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The Fugitive Slave: Mrs. Lucinda Johnson

- From “ANNALS of the Early Settlers' Association of Cuyahoga County, Ohio.”, Volume V, No. I, 1904, pg. 31-33.

At the annual meeting of the Early Settlers' Association of Cuyahoga County held at Grays' Armory, September 10, 1904, Sara Lucinda "Lucy" Bagby, the last slave in the United States prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act, was presented to the association. The following is a transcript from that presentation. 



Sara Lucy Bagby, Mrs. Lucinda JohnsonThe Chairman: You have probably noticed on the program at this point of our proceedings the words “The Fugitive Slave.” Some of you may have wondered what it meant; some perhaps thought it had some connection with Judge Marvin's speech, but if so, they are mistaken. I will tell you what it means and commence by saying that in 1850 was passed what is known as the Fugitive Slave Law. This act made it the duty of every person, when called upon by an officer, to assist in the capture and return of any fugitive slave, and for refusing to do so, made them liable to fine or imprisonment. By its provision it was also made a crime punishable by like fine or imprisonment, to in any way assist a slave seeking freedom. The giving them even a crust of bread to save them from starvation thus became a crime. Besides this, the judicial officer was allowed a fee twice as great if he decided in favor of the master instead of the slave.

Late in the year 1860 a slave girl eighteen years of age escaped from her master in Virginia, and by aid of the so-called “underground railroad” found her way to Cleveland. January 16, following, her owner, Mr. William S. Goshorn, having located her, came to Cleveland to claim his property.

A few days later, early in the morning, accompanied by three deputy United States marshals, he drove to the residence of Mr. L. A. Benton, 151 Prospect street, where the girl was employed, surrounded the house, broke in a door and seizing the girl, carried her to a carriage in waiting, into which she was dumped much as would be a sack of grain, and hastily took her to the old government building, which lately stood where a new one is now being built.

Soon there was great commotion in Cleveland and a rescue threatened. A colored woman, Emeline Sous, threw pepper in an officer’s eyes, for which offense she was taken before the Police Court. The proof was "positive that she had committed an assault but her crime was commended rather than condemned. The judge fined her one cent. Finally, after some delay occasioned by a writ of habeas corpus, the case was heard in court and the slave master, exhibiting a bill of sale, showing that he had paid $600 for the girl, it was adjudged that she must be sent back to the place from which she had escaped.

Thursday, January 24, 1861, two carriages containing five stalwart deputy U. S. marshals, appeared at the Rockwell street entrance to the government building, and soon this poor girl, the picture of despair, was brought out and hurried away to the Euclid Station on her way again to slavery.

A few years ago, having an anxiety to know what afterwards became of her, I sought to find out, and finally learned that after her return to her master, she was kept in jail some days and then sent to Charleston, Va., now West Virginia, where she was placed in the keeping of a cousin of her owner, a man bearing the same name.

Here she was treated, especially by Mrs. Goshorn, with much kindness. Later a man in the employ of her owner, started with her for the south, with a view, as was thought, to take her to Cuba. Arriving at Fayetteville, in West Tennessee, opposite when a Union officer, Capt. Vance, rescued her from the man having her in charge, and sent her back North.

She became free under Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, and went to Athens, Ohio, and from there to Pittsburg, where she married a man named George Johnson, who had been a soldier in the Union Army. Subsequently she, with her husband, came to Cleveland, where they now live.

I may here say that she was the last person returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act, the Civil War coming on a few months later. Her real, given name, is Lucinda, though as a slave she was known as Lucy.

She is now in this armory, on this platform, and I present her to you — Mrs. Lucinda Johnson. (Sensation.)

Mrs. Johnson arose and as she bowed to the audience the band struck up "Dixie" amid much applause.


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