Abolitionists Mobbed

 

Location: Falls Park, Pendleton, IN 46064 (Madison County, Indiana)

Installed 2013 Indiana Historical Bureau, Madison County Council, Madison County Council of Governments, Town of Pendleton, Historic Fall Creek Pendleton Settlement, Pendleton Business Association, and Friends

ID#: 48.2013.1

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Text

In 1843, Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society sent speakers to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana to hold "One Hundred Conventions" on abolition.1 When speakers encountered citizens with deeply held racist ideas, they were often targets of violence. 2 On September 16, a crowd gathered near here to listen to George Bradburn, William A. White and Frederick Douglass.3

During Bradburn's speech, more than thirty men marched in, armed with stones and brickbats, and demanded that the speakers leave. 4 In the assault that followed, White, Douglass, and others were injured.5 Local supporters defended them and carried them to safety.6 Douglass spoke the next day at nearby Friends meetinghouse without incident. 7 Rioters went unpunished.8

Annotations

[1] "Social Reform and Human Progress," The Liberator, February 17, 1843; "Ohio Anti-Slavery Society," National Anti-Slavery Standard , March 2, 1843; "American A. S. Society," National Anti-Slavery Standard, May 18, 1843; "Selections. From the National Standard. Anniversary of the American A.S. Society," The Liberator, May 26, 1843; "Of the Board of managers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, to the Abolitionists of the Western and Middle States," The Liberator, June 16, 1843; "Grand Anti-Slavery Movement," National Anti-Slavery Standard, June 22, 1843; "Anniversary of State Society Great Conventions in Indiana," Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, September 8, 1843; "The Anti-Slavery Conventions in Indiana" and "The One Hundred Conventions," The Liberator, September 22, 1843; 12th Annual Report presented to Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society by Board of Managers, January 24, 1844 (Boston, 1844), 34, 32-36.

On October 27, 1842, in Oakland Ohio, Dr. Edwin Fussell of Pendleton, Indiana chaired a meeting of citizens interested in social reform including the abolition of slavery. Among the participants was John A. Collins of Boston, Massachusetts, Agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and members of the Ohio American Anti-Slavery Society.

From this deliberation, an association was formed-the Society for Universal Inquiry and Reform. Article 2 of its constitution opened the membership to "all human beings who desire it, in virtue of their humanity. . . without regard to sex, sect, condition, color, country, creed or character." (Lib2/17/43). In February 1843, the Ohio American Anti-Slavery Society placed a notice in the National Anti-Slavery Standard soliciting eastern abolitionists George Bradburn, Abby Kelley, Charles L. Remond, and "Frederic Douglas" to hold meetings in Ohio in the coming summer and fall. (NASS3/2/43)

The Tenth Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society was held in New York City, May 9-11, 1843. Dr. Edwin Fussell and Abraham Brooke of Oakland, Ohio traveled together to attend. One of the last resolutions of the convention called for the Executive Committee to hold an abolition convention in Ohio in the coming summer or fall and send "some of their most efficient lecturers to attend." "Selections. From the National Standard. Anniversary of the American A.S. Society," The Liberator, May 26, 1843.

Citing the importance of the states of Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York "to the anti-slavery cause," the Board of Managers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, in June 1843, assigned John A. Collins to plan "a double series of Conventions for the coming six months" in these states. (The Liberator, June 16, 1843; National Anti-Slavery Standard, June 22, 1843.)

The schedule for the "double series of conventions" included stops at twelve locations in east-central Indiana beginning September 15 and ending October 8, 1843. The speakers were Jacob Ferris, New York, James Monroe, Connecticut., George Bradburn and William A. White of Massachusetts, and African-American speakers, Charles L. Remond and Frederick Douglass, also from Massachusetts. (The Liberator, September 22, 1843; 12th Annual Report presented to Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society by Board of Managers, January 24, 1844 (Boston, 1844), 34-38.)

[2] Donald F. Carmony, Indiana in the Pioneer Era (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau and Indiana Historical Society, 1998), 562; Stanley Harrold, Border War, Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 2; Richard F. Nation and Stephen E. Towne, Indiana's War (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2009), 3,9; Richmond Palladium, June 18, 1842; "The Conventions. Letter from Sydney Howard Gay." The Liberator, September 1, 1843; "Letter from Ohio," National Anti-Slavery Standard, September 28, 1943; The Liberator, January 26, 1844.

In the 1840s, in much of the United States, individuals who promoted the immediate emancipation of enslaved blacks were considered fanatics or extremists. Abolitionists promoting this cause faced mobs in their travels throughout the free states north of the Ohio River and Mason-Dixon line. Historian Stanley Harrold states that: "Fighting over slavery. . . . centered on the North-South line and the states abutting it."

Though, in Indiana, a majority of people appeared to be against slavery, at the same time, their deeply-held prejudices against all African Americans, free or enslaved, were reflected in overt discrimination and numerous legal disabilities. The abolition movement grew slowly, but by the early 1840s, some violent incidents had occurred. The Richmond Palladium, June 18, 1842 reported violence in Milton, Wayne County, Indiana; the cause of the "unlawful proceedings" was attributed to a public meeting about "the national subject of slavery." Some of the local authorities "refused to aid in bringing the lawless crew to deserved punishment."

Sidney Howard Gay, who became editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1844, volunteered to accompany the eastern abolitionists on their trek west in 1843. After his return, he described the situation: "It is a harder thing to be an abolitionist in Southern Pennsylvania than in New England or New York, and harder still in Southern Ohio and Indiana. . . . The pro-slavery laws, both in Ohio and Indiana, but most especially in Indiana, are exceedingly severe, and no opportunity is suffered to escape, where public sentiment will permit their infliction, of putting them in force against the abolitionists." The Liberator, January 26, 1844.

[3] Documenting the American South , at http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/douglass/bio.html; Nell Irvin Painter,Creating Black Americans, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 83; Rebecca Lewis Fussell, "The Mobbing of Frederick Douglass," in Anti-Slavery Reminiscences by Graceanna Lewis. Ohio Historical Society Online Collections, Wilbur Siebert; "The Hundred Conventions. Letter from William A. White," The Liberator, October 13, 1843; "Letter from George Bradburn," National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 19, 1843; Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, November 1, 1843; Samuel Harden, compiler, History of Madison County, Indiana, from 1820 to 1874 (Markleville, Ind., 1874), 203.

Pendleton doctor, Edwin Fussell, a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, arranged for one of the "conventions" to be held in Pendleton. On September 14, in the evening, William A. White, George Bradburn and Frederick Douglass arrived at Fusssell's home to hear rumors of likely mob activity. White and Bradburn were the more well-known abolitionist lecturers; Douglass was just beginning his career as a lecturer and advocate for equal rights; he was not yet the "most famous black man in the U.S. in the 19th century." (Painter)

The first abolition meeting was held on the morning of September 15 in the Baptist church at Pendleton; Douglass and White spoke without interruption. The afternoon meeting was held in front of the church after the minister locked the doors hoping to prevent damage from a mob. George Bradburn spoke: "Our eyes were soon attracted by the presence, in the crowd, of sundry unshaven, lantern-jawed, savage-looking loafers, while our ears were saluted by their horrible mutterings of murderous threats, and blasphemous oaths against abolitionists and 'n-----." A rain shower quickly ended the session. That evening Pendleton residents met and passed a resolution which was posted around the town condemning the mob activities.

On the morning of September 16, the abolition meeting was held in a woods; seats and a stand had been set up to handle the large crowd. In 1874, Samuel Harden's, The History of Madison County, described the location of this woods: "The place selected for the meeting was on the north side of the creek, and just west of where J. O Hardy now lives, and a short distance below the Falls." A search of Madison County deed records shows that in 1874, J. O. Hardy purchased a part of the Southwest ¼, Section 16, Township 18 North, Range 7 East through which Fall Creek runs just north of Pendleton. Additional research for a more definite location of the grove is beyond the scope of this project.

[4] "Letter from Ohio," National Anti-Slavery Standard, September 28, 1843; Kersy Grave, "For the Free Labor Advocate," Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, October 4, 1843; "The Hundred Conventions. Letter from William A. White," The Liberator, October 13, 1843; "Letter from George Bradburn," National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 19, 1843; "The Hundred Conventions," The Liberator, October 20, 1843; Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, November 1, 1843; Rebecca Lewis Fussell, "The Mobbing of Frederick Douglass," in Anti-Slavery Reminiscences by Graceanna Lewis. Ohio Historical Society Online Collections, Wilbur Siebert; Joseph B. Lewis, in Anti-Slavery Reminiscences by Graceanna Lewis. Ohio Historical Society Online Collections, Wilbur Siebert; Frederick Douglass, "My bondage and My Freedom (New York, 1857), 401-02;Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, (Boston, Mass.: 1892), 234 at Documenting the American South.

On that morning, September 16, 1843, before an audience of one hundred men and thirty women, William A. White gave opening remarks. George Bradburn spoke for about one and one-half hours before he was interrupted by a mob of more than thirty who marched in double file armed with brickbats, stones, and eggs. They ordered the speakers to leave; when they didn't, the mob "discharged at our heads a volley of their chosen missiles. . . ."

Frederick Douglass described the scene in his book The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: "As soon as we began to speak, a mob of about sixty of the roughest characters I ever looked upon ordered us. . . to 'be silent,' threatening us. . . with violence."

Joseph Lewis described members of the mob as those , "…who lived a few miles east and south-east of Pendleton. . . ." Solomon Fussell wrote that the mob was composed of men from Madison and Hancock counties. "There was I believe none from this township [Fall Creek Township where Pendleton is located] in the mob on the second day."

The threat of violence travelled with the other team of abolitionist speakers, James Monroe, Sidney H. Gay, and Charles Remond. Convening at Noblesville soon after the Pendleton mobbing, Sidney Gay described events that occurred while he was speaking in the Court House there. The local sheriff came into the well-attended meeting and announced that a mob of 150 or more men waiting in the street demanded that everyone leave the building. The "citizens of the county, would not have an anti-slavery meeting held in the Court-house, and most especially that a colored man [Remond] should not speak in it." Gay also described the meetings in Indianapolis and the continual hostility toward Charles Remond in The Liberator, October 20, 1843.

An Indiana anti-slavery paper, Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, published at New Garden by Benjamin Stanton, reported on the Conventions in Richmond where Frederick Douglass had given "a very interesting detail of some of the circumstances attending the history of his life while a slave-the manner in which he obtained his education;--the difficulties which he had to encounter . . . ."

Indiana was not the only state where the abolitionists were threatened. The National Anti-Slavery Standard (September 28, 1843) published a letter from Hannah Coates. "They have had many difficulties to contend with; and the opposition was so great at Cleveland, and Oberlin, as to prevent holding conventions at those places. . . ." Indeed, an interested reader can follow the Hundred Conventions lecturers from their departure in August through their return in November by reading their letters published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard and The Liberator for the duration of their travels.

[5] "The Hundred Conventions. Letter from William A. White," The Liberator, October 13, 1843; "Letter from George Bradburn," National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 19, 1843; Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, November 1, 1843; Rebecca Lewis Fussell, "The Mobbing of Frederick Douglass," in Anti-Slavery Reminiscences by Graceanna Lewis. Ohio Historical Society Online Collections, Wilbur Siebert.

Despite pleas by White and Bradburn to stop the violence, the mob reached the platform where the speakers were standing and began to tear it apart. They attacked the speakers and others; White and Bradburn wrote about what happened soon after.

George Bradburn wrote from Pendleton, September 18, 1843. His letter was published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 19, 1843. "And then began a sort of general melee in which White, and Douglas[sic], and several others were more or less injured. . . . Several ruffians were seen to fall upon a single individual, beating him with frightful ferocity. . . . Laying aside his non-resistance principles, for the moment, as an uncertain Quaker is said to have done, under less provocation, Frederic seized a club, and went after the blood-thirsty monsters. The club however, was almost instantly wrenched from his grasp, and finding himself weaponless, he ran, but was soon overtaken and knocked down by his pursuers, who shouted, as they pursued their victim, "kill the -----, kill the d-n -----, and one of whom, it was thought, would certainly have killed him, but for the timely interposition of White, who by a most dexterous application of the argument. . . sent the miscreant headlong, as, with uplifted cudgel, he was about to inflict the finishing blow upon Frederic."

William A. White wrote a letter, September 21, 1843 from New Castle, Ind. which was published in The Liberator, October 13, 1843. "The mob. . . commenced pushing the audience back and knocking them down. . . . Frederick Douglass who, at the time was safe among the friends, not seeing me, thought I was knocked down, and seizing a club, rushed into the crowd. His weapon was immediately snatched from him, and finding he had attracted their anger against himself, fled for his life, and ten or more of the mob followed, crying, 'Kill the ------, "Kill the

d---n -------. . . . It was a fearfully true picture of the flight of the fugitive slave, and it was fitting it should take place on the soil of this pro-slavery state. The leader of the mob soon overtook him, and knocked him down and struck him once with a club and was raising it the second time to level a blow which must have been fatal had it fallen, but I, by dint of hard running, came up in time to throw myself upon him, and stop him in his murderous purpose. One of the wretches hurled a stone which struck me in the back of the head. . . . By this time, the crowd came up, and further violence was stopped."

Much later, Frederick Douglass recalled: "They. . . dealt a heavy blow on William A. White, striking him on the back part of the head, badly cutting his scalp and felling him to the ground. Undertaking to fight my way through the crowd with a stick which I caught up in the Melee, I attracted the fury of the mob, which laid me prostrate on the ground under a torrent of blows. Leaving me thus, with my right hand broken, and in a state of unconsciousness, the mobocrats hastily mounted their horses and rode to Andersonville, where most of them resided." Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892), 234 at Documenting the American South.

[6] "The Hundred Conventions. Letter from William A. White," The Liberator, October 13, 1843; "Letter from George Bradburn," National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 19, 1843; Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, November 1, 1843; Rebecca Lewis Fussell, "The Mobbing of Frederick Douglass," in Anti-Slavery Reminiscences by Graceanna Lewis. Ohio Historical Society Online Collections, Wilbur Siebert.

Finally the crowd moved toward the mob and the fighting stopped. George Bradburn described the departure of the mob. They "perpetrated their damning deeds before all the people, and in the light of the noon-day's sun; and then, before leaving town, paraded themselves on horseback, through its principal streets." William A. White added: "The wretches threatened to march into town and pull down Dr. Fussell's house in the evening, and the citizens armed themselves, and . . . the mob did not make their appearance."

Frederick Douglass was thought to be seriously injured. Friends carried the unconscious Douglass to the home of Neal Hardy, 2 to 3 miles east of Pendleton where he was cared for by Mrs. Hardy. Dr. Edwin Fussell, with a guard for protection, also attended to Douglass.

[7] "The Hundred Conventions. Letter from William A. White," The Liberator, October 13, 1843; "Letter from George Bradburn," National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 19, 1843; Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, November 1, 1843; Rebecca Lewis Fussell, "The Mobbing of Frederick Douglass," in Anti-Slavery Reminiscences by Graceanna Lewis. Ohio Historical Society Online Collections, Wilbur Siebert; Ruth Dorrel and Thomas D. Hamm, "Fall Creek Monthly Meeting (Hicksite) Births and Deaths (Madison County)," Online Family History Publications (Indiana Historical Society Press, Indianapolis: 2008).

Accounts agree that Frederick Douglass spoke the next day (September 17, 1843) at the Friends Meeting House east of Pendleton. Rebecca Lewis Fussell described the scene: "Frederick Douglass with his scalp wounds dressed and plastered, spoke on the grounds surrounding the Friends' meeting house at Fall Creek, to a large assembly. In that Quaker neighborhood he was physically safe, as almost all were abolitionists. . . ."

The Society of Friends first met in Fall Creek Township in 1834; they built a log meeting house in 1836 and became a Monthly Meeting in 1839.

Upon his return to the East, Douglass spoke about his activities in the "Hundred Conventions." "The various incidents that occurred to him, during the progress of the Convention, some of them melancholy, and others ludicrous, were narrated in a manner corresponding to their character, especially the latter class, which were exhibited to the life, by his power over the comic. His account of the scene presented by the murderous mob which assailed one of the meetings of the lecturers in Indiana, blending as it did the tragic with the comic, was of thrilling interest." "Adelphic Union," The Liberator, January 12, 1844.

[8] National Anti-Slavery Standard , October 17 and November 2, 1843; Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle, November 1, 1843; Letter, Solomon Fussell to Nephew, November 1, 1843, copy of typescript, William H. Smith Library, Indiana Historical Society; Indiana Secretary of State Petitions, Pardon, Morris Runnels, Madison County, 1843, Indiana State Digital Archives; National Anti-Slavery Standard, February 15 and October 3, 1844.

Edwin Fussell wrote two letters to the National Anti-Slavery Standard, November 2, 1843 describing the aftermath of the mobbing. According to him, the Madison County Grand Jury had indicted about twenty of the "mobocrats" involved in the affray. One of the alleged perpetrators, a man by the name of Reynolds [or Runnels], "gave himself up for trial with the understanding that if the sentence was light, they would all come forward to trial, and pay their fines; but if he should be imprisoned, they would raise a company, and tear down the jail."

Reynolds was sentenced to jail for twenty days and fined $20. This news brought threats, again, to tear down the Anderson jail, guarded by local militia. When the mob of almost 300 rode into Anderson, Circuit Court Judge David Kilgore pleaded for restraint. Kilgore finally was able to persuade the mob leaders "to get up a petition to the governor for a pardon." After this was done and a messenger sent off to Indianapolis, the crowd dispersed. A couple of days later, as the return of the messenger was anticipated, the crowd gathered again; Governor Samuel Bigger pardoned Reynolds and he was released from jail. Indiana Secretary of State Petitions, Pardon, Morris Runnels, Madison County, 1843, Indiana State Digital Archives; "Letters from Edwin Fussell," National Anti-Slavery Standard, November 2, 1843.

Edwin Fussell and his family left Pendleton in early November 1843. According to Edwin Fussell's wife Rebecca, "When the trial of the mobocrats came up there was so much feeling in their favor that my husband's relatives, more especially his uncle, were fearful of his life, and so we came East and lost our beautiful home,--for the Doctor never lived anywhere that he did not beautify the home as much as was in his power. He also lost an extensive and remunerative practice in a community where he was respected and beloved; in effect he was compelled to begin the world anew. . . ."

Edwin Fussell wrote again to the National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 3, 1844 to say that at a later term of the Circuit Court, about 20 other men involved in the mobbing in Pendleton were indicted by the Grand Jury. But, "the villains were dismissed, for want of testimony against them!!!!. . . . and none of those who would have testified the truth ventured to volunteer evidence against the murderous mob-indeed, for any one to have done so would have been to invite the rifle ball of the assassin to his heart."