William Jackson and the Fugitive Slave Law

Yeah, I know I’m posting too much about Rev. William Jackson, and some of you will be bored with this post. But there’s a few of us who think Jackson is one of the most interesting people who intersected with mid-19th C. Unitarianism, so I’m going to rick one more post.

When the Fugitive Slave Law was enacted in 1850, Jackson was minister of a Baptist church in Philadelphia. He almost immediately committed civil disobedience, and here’s how told the story years later:

“William Taylor was the first fugitive slave that had been arrested following the passage of this law. Recognizing the ‘Higher Law’ as being in force by Divine Authority and being superior to the Decree of a wicked Judge, and feeling a kindred sympathy with my brother as being bound with him, I felt morally and religiously impelled to strike for his freedom. The whole community had been thrown into the most terrible excitement over the arrest of Tayloer, the fugitive slave. Whereupon I felt myself nerved with moral and physical courage to do my duty, and save a brother man from perpetual and cruel bondage. Hence, as the leader of a band of brave men, we went forth and rescued the prisoner from the clutches of the Marshall. We arrayed him in the attire of a woman, and successfully landed him in a few hours on the shores of Canada, where he found shelter and friends in the city of Toronto. As the leader of the rescuing party, I was duly arrested and incarcerated in the city jail.

“On learning of my imprisonment the colored people immediately assembled themselves together in their Churches, like those of old when Peter was imprisoned, where prayer was offered for my deliverance. A party of my friends and the members of my Church had met at the Parsonage… where they fervently invoked the blessing of God upon their imprisoned pastor, and earnestly prayed for his deliverance. Strange as this remarkable interposition of Providence in answer to the prayer may appear to some, I was soon released from the Jail by a writ of Habeas Corpus from Judge [King] obtained through the efforts of the Rev. Edgar [Levy] of the First Baptist Church, West Philadelphia, and [William W.] Keene and [Major] James M. Linnard, and presented to my people at the very time they were praying for my deliverance. It was certainly the most remarkable coincidence, how God in his mercy seemed to manifest himself in my behalf by putting it in to the hearts of these men to use every effort, at this unusual hour of the night, to secure my release from prison. Though it had been indicated by the officer at the time of my arrest that I should try to get bail, I surrendered myself up at once and made no effort in that direction, for I regarded it as no disgrace to be arrested and imprisoned under this infamous and inhuman law, or for advising my fellow men ‘that if they would be free themselves they must first strike the blow.’  ”

I like the fact that Jackson refused to get bail. It gives a good measure of the man.

All posts on William Jackson.