory from which he escaped: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed as requiring the production of a transcript of such record as evidence as aforesaid. But in its absence the claim shall be heard and determined upon other satisfactory proofs, competent in law.

Approved, September 18, 1850.




Document #2:


BACKGROUND: The sections of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 in particular those sections that made it a crime for a citizen not to assist in the apprehension and return of a fugitive met with considerable outcry in both the white and black communities all across the free states in the immediate aftermath of its passage. What follows is the report of one such meeting of concerned citizens as reported in the local news paper in Buffalo New York, the “Buffalo Daily Republic”.



Buffalo Daily Republic (Buffalo, NY), October 4, 1850






Pursuant to Public Notice, a large and enthusiastic meeting of the colored citizens of the city was held at Clinton Hall, on Thursday evening, October 3, 1850. The hour having arrived, the meeting was called to order by Mr. Henry K. Thomas, and the Throne of Grace, addressed by the Rev. S.P. Campbell. After which on motion, Mr. John Simpson, was appointed President; and Messrs. D.H. Hawkins, Peyton Harris, Richard Jones, Henry Moxley, and Eli Holden, appointed Vice-Presidents, and Messrs. George Weir, Jr. and B.F. Young, Secretaries.
    The objects of this meeting, having been stated by the chairman. On motion a committee of thirteen was appointed to prepare business for the meeting, consisting of Messrs. James M. Whitfield, J.H. Elebeck, H.K. Thomas, Uriah Lett, George Dover, N.H. Dunlap, John Dandridge, Henry Fields, R.S. Brown, John McLeane, Edward Cooke, D. Moten, and A. Parker. On motion Resolved, That the Fugitive Slave Bill, as recently passed by Congress, be read. After the reading of which Mr. A.H. Francis, was called for who came forward and addressed the meeting at some length. Reviewing the conduct of the present Administration, in reference to the cause of freedom, &c.  The Rev. Mr. Campbell, was next called for who entertained the audience by an examination of the various features as contained in the "Fugitive Bill, and clearly proving its unconstitutionality" in every respect. The addresses of the speakers were received with unbounded applause. The Business Committee, then reported the following resolutions, which were read and adopted in full.



1st. Resolved, That the law recently passed by Congress and commonly known as the fugitive slave bill (which might be more properly be styled a bill to extend Slavery over the free States and encourage the kidnapping of freemen) form its palpable violation of the most sacred guarantees of the Federal Constitution, its wanton disregard of every principle of common law or natural justice, the shameful manner in which it outrages every sentiment of Christian morality and very acknowledged principle of human or divine law and the bribe which it offers to the Commissioners, in the shape of double fees, to induce them to decide in favor of slavery and against freedom, is the most corrupt, tyrannical and unjust law which ever disgraced the code of any nation, civilized or savage, Christian or heathen, as such should be repudiated and disregarded by every American freeman.

2nd. Resolved, that this act violates every acknowledged principle or rule of law. 1st, by allowing any man to be seized as property by the claimant without any process, when in the case of any other property a warrant served by an officer is necessary. 2nd, by allowing an affidavit taken hundreds of miles off and giving a general and vague description, to be taken as conclusive evidence, when in every other case identification of the property in open court is necessary, 3rd, by allowing the testimony of the claimant to be taken as sufficient evidence, when in every other case the property must be proven by disinterested witnesses. 4th, by making petty Commissioners appointed for this purpose and probably without learning or experience in matters of law, the judges whose irrevocable decisions are to be without appeal, and no means left of obtaining redress if they should every proved fallible and err in judgment, which is rendered more likely by the tempting bribe of double fees held out as an inducement for them to decide in favor of slavery while in all other cases the claim is tried before a regular Court, and impartial jury with the usual means of redress where an erroneous decision is given. 5th, by requiring the proceedings to be summary and refusing the testimony of the alleged fugitive while that of the claimant is admitted, thus in violation of every maxim of law and every principle of justice, throwing the burden of proof upon the latter and at the same time depriving him of the opportunity of procuring necessary witnesses or adequate council, while in all other cases the burden of proof rests upon the claimant and time is granted for procuring counsel or obtaining necessary witnesses.

3. Resolved, That even admitting all that the most ultra slaveholders claim, that the Constitution recognizes property in slaves the same as any other property, all that can be reasonably claimed is that the same facilities shall be granted that are given in the recovery of other lost property, including trial by jury in the district where it is found, and identification and proof of the property by disinterested witnesses.

4. Resolved, That we recognize in the Federal Constitution "a higher law" than any legislative enactment, and as this act conflicts with that "higher law" -- first, by entirely destroying the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which the Constitution declares, "shall never be suspended, unless in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it:" 2nd, by allowing any person to be arrested without any warrant at all, when the Constitution provides that "the right of the people to be secured in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated-- and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized," 3rd, by allowing any person to be deprived of liberty, and reduced to perpetual slavery, without any of the usual forms or proceedings of law, when the Constitution provides that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." 4th, by denying the right of jury trial, which the Constitution declares shall be preserved inviolate in all criminal cases, and in all civil cases where the value shall exceed twenty dollars, and is in its details destroys all the safeguards which the Constitution throws around the rights of the freeman, and leaves no alternatives to the free citizen, who may be wrongfully claimed under its provisions, but slavery in submission-- or, death in resistance.

5. Resolved, that we unhesitatingly accept the issue thus forced upon us, and of the two evils presented choose the lease, preferring to die in resisting the execution of so monstrous a law, rather than submit to its infamous requirements.

6. Resolved, that we have in every instance shown ourselves law-abiding and order-loving citizens, disposed to submit to gross injustice rather than violate the sanctity of the law or disturb the public peace, but when every safeguard of personal freedom is stricken down and every individual is liable at any moment to be falsely enslaved without the possibility of redress, forbearance ceases to be a virtue and resistance becomes a duty, and in the discharge of this duty we solemnly pledge ourselves to resist the execution of this law at all hazards and to the last extremity.

7. Resolved, that we utter these resolutions under no excitement, in no spirit of bravado nor with the expectation that we can cope with the power of the Government, for we know that on the side of the oppressor there is power, but as a calm deliberate expression of our fixed determination to exercise the last remaining right of freemen and which no tyranny can ever wrest from us, that of dying in defense of what little liberty we possess.

8. Resolved, That we are fully determined to resist as far as lies in our power every attempt to enforce any act by which an American citizen is liable to be deprived of life or liberty without due process of law, without a trial by a jury of his peers, or without the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

9. Resolved, that we will use all the means within our power to test the constitutionality of this law before the United States Supreme Court.

Resolved, that the proceedings of this meeting be published, in all the city papers, and in the North Star, and Impartial Citizen.
A collection was then taken up in behalf of the Chaplin fund.
After which the meeting adjourned.
    D.H. HAWKINS, Vice-President
    PEYTON HARRIS,        "
    RICHARD JONES,        "
    HENRY MOXLEY,         "
    ELI HOLDEN,           "
    JOHN SIMPSON, President
    GEORGE WEIR, Jr., Sec'y







Document #3:



The case of the capture and later freeing of "Daniel"  (Daniel Davis) in Buffalo, New York, in August 1851, received considerable publicity in the local and state newspapers as the first case in Buffalo following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. The case itself was dramatic: Daniel had been struck on the head with a stick of wood during the course of his arrest, which resulted in the jailing of one of the slave catchers. The United States Commissioner at Buffalo was prepared to return Daniel to Kentucky as a fugitive slave, but a judge released Daniel on a writ of habeas corpus whereupon Daniel left for Canada. During Daniel's imprisonment, a letter appeared purporting to be from Daniel expressing his wish to return to slavery, but the letter was dismissed as a fake by Daniel's supporters, and reputed by Daniel after he had obtained his freedom.




ARREST OF A FUGITIVE -- Deputy Marshall Gates this forenoon arrested the second cook of the steamer Buckeye State, on a charge of being a "fugitive from service"-- the Agent or the owner, who resides in Louisville, KY., having made the necessary affidavits to obtain process, &c. The Negro attempted to escape, and received a severe blow upon his head.
He was brought before U.S. Commissioner H.K. Smith, Esq., and the case is now undergoing investigation.

 Quite a crowd gathered in front of Spaulding's Exchange, in which the office of the Commissioner is situated-- but there was little or no excitement, until an adjournment took place to the Court House. When the slave was taken to the carriage a rush was made by the negroes who followed it and stopped it once or twice.




 Document #4:



As we briefly announced yesterday, a fugitive slave was arrested on board the steamer Buckeye State yesterday forenoon, and the examination resulted in his being delivered up to the Agent of the owner.

The particulars of the arrest, as we learn them are as follows:

Deputy Marshal Geo. B. Gates, Officer J.K. Tyler, Officer Pierce with some others in company with Mr. Benj. S. Rust, the Agent for the owner, Mr. George H. Moore, of Louisville, Ky., proceeded with the necessary warrant to the dock, at the foot of Commercial street, where the Buckeye State was lying, and on board of which the fugitive Daniel was employed as second cook. Unlike all other lake steamers the kitchen on board this boat is below the main deck, and is entered from the forward cabin below stairs, and has also an entrance by means of a small hatchway from the deck. Officer Tyler proceeded with the agent, Mr. Rust, through the cabin to the kitchen, where after Mr. R. had pointed out his man he left the officer and returned on deck. Daniel, who is a very stout negro, refused to accompany the officer and with his four companions laid hold of their knives as if determined to show fight, and threatened to "walk over corpses" if the arrest was made. Officer Tyler advised them to submit as he had not come there single handed and was bound to satisfy his warrant. He then sent for Marshal Gates and posse to come to his assistance and upon their approach Daniel dropped his knife, and darted up the small hatch later, to make his escape when his head came in violent contact with some substance-- supposed to have been struck by some one on deck-- causing him to fall back upon the stove. He was badly hurt and considerably burned, but was then secured and taken.
 After the arrest the slave Daniel was taken to the officer of the U.S. Commissioner, Hon. H.K. Smith, in Spaulding's Exchange. A large crowd-- consisting principally of colored men-- soon assembled, but all were very quiet and orderly. The Commissioner arrived at his office about 2 o'clock, when an adjournment took place to the Court House. As soon as the officers started for a carriage, a rush was made, and the excitement began. The crowd followed the carriage through Main Street, making demonstrations and uttering threats, and impeded its course by taking hold of the wheels and horses, but effected nothing further. There was considerable tumult in the street, and the colored people were much excited; and a few unprincipled white men, attempted to increase the disturbance by inflammatory appeals. But the citizens, generally, were ready to stand by the officers, in case of need, and to vindicate the law, and preserve the peace and character of the city.

The fugitive was taken to the Court House, when the following proceedings were had:


Case of the Negro man, Daniel, arrested on a warrant issuing on a record made in the County Court of Jefferson County, Kentucky.

For the Claimants, Foster and Bowen.
For the Defense, Talcott and Hawley.

Daniel was arrested on the steamer Buckeye State, yesterday morning, on board which vessel he was engaged as 2d cook. He is a fine, athletic Negro, of great value, doubtless, to his owner. In the attempt to escape, he had fallen on the cooking stove, in the kitchen, and when brought into the court it was with a great burn upon his cheek, and some severe contusions and flesh wounds about the head.

Defense claimed that the papers were insufficient, in that the record of the court in Kentucky was not properly sealed-- the seal being impressed upon the record and not affixed.

Geo. H. Moore, sworn-- Resides in Louisville, KY., was born there and resided there for the last six years. Am son of Geo. J. Moore, of Louisville; there is only one Geo. J. Moore there of my knowledge. Knew the Negro, Daniel, in Louisville, Ky. Knew him first when I was very small-- have known him within the last two years-- don't know his master's name, think it was Fraser. Knew him at my father's about four months before he left-- my father purchased him of Fraser in 1850-- he ran away in August, 1850. My father had no other servant of the name of Daniel. I was present when he was bargained for. Bargain was made in Louisville. I did not know at the time of his escape, but knew of it shortly after. I have no doubt of his being the person. I shall be seventeen the 10th of next January.

Cross Examined. -- I have never seen the record, made up in the county court of Jefferson county, Ky. I do not know that he is the person described in that record. My father owns no other slaves but this one. I was at Louisville at the time of the alleged escape. Was at home at the time. Heard the bargain between my father and Fraser at Louisville, about five or six months before Daniel left. My father bought him for $700; do not know how it was to be paid of if there was an agreement for time. Have no knowledge of the payment of the money-- thinks he, Daniel, ran on the river, am not sure-- Daniel was not present at the bargain. Don't know where he was. Didn't hear any description given as part of the bargain. Father was well acquainted with Daniel. Didn't know whether he resided in or near Louisville. Mr. Rust told me the man's name was Fraser owned the slave. Daniel was cook part of the time, part a steward on a Steamboat-- while not on the boat he was at my father's house. Father did not own the Steamboat. Have seen him at the house several times. He was cook on the "Anna Lennington," when he escaped. He was hired out-- don't know for how long. His name is Daniel-- don't know his surname-- have heard him called Daniel. Can't tell the exact number of times I have seen him at my father's. He is alleged to have escaped about the 25th August, 1850, from the boat. She was a regular boat to Cincinnati. He went there as steward of the boat.

Here the defense claimed that the act of taking the slave to a free state enfranchised him, but his Honor, the Commissioner, held that the slave was not taken into a free state by his master-- but that even if he had, that act could not have the effect to enfranchise him, as any master has a right to take his slave through or into a free state.

Here the defense proposed to introduce testimony to destroy the identity, by proving that the prisoner had been longer in a free state than since the time of the alleged escaped, but after waiting a considerable time and the defense not producing any witnesses, the Commissioner decided that the proof was sufficient to warrant his commitment.

The Commissioner then made and signed the certificate required by the act of Congress, authorizing the agent of the claimant to take the slave back to his master.

The fugitive was then taken to jail; without disturbance, or any effort at hindrance.

Commissioner Smith, on announcing his decision, remarked that whatever we might in this section think of slavery itself, the law must be executed-- that the slave Daniel must be sent back to his master. It had been shown that he was purchased for $700, and he didn't know what others might do, for the purpose of securing his freedom, but he would contribute $25.
John L. Talcott, Esq., announced to the colored people, that the Agent had no authority to make any arrangement for the sale of the slave, but would immediately telegraph to Louisville to his owner; and that he would not be removed until a reply was received.

The Commissioner remarked to the colored people, in pretty emphatic terms, that the law would be executed at all hazards, and that any attempt at rescue would be met in a summary manner.

Thus ended the first Fugitive Slave case in Buffalo. -- The law was allowed to take its course, regularly and speedily, even in the face of the strongest prejudices against slavery. All good citizens acquiesced-- but few noisy, brawling men attempted to create disturbance, in which they signally failed.

Great credit is due to the Sheriff-- the Commissioner, the Deputy Marshal and his assistants, and to Mayor Wadsworth, for the firmness and energy, with which they discharged and unpleasant duty. As the Courier remarks, the conduct of Mayor Wadsworth, was quiet but decided throughout. He walked by the door of the carriage containing the fugitive, from the Commissioner's office to the Court House, and although several efforts were made by some of the crowd who surrounded the carriage to open the door, he kept his position firmly and discharged his duty faithfully. His course in the whole matter contrasted strongly with some few of whom better things were expected, as law-abiding citizens, of whom we may take occasion to speak hereafter.

Document #5:


CASE OF MR. RUST. -- Mr. Rust came before the Police Court about five o'clock last evening, pleaded guilty to the charge of Assault and Battery, and was fined $50-- amply sufficient as such matters  go-- but not enough, of course, to satisfy the abolitionists or their organs.

We understand that Mr. Rust has a writ served on him for "private damages" to the slave Daniel. If a verdict is obtained, we suppose the sum awarded will go to the master-- he being in law the one pecuniary "damaged" by the transaction...

Document #6:


The colored man Daniel was arrested with a billet of wood, and by the aid of a summary and exparte proceedings under the 10th section of the slave law and the equally summary and illegal ruling of the Commissioner-- laid by the heels and incarcerated in a dungeon cell of our jail. With an order in the hands of the Marshall to take him to Kentucky which also adjudged that he is the slave of one Mr. Moore of Louisville, the prospects of Daniel are rather gloomy. Rust, the agent of Moore and who cut such a striking figure in the process of arresting and broiling Daniel on the stove preparatory to bringing him before the officer, was also in durance held to $1,000 bail in an action for assault and battery, in which action Daniel is plaintiff. The compromisers having got rather sick of the bludgeon process of executing laws in Buffalo now resort to the "Suaviter in modo" and Mr. Moore the claimant of Daniel appears and goes into jail, after a cozy interview with Daniel, to sign a release of the civil action against Rust for the assault. By what means Daniel was induced to release his action against Rust for being beaten and broiled, we will not now state, suffice it to say, he was in durance vile and supposed that he was subjected to the will and mercy of Moore and that he was to be taken back to Kentucky as his slave. It is not to be wondered at that he should do his master's bidding! It is said, we don't know whether it be true, that Moore gave Daniel $20 for the release-- it may be so, as it would be a safe investment, as the $20 would come back naturally when they got back to Kentucky! This is the first piece of slight of hand performed in this drama, and the actors will not have to live long, to become ashamed of this imposition upon an imprisoned and ignorant negro.

We anticipated that the customary lie to the effect that the man desires to go into slavery would be forthcoming in due time. We have been waiting for it for several days, and here it is. We put it on record:

To the Colored Population of Buffalo:

I thank you for what you have tried to do for me. You meant it for good but it is of no use. -- We colored people of Kentucky are about as well off as you are. I am going back-- I had rather go than stay here. I hope you will not interfere with my going. My master, Mr. Moore, has always treated me well; I feel that I did wrong in running away-- he bought me at my urgent request; he placed confidence in me, and I do not feel that I ought to deceive him.-- If he had treated me ill I should feel differently about it. He never did. I was advised to run away and come to a free State, or I should not have done so; the advice was bad, though I reckon it was not so meant. We are about as well off in Kentucky as you are here, and some of us better. I shall advise the Kentucky boys, when I get home, to stay where they are. We have plenty to eat and to wear, and are not so badly worked-- this every body knows who has been in Kentucky.

Again, my colored brethren, I thank you for your kind sympathies, and to my white Abolition brethren in Buffalo, I wish you the same, but I do not want you to do any more for me.
    Daniel Davis, his X mark
    August 28, 1851

 This letter is the work of compromise politicians here, as well be apparent from the passage we have italicized...


Document #7:



It was Tom Hood, if we mistake not, who gave us all a hearty laughs some ten years since by two contemporary letters from a boy at school to his family, the first being the one written under the dictation and eye of the master; the second being the boy's own, written "unbeknown" to the master and dispatched on the sly. The contrast in the drift, tone, substance and diction of the two letters was very decided.

The Express and several lower-law co-laborers have been taken in by a letter purporting to be from Daniel, the alleged fugitive from Slavery in prison at Buffalo, which the least sprinkling of gumption would have told them was the Master's letter and not the Boy's Own. In this precious epistle, the knocked-down and head-broken fugitive is made to discourse Silvery Grey music as follows:

To the Colored Population of Buffalo:

I thank you for what you have tried to do for me. You meant it for good, but it is of no use. We colored people of Kentucky are about as well off as you are. I am going back-- I had rather go than stay here. I hope you will not interfere with my going. My master, Mr. Moore, has always treated me well; I feel that I did wrong in running away-- he bought me at my urgent request; he placed confidence in me, and I do not feel that I ought to deceive him.-- If he had treated me ill I should feel differently about it. He never did. I was advised to run away and come to a free State, or I should not have done so; the advice was bad, though I reckon it was not so meant. We are about as well off in Kentucky as you are here, and some of us better. I shall advise the Kentucky boys, when I get home, to stay where they are. We have plenty to eat and to wear, and are not so badly worked-- this every body knows who has been in Kentucky.

Again, my colored brethren, I thank you for your kind sympathies and my white and abolition brethren in Buffalo, I wish you the same, but I do not want you to do any more for me.

    Daniel Davis, his X mark
    August 28, 1851

The Express, which has a very poor idea of Negro capacity in general, was greatly taken with this effusion, commenting on it as follows:

"This man Daniel is evidently a person gifted with considerable more common sense and shrewdness than we are accustomed to look for among people of his class and color. In this letter of his he has manifested a keen power of penetration, which distinguishes him as an excellent judge of character. He has discrimination too, and a remarkable readiness in divining men's motives, with a particular aptitude of analysis in cases where hypocrisy and false pretenses are mixed up with a lying philanthropy and the schemes of the demagogue.

"This is the character of the man Daniel, as we infer from the sensible letter he has left as an invaluable legacy to the colored population of Buffalo. And being so intelligent and shrewd a person, what he writes, we repeat, is entitled to a profounder consideration than is commonly conceded to ordinary productions of Negro literature."

Well: two days after the appearance of this letter, and before The Express had done singing its praises; Judge Conkling pronounced a decision which set this new star in the literary firmament at liberty. No obstacle existed to his following his own inclination, whichever way it might head him. Of course, you suppose that he struck a bee-line for that patriarchal region whence he "did wrong in running away," where he was "always treated well," and where he would "advise the Kentucky boys to stay where they are," having "plenty to eat and to wear, and are not badly worked." Ah, my green friend! You should have read the Boy's Own letter! See "his X mark:"


       Buffalo, Aug. 31, 1851.

The fugitive Daniel has been declared free by Judge Conklin, and has gone to Canada.

We are afraid there will be no more eulogiums on his "common sense and shrewdness," "keen power of penetration," &c., in the columns of The Express! "Negro Literature" is likely to be below par in that latitude for some time to come, even though the author is so intelligent and shrewd a person as Mr. Daniel Davis. This is a deceitful, changeable world.




1.      Define the “Underground Railroad”.

2.      How does your definition agree or differ from the definition contained in the textbook?

3.      Who was Daniel Davis and how long had he been a fugitive?

4.      Should we really call him a fugitive or is he merely just another “free black” working as a cook to make and honest living for himself? Point out that he has been living on free soil for approximately 10 months to one year.

5.      Were you at all surprised when you read in document #4 that: “[Daniel] refused to accompany the officer and with his four companions laid hold of their knives as if determined to show fight, and threatened to "walk over corpses" if the arrest was made”? Was his reaction one that you would have expected from a fugitive slave? Why or why not, explain your answer.

6.      What is habeas corpus? Why it the concept so important to our American legal system? What key role did issuing a “Writ of Habeas Corpus” play in Daniel’s case?

7.      What is the significance of the head line that reads “DANIEL IN THE DEN AND OUT?” What piece of literature is the author making reference to?

8.      Prior to 1850, what attempts had been made to control or to limit the growth of slavery in the United States? Prepare to make a timeline of events to illustrate these.

9.      Read document #5. What is the significance of the fact that “Mr. Rust pled guilty to the charge of Assault and Battery, and was fined $50”?

10.  Using the library resources or the internet, try to determine if slavery still exists anywhere in the modern world. Can anything be done to prevent it?