Chapter 15



Another evening my friend produced an ancient, time-worn pamphlet, whose full title I found to read:

"A testimony against that anti-Christian practice of making slaves of men, wherein it is showed to be contrary to the dispensation of the Law and Time of the Gospel, and very opposite both to Grace and Nature. By Elihu Coleman, printed in the year 1733."

"I suppose it to be," he remarked, "one of the earliest, as well as most earnest and fearless, denunciations of human slavery ever published. Its author, Elihu Coleman, was a minister of the Society of Friends (born on Nantucket, December, 1699, died here January, 1789), and an able and fearless preacher here for nearly the whole of his career. Beginning with his day, the island continued very hostile to the institution to the end. The Friends were the dominant sect on Nantucket in those days, and their influence was always exerted against slavery. The famous Prince Boston case, you remember, made Massachusetts a free State, and Prince Boston was a Nantucket slave.


 In Olde Massachusetts

His owner, Elisha Folger, had for some reason shipped him and sent him out in Mr. Rotch’s whale-ship. On arrival home he claimed and received as his own Prince’s share in the voyage. But in 1780, while the ship was absent, the Constitution of Massachusetts was adopted, and Mr. Rotch, on reading it, at once saw that it abolished slavery; at least he determined to make a test case of it. Pretty soon Prince’s ship came in, and Mr. Folger applied for his slave’s ‘voyage.’ ‘Thee has no voyage here,’ said Mr. Rotch calmly, making Folger as hot as a South Carolinian so wroth that he sued in the courts, and a famous case it became; he lost his suit, and not only Prince Boston, but 4,700 other slaves in Massachusetts, were set free.

"We had an exciting fugitive slave case in 1822 There were several runaway slaves from Virginia living here and at New Bedford at the time, supporting them selves and their families, owning little freehold properties, when suddenly one Camillus Griffith appeared and demanded their surrender as escaped slaves of certain parties living near Alexandria, Va. Griffith in his sworn statement before the court gives so clear and succinct a statement of the proceedings at Nantucket that I quote him:

"On my arrival at Boston,’ he says, I addressed a respectful memorial to Judge Davis of the United States District Court, enumerating the slaves I was in pursuit of, and praying him to grant a process for their



An Anti-Slavery Pioneer 

apprehension. Being unsuccessful in this respect from the defect in the law of 1793, I requested Judge Davis to state his objections, which you will find on the back of the memorial. I then appealed to Colonel Harris, the Marshal of Massachusetts, for one of his deputies, and proceeded to the Island of Nantucket, where we found the family of negroes belonging to Mr. David Ricketts, and were in the act of removing them when a large assemblage of persons collected round the house, and seemed to set us at defiance. I remonstrated with them on the course they were pursuing, and stated to some of the leading men in the mob that I had arrested these slaves under a law of the United States; and to satisfy the people of Nantucket that the course we were pursuing was legal, we had brought the Deputy Marshal with us. A man calling himself Francis G. Macy insisted that if we had any authority it should be produced, and as he seemed to have the most influence with the mob, I produced the power of attorney of Mr. Ricketts. Before I commenced reading it I placed Mr. Taylor, with two men, at the back part of the house, to prevent the negroes from escaping. Mr. Taylor did not remain there long. The threats of the mob alarmed him, and on his retiring to join me in the front part of the house, I was informed that Thomas Mackerel Macy put his Quaker coat and hat on George, and assisted him and his wife and children out of the window and carried them off to a place of greater



 In Olde Massachusetts

security. While these things were going on, and I was engaged with the party in front of the house, one man, Sylvenus Macy, observed that the power of attorney of Ricketts might be a forgery, and afterwards said there was no doubt that it was a forgery, and also observed: "We were not in Virginia now, but in Yankee town that they wanted those colored people to man their whale ship and would not suffer them to be carried back to bondage." He was proceeding in this manner and with other abusive language when the arrival of Sig. Folger was announced, who I understood had been sent for. His first inquiry was where the slaves were, and F. G-. Macy answered, "We have them in our possession and they are now in the house." Folger then observed to me that the laws of this State did not recognize any persons as slaves, and if I attempted to molest these people or remove them, he should consider it his duty as a magistrate to arrest me and my party. I then informed Mr. Folger that I had arrested these people as slaves, who had run away from a gentleman in Virginia, and that the law of the United States authorized the arrest, and called upon him as a magistrate to suppress the mob, and allow us to bring the negroes before him or suffer Mr. Bass, the Deputy Marshal, to take them to Boston before Judge Davis for trial. I also asked Mr. Folger if he did not consider the State laws of Massachusetts subordinate to the laws of the United States. His answer was "No,"



An Anti-Slavery Pioneer 

and that if we attempted to molest these people any further, he would put us all in jail.’

"Remark the manliness and pure grit of those oh magistrates and freemen, defying the power of the whole national Government, then wielded by slave holders, for the protection of the weak and helpless and driving the spoiler off without his prey for quest and set sail for New Bedford. There he fell into more desperate straits at the hands of those sturdy Quakers, Thomas Rotch and William W. Swain, being thrown into’ prison, and after many hardships missing his object a he had in Nantucket."