African-American History in our American Trials Collection, #3

May 6, 2008

History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue (1859) is a lengthy and detailed account of the arrest of John, a fugitive slave belonging to John G. Bacon of Kentucky who was residing in Oberlin, Ohio. John was liberated by a band Ohio citizens, led by Simeon Bushnell and Charles Langston. The two leaders were put on trial for interfering with the arrest of a fugitive slave, and the trial was followed by Ohio indictments against the slavehunters on kidnapping charges. All these events are narrated in detail in the 280-page book, as well as the mass meetings organized throughout the North by abolitionists to drum up support for the rescuers.

History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue demonstrates that accounts of fugitive slave trials had become profitable publishing ventures. It was produced by a consortium of three publishers (John P. Jewett and Co. of Boston, Henry P.B. Jewett of Cleveland, and Sheldon and Co. of New York City). The American Antiquarian Society has a broadside advertisement for the book:

“AGENTS WANTED! To sell The History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue!! A book that everybody wants! And will buy at the first opportunity! … We want agents enough to canvass every school-district in Ohio, and every state north of Mason’s and Dixon’s line. So saleable a book on such lucrative terms is offered only once in a long while, as everybody knows. Now is the time! Arrangements can be made for agencies west of Cleveland with H.P.B. Jewett, Cleveland; eastward, with John P. Jewett & Co., Boston. Any inquiries answered by Jacob R. Shipherd, Oberlin.”

The American Memory site at the Library of Congress provides the full text and images of History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue

[From Race on the Stand: African-American History in the Law Library’s American Trials Collection, presented Feb. 20, 2008, at the Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University.]


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