Tamor / Euphemia Williams (Mahala Purnell)

Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 7, 1851

Another Fugitive Slave Case.—Yesterday morning, about 7 o’clock, United Stated Deputy Marshals, Smith & Halzell, accompanied by Constanble Agnew, arrested a colored woman, known by the name of Tamor Williams, at her residence, corner of Fifth street and Germantown Road.  It was alleged that her real name was Mahala, and that she was a fugitive slave belonging to Wm. T. Purnell, of Worcester County, Maryland.  The warrant was issued by United States Commissioner Edward D. Ingraham.  She was brought before that officer at ten o’clock, but at the suggestion of counsel on both sides, the case was adjourned until this afternoon.  About 1 o’clock, Messrs W. S. Pierce and D. P. Brown, counsel for the woman, took out a writ of habeas corpus, returnable forthwith, before Judge Kane.  After some conversation, the case was adjourned until this afternoon at 3 o’clock in consequence of the engagement of counsel and absence of witnesses.  The matter has, therefore, not been presented before the Judge.

We learn that the claimant alleges that the woman absconded from him more than twenty-two years ago, and that he had not seen her since 1829.  The woman is apparently about thirty or thirty-five years of age.  Her husband was also arrested upon the allegation that he is a fugitive slave, belonging to some other person than the present claimant.  We have heard it said that husband and wife lived on adjoining plantations, and disappeared at the same time.  The woman has been a member of the Methodist church for some years.  The worst feature of the case is that she has five children, three of which are very young.  They were all born in this State, and we do not understand that they are claimed.  The husband is reputed to have some property.  The woman seemed to be in great distress, and the case, whatever may be its result, certainly shows how hardly the law may operate in some cases.  It was a most heart-moving sight to see her surrounded by her children, and the case is one which must awaken every sympathy.  Mr. Brown intimated that some of the women’s witnesses are in Chester county.  They will be examined to-day.  Several colored people were present; they conducted themselves quietly.  The Judge authorized the Marshal to keep the woman in a safe place until the hearing of to-day.


Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 8, 1851

The Fugitive Slave Case.—Yesterday afternoon, before Judge Kane of the Circuit Court, the case of Tamor Williams, claimed as Mahala, the slave of Wm. T. Purnell, of Worcester County, Maryland, was brought up.  Previous to the opening of the Court, a large assembly of white and colored people crowded the entrance to the court–room, the hall, and stair-cases.  The court-room was opened at 3 o’clock.  There was at first a great rush, but the Judge announcing that all persons in the room must be seated, and that no one would be allowed to stand, of course, but few actually got within the court-room.  There were several ladies present, members of the Society of Friends, members of the Abolition Society, and others.

Mr. McMurtrie in opening the case said, that the prisoner was named Mahala, and sometimes known as Mahala Purnell, the name of her owner.  She was born the slave of Dr. George W. Purnell, of Worcester County, Maryland—while quite young she was hired to a carpenter in the neighborhood; while in his service she took up with another slave of his, and the pair escaped to the northward.  The present claim is made by the administrator de bonis non of Dr. Purnell, who lately hearing that the slave was in this city, came here and had her arrested.  He expected to be able to show these facts, and if he did so, apprehended that there would be no difficulty in obtaining a certificate.

The first witness called, was—

Robert F. Bowen—He said; I reside in W[…..] county, […. …..] of Maryland ; I am 52 years old ; I am a house carpenter by profession ; also a farmer on my own farm.  I knew Dr. George W Purnell; I worked in building a house for him when I was apprentice; worked for him afterward.  He is dead.  I was a near neighbor ; I knew a girl of his named Mahala ; I hired a girl from Dr. Purnell ; she was a slave named Mahala ; this is her, (pointing to prisoner;) I hired her in 1828 for a year from January 1st ; I knew her before ; I knew her father and mother ; they were slaves to Dr. George W. Purnell.  In the last of August or first of September, 1828, she absconded from me with a boy belonging to me, ages 17 ; I do not know where they went to ; they came upwards towards Philadelphia ; I could hear of their tracks ; I never made an effort to reclaim them till the present.  Yesterday morning, submitting to a very disagreeable task for my friends, I went to point her out at the place of her residing; it was since I came to town ; I did not know it before.

I went to the door; it was opened; when I entered the room I saw this woman and two others, with some children; the house was near the junction of Germantown road and Fifth street; I recognised her at once; I am perfectly certain of the identity of this woman with the girl that left me; when she left me she was about seventeen; I never saw the boy that runaway from me until I saw him the other day in prison.

Cross examined by D. P. Brown—I fix the time when this girl runaway by the time when camp meeting was held, which is generally at the last of August or beginning of September; I fix the year, because the year before, at a camp meeting, I professed religion, she runaway the next year; she had been hired to me part of a year; I make that one of the circumstances that I hired her in 1828; she was hired as a house servant; I hired her personally of Dr. Purnell; there was an adjustment made with him; I paid him according to the time she served; when she runaway I proceeded to advertise her as my slave, by written advertisement, put up at Millsborough, Georgetown, and Milford, in Delaware; I have no copy of the advertisement; I described her, I think, as about five feet two inches; I beg not to be examined particular; I don’t know how I described her, I don’t know any part of it; Dr. George W. Purnell untied with me in the advertisement; we went to Delaware city; that is all that has been done since 1828 to recover her, except inquiry.  The object that brought me here was to come after my boy; I came as evidence for my friend, and to seek my own right; I have seen her three times here in court since I came; I saw her first in this city in a small, wretched room, at the junction of Germantown Road yesterday morning.  The Police took me there; I went with them; Mr. Purnell applied to me to go there the evening before; it was at Congress Hall; Mr. Brown here was present, and Mr. Henry, who has gone down to Maryland; I arrived here last Tuesday week; I found out where she was, a man told me; I don’t wish to tell who; no one led me to the place; [the witness objected to giving the name of the person who told him, on the ground that he was pledged not to tell.  The Judge explained to the witness that unless the answer would criminate him he must tell.]  The witness said I don’t know the name; the person signed the name Louisa Truitt; it came by letter [witness was asked for the letter, and said he had not it;] I don’t recollect the terms of the letter; I don’t know it was not written by a woman; I directed my letter to the Post office; the letter to me required a pledge, which I gave in the letter returned; I was asked to direct it to the Post office; I have not seen Louisa Truitt; I have seen a representative of hers; a man, I don’t know his name; I saw him in Market street, between Third and Fourth, in Taylor & Paulding’s store, in the course of last week.  McHenry was present, who went below, to Maryland; I came there by appointment in the letter; it was for the parties to meet there to get the information from the representative; I never heard him tell his name; he was said to be Gloucester; I don’t know; he was neither colored nor white; we call them, with us, the mixed blood; I saw him at my room the next evening; I did not learn from him who wrote the letter; he did not describe the woman in the letter to me; only speaking of her general appearance. [Mr. Brown asked for the letter; the witness said that Mr. Purnell said he had burnt it.]

I never write to “Louisa” myself; my friend, Mr. Henry, did; I did not see it; he said it was written; he did not tell me what it contained.  I never received a letter from Louisa Truitt; it was written to Robert J. Henry; part of it was written to me, but not directed to me; there was no stipulation as to a reward on my part; there was a hundred dollars stipulated for proper information for one; there was no sum stipulated for the other; the letter did not say that I should go to Taylor & Paulding’s to find Gloucester; I understood that Mr. Henry, in his letter, requested Louisa or her representative, Gloucester, to go to Taylor and Paulding’s, and he would meet them there; when I went to Taylor & Paulding’s, some of the concern let Mr. Henry know that some one wanted to see him; the man who wanted Mr. Henry was there; he was a mulatto man, I suppose, middle aged, middling tall; I don’t recollect when I last saw him; he is not here now. [The witness here complained of being warm.  the window was opened; he complained of being faint.  The examination was suspended and another witness called.]

Zachariah Bowen—I am no relation to the last witness.  I live in Worcester county, Md.; I know Dr. Geo W. Purnell—two years as overseer—between 1826 and 1827; never knew of a girl hired to Mr. Bowen; I know of several girls who ran away from Dr. Purnell; one was Caddy, one Grace, one Mahala; this (pointing to prisoner) is Mahala; I did’nt know her as a child; never knew her when with Dr. Purnell; she was hired by Dr. Purnell to my brother, for three years, as his slave; she was hired in 1825, and remained there in 1826 and 7; she was young when I lived with my brother, the first year he hired her; she was reported to be a slave; I knew her parents; they were slaves to Dr. Purnell.

Cross examined by Mr. Brown—I am 44 years old ; I have always lived in Worcester county, Maryland, about 9 miles from Dr. Purnell ; the second year my brother hired her, I lived with Dr. Purnell ; besides what Purnell told me, I know nothing about it, except what my brother said; I never saw a contract between them ; was never present when a contract was made, except the last year ; I never saw a dollar paid ; of my own knowledge I know nothing; I was […..] on was made; my brother was to pay sixteen dollars for the last year, sixteen for the second, and fourteen for the first.  I saw her last in 1827; in Worcester county.  In 1827 I lived within a mile of Mr. Bowen as Dr. Purnell’s lodge; my brother lined, in 1827, about nine miles from Bowen; I never was in Bowen’s house after 1827; never saw this woman there; I first saw her in this city yesterday morning; when I last saw her in Maryland, she was 16 or 17 years old; she was of a moderate size, ordinary size, neither thick nor thin ; there was nothing remarkable about her twenty-four years ago, when I saw her, more than common ; nothing remarkable in her speech; about the same color as now.  I never saw much change in a nigger 15 to 35 or 40, except they grow a little fatter, sometimes leaner; she is fatter than she was.  I came here last Tuesday week ; I was never here before; Purnell, Henry, and Bowne came with me; I never heard of a letter, but heard they had been corresponding with some person here respecting this negro and others.  Mr. Purnell told me about two weeks last Tuesday, down at Worcester ; didn’t tell his correspondent.

[The cross-examination on this point was suspended until the first witness came in.  This was in accordance with the suggestions of the judge.]

I knew Mahala’s father some six years before she was hired to my brother.  He traded over all the bay.  He was there during the winter when I was at Dr. Purnell’s.  I say this woman was a slave, because she was the daughter of Sarah a black woman that belonged to Dr. Purnell.  It is not a common thing in that country to inquire who are slaves, or who are free.  Dr. Purnell told me she was his slave, and had run off with another negro.  I knew she was a slave, because she came to see her mother and called her mother.  The mother is a slave now in Berlin with Dr. Jas. Purnell’s widow.  I saw her New Year’s day.  I first saw her yesterday; she was crying; I could not identify her.  I first recognised her here in the Marshall’s custody.  If you were to see the rest of the family you would pick her out yourself among twenty, they all resemble each other.  I believe her to be the same person from her favor; she has not changed; I could pick her out among a thousand.  The three who escaped were not of the same family.  I have no particular mark or designation on which I can fix my mind; her favor is very familiar to me.  I never saw any marks on her, and have not heard her speak since I have been here.  I came with Dr. Purnell to identify this person.

The examination of this witness here closed, and the Judge continued the case until nine o’clock this morning.  There were groups of colored persons round the State House, but no excitement was manifested, except an anxiety to get within the Court room.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, February 10, 1851

The Fugitive Slave Case—Close of Saturday’s Proceedings.

            The counsel for the defence, in this interesting case introduced several witnesses who testified to having known the alleged fugitive prior to 1828, when it was charged that she had fled from Maryland, and that she then resided in Pennsylvania.  Mr. David Paul Brown then addressed the Court in a forcible manner, and was replied to by Mr. McMurtrie.  The Judge then reviewed the testimony on both sides, speaking of the difficulty of identifying a person after a lapse of twenty-four years.  He stated, too, that, according to the evidence, at the time she was alleged to have been in Maryland, she was in Pennsylvania.  He therefore discharged the prisoner.  After the woman was released she was taken, with her children, to the Philadelphia Institute—the head quarters of the colored people—in Lombard street above Seventh.  Here followed a scene of rejoicing.  Speeches were made, and much excitement prevailed.  The woman and her children were then placed in a carriage, and the blacks crowding around, the horses were taken out, a long rope attached, and they haled her, amid a rejoicing crowd, to her home.  If the woman had been ordered to be sent back to Maryland, there were several gentlemen who had determined to buy her, and allow her to remain in freedom.  All were willing that the law should be enforced, and that, if the owner’s right should be proved, he should be indemnified in money.  The whole proceedings were worthy of a law-abiding and order-loving community, and although the sympathies of the people were on the side of the woman, there was no apprehension of any breach of the peace or of the laws.


Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 10, 1851

            The Fugitive Slave Case—Discharge of the Prisoner.—The case of Euphenia Williams, which was commenced Friday before Judge Kane of the U. S. Circuit Court, was heard again on Saturday, beginning at nine o’clock in the morning,  and ending about seven in the evening.  During this time a great mass of evidence was produced.  The examinations and cross-examinations, occupying a great deal of time, without bringing out much that was really new.  We digest the testimony as follows, presenting all that was elicited in any way material.

At the commencement of the session, Robert F. Bowen, the witness for the claimant, who was taken sick on Friday, was recalled, and underwent a searching cross-examination by David Paul Brown.  The witness was examined at length as to the identity of “Louisa Truitt” or Gloucester, who gave the information of the whereabouts of the prisoner to Mr. Purnell, the claimant.  Our witness said that he understood Louisa Truitt was Gloucester’s wife, and the two lived in the same house with the prisoner.  “Louisa Truitt,” by the letter, gave information that “Mahala,” who went by the name of  Tamor or Euphemia Williams, had said that she had run away from Dr. Purnell.  Mr. Purnell and the witness pledged their honor to Gloucester not to reveal his agency in the matter.  The witness reiterated his statement of the identity of the respondent.  He was certain of the year when she run off, because he had been converted to religion the year before she run away, and had the date of his conversion in his Bible, into which he looked “perhaps a thousand times a year.”  If the witness got his slave he was to pay his own expenses, if not, Mr. Purnell was to pay them.  Zachariah Bowen, the other witness for the claimant, who testified on Friday, was called and cross-examined at great length.  In reference to the letter from “Louisa Truitt” or “Louisa Smith,” as he termed her, the witness was rather contradictory.  He understood form Mr. Purnell that the writer said that Mahala (the prisoner) had a quarrel with another negro who lived in the same house.  The letter said to the former, “you are no better than I am, for I saw you in Dr. Purnell’s field many a time.”  Gloucester was with Mr. Purnell on Friday night in Congress Hall.  He complained that a mob had been raised against him in consequence of the development of evidence on Friday.  He had run away from his pursuers.  He said he would have to leave the city and go back to Canada.  Mr. Purnell gave him $31, and then took it back and gave him $50, and promised $50 more if he got his slave.  Mahala Richardson, a freed slave, lived in this house with the respondent.  From all that witness and Mr. Purnell heard, they had no doubt before they saw respondent, that she was Mr. Purnell’s slave.  They tried to see her for three days before they went to her house, but she went out to work so early in the morning, that they did not get an opportunity to see her.  It was Mahala Richardson who told the prisoner that she had seen he in Dr. Purnell’s field.  The first letter from “Louisa Smith” was to Jenkins Henry.  It gave information of the quarrel, and mentioned that Mahala Richardson lived in the same house.  As there was a girl from witness’ neighborhood who bore that name and had been freed, Mr. Purnell said the witness concluded that the other woman was Mahala.  This witness reiterated his statements of the identity of the prisoner with Mahala.

After the examination of this witness, Mr. McMurtrie offered the letters of the administration  […… … … ……], issued to the claimant.  Their reception was opposed on the ground that they were  not certified to, under the Act of Congress, but after considerable discussion they were admitted.

J. T. Hammond was then called up for the claimant.  He did not identify prisoner, but said she looked like Dr. Purnell’s negroes.  The Court then took a recess of half an hour.

On the opening of the afternoon session, Mr. McMurtrie asked that defendant’s witnesses should not be allowed in the Court Room, except when giving testimony.  This produced objections by respondent’s counsel, as the witnesses for claimant had been in court during the whole hearing of his case.  Finally they were excluded, the objection being withdrawn.

Mr. Pearce then opened the case for the respondent.  He said he would  prove that the witnesses for the claimant were mistaken.  It would be shown that at the time this woman was alleged to be a slave of Dr. Purnell, she was living in freedom in Chester county, Pennsylvania.

Henry C. Cornish, colored, called to the stand and sworn,—I lived in this city; I am a boot and shoemaker; came to Philadelphia in 1830; lived in Chester County previously; lived with the Rev. Wm. Latta; lived with him six years; I was in the habit of going there more than six years before; I first saw her (the alleged fugitive) about five years prior to 1830, at G. Amos’, in Newtown township, some eight or ten miles from Mr. Latta’s; I became acquainted with her at a meeting where I joined in September 1825; I first saw her there; saw her at George Amos’, where we heled meeting in 1829; recollected the date from a variety of circumstances; knew her before she was married; have seen her frequently since; I have been at her house, and have continued our acquaintance since I saw her in Chester; she had two children buried in Chester co. twenty-one or twenty-two years ago; I judge the eldest of the children would be twenty-four years of age now if living.  Did not see her married.  She has altered considerably from what she was.  She does not resemble the original person now; age and flesh have changed her since.  She was in the service of Mrs. Amos, I think.  I joined church in 1825.  I first saw her before that period.  Since I left Chester county I have seen her not less than five hundred times.  I have known her to be in the city some eight or nine years.  I have heard  she had six children; the oldest is eighteen or nineteen years of age. and the youngest is a suckling babe.  I have been at their house since they came here.  I lived with Mr. Biddie a while since 1830 ; three years after I went to my trade.  Since then I went in business for myself.  Mr. Latta and his wife are both dead.  I went to Chester County after witnesses on Thursday last. [There was a long cross-examination, which elicited nothing.]

John Cornish, sworn—I am a brother of Henry, younger by two years.  I was born in Coventry, near Chester County Valley.  My father died some six or seven years ago.  I have lived in the city more than twelve years.  I am a cordwainer.  I have seen the person before I first saw her at Rev. William Latta’s.  I have known her since I was a boy.  We both lived there—she was the cook.  This witness substantiated his brother’s evidence in all material points.  He, however, had not seen the woman for fourteen years.  The cross-examination produced no effect.

Deborah Ann Boyer, colored, sworn—I was 33 years of age last January.  I live within a mile of West Chester.  I am married.  I have lived in this city since 1835.  I have seen this woman before, at Downingtown, at mother’s, before I had gone to West Chester.  She came to mother’s in 1826.  I had a brother born in the same year.  I remember it from that.  She was there during mother’s confinement.  My brother is dead.  He was named George.  His death is recorded in my testament.  I noticed the record some two weeks since.  I was looking for something else.  I have seen this woman more or less till two years back.  I don’t remember her.  She left mother’s, but I saw her at Mr. Latta’s.  I have no doubt of her identity.  She is heavier now than then.

Cross examined by Mr. M’Murtrie.  The prisoner was not old enough to marry hen I first knew her.  I know she is the same woman.  I would recognize her anywhere.  I do not recollect any peculiarity about her when young ; I do not remember where she came from when she came to our house, or whether my mother sent for her; I don’t remember how long after that I saw her at Mr. Latta’s; she was not married then.

Sarah Gayley, (colored) affirmed—I am between 47 and 48 years of age ; I live in Philadelphia; I was raised in Chester county; lived there in 1824; have lived between four and five years in this city; lived in West Chester before I came to Philadelphia; I know the prisoner; I first saw her in the neighborhood of Downington ; I lived at the stage office there; I worked in the house with her; I first saw her about 1824, shortly before Lafayette came here; she was a small girl when I first saw her ; she was younger than me, and thin; I met her in  the Valley in 1826 ; I have visited her at Mr. Latta’s; don’t know how long she lived there; it was after she lived at the Valley; I have no doubt of her identity; she belonged to the same church; I knew the brothers belonged to the same church; I knew the brothers Cornish, have whipped them many a time.  I lived at Mr. Latta’s when Henry Cornish lived there; she lived there before I went there; don’t now when she got married; I have seen her off and on at church in 1826.  don’t know when she left the country.

Cross-examined—I have not seen her since 1826, until I saw here ; I recognised her immediately ; I recollect that she had a scar on her forehead, and I had one; we used to joke each other about it; I heard her say her father and mother were dead; she lived at one time with a family named Amos.

The Judge asked to see the scar on the witness’ forehead and that on the forehead of the claimant.  They were brought near the Bench, and the marks inspected, which were plainly seen on both.  During this time the infant of the respondent was entrusted to another colored woman.  The youngster who up to this time had been quiet, raised a great commotion and would not be pacified.  The whole scene excited a great sensation.

The evidence for the respondent here closed.  The Judge intimated to the claimant’s counsel, that unless the evidence on the part of the respondent could be met he was prepared to decide for her.

Mr. McMurtrie offered to prove that the fugitive’s husband was a slave named Micajah, and also offered to produce evidence to sustain the character of the claimant’s witnesses for truth and veracity.  He argued that all that was necessary was for him to offer evidence to establish the identity as in the case of a fugitive, under a treaty of extradition.  The certificate sent the fugitive slave to Maryland, where the Courts were open to the slave on the question of freedom.  He contended that there were discrepancies between the statements of respondent’s witnesses, some said she lived at Latta’s, while others said she lived at Amos’ about the same time.  The witnesses dithered as in the age of the respondent.  She was represented as a sip of a girl in 1824, 1826, and 1823.  Not one of the witnesses knew any thing of the origin of the girl, or her parents.  The witnesses on the other side knew her from her earliest years.  He contended that the Judge should only look at the evidence, and determine whether there was sufficient to send the prisoner home to Maryland for trial.

Mr. Brown said that the great difficulty in the way of his opponent was that he took all his witnesses said for gospel, whilst all the respondent’s testimony was doubtful.  The witnesses for the respondent were all intelligent, fair and candid, whist those for the claimant, by their evident desire to s[….] their informants by their disingenuousness—their plain wish to cover up their transactions, their clandestine movements,  their tergiversations and involutions, cast the most grave doubts upon the truth of their statements.  After their arrival in the city they burn the letter giving them information.  They plot and make secret movements in this and that hotel, and throughout conduct their operations as if they feared a plain statement of the case.  Where’s Gloucester?—why is he not produced?  Where is the letter?—where is the evidence of the fidelity to the claim?  They go to Gloucester; he led them to the house; he points her out, and they know her at once.  Mr. Brown commented at some length on the case of the claimant, in which he poured the most scathing invective

Mr. McMurtie replied by reasserting his positions.  It was a grave question for the court to consider what evidence was required.  He thought that this decision might be the turning case to show whether the act of Congress would be carried out or whether we were to return in fact to the state of affairs under the old laws.

Judge Kane said in reference to the remark at the close of Mr. McMurtrie’s speech, I shall endeavor to enforce this law without reference to my own sympathies, or the sympathies and opinions of others.  I do not think, in the cases under this act of Congress, or a treaty, or constitutional, or legal provision for the extradition of fugitives from justice, that it is possible to imagine that conclusive proof of identity could be established by depositions.  From the nature of the case and the facts to be proved, proof cannot be made in anticipation of the identity of the party.  That being established, it is the office of the judge to determine whether a prima facie case indi[…..] the identity of the party charged, with the party before him.

There may be one, two or three witnesses examined, of responsible character, who swear to the identity, yet their error may be flagrant.  They may be contradicted by the unanimous voice of the community.  It cannot be that John Doe, a member of […. …..], shall be sent away on the oath of two or three respectable Englishmen, charging him with a robbery of the bank of England, when the evidence of hundreds establish that he never had been out of the city of Philadelphia.  It is the indispensable duty of the Judge, if there is a conflict of evidence, to permit his conscience to be enlightened.  It is a mistake to say that a witness is uncontradicted because he is not impeached in terms.  The witness who swears to a particular fact in a particular place on a particular day, may be contradicted by proof that the person charged was at another place at the time specified.  Here the witnesses testify that in August 1928, the respondent was a slave in Maryland.  It is contradicted in the most distinct and important manner, by evidence that, long before, the part charged was a resident of Pennsylvania.  It is the duty of the Judge to hear the evidence on the part of the respondent, allow it to have a due influence on his judgment.

What, then, is the evidence in this case?  Two gentlemen residents of Maryland have sworn, on with a sufficient degree of certainty as to time, as to the escape of a slave recognized in the person now arrested.  They were led to this person by information in a letter detailing a conversation, on the authority of Mahala Richardson, recognizing the respondent as a slave on Dr. Purnell’s plantation.  If the case had rested there, it would have produced great embarrassment.  I had taken pains to consult works of authority in another profession, as to the degree of force to be ascribed to evidence of identity.  The best physicians concur, that after a lapse of twenty years, the difference of identity is so great, where there is no mark, where there is no mark, no peculiar bodily conformation, no marked physiognomy, that Courts of Justice are advised to regard with very great caution evidence of personal identity in such cases.  The books are full of cases of identity, of personas deceased or alive, with two individuals.  I refer to these.  It is not necessary to adduce particulars, some in my own experience ; one in particular in which one of the respondent’s counsel (Mr. Brown) who interested me.  It is the misfortune of the claimant if his rights, after the lapse of time, depend on questions of identity.  There was evidence which could have been brought, which was not brought.  Mahala Richardson, who opened the door when the officers went with the writ, was within the power of the Court, and might have been produced.  She could have been brought on subpoena by the Marshal.  Her testimony would have availed more than that of any other.

On the other hand, the evidence of the claimant has been met, and regarding the hearing of witnesses for the respondent, me by witnessed with apparent candor and great intelligence.  If they are believed, then the witnesses for the claimant are mistaken.

The question is, whether two witnesses, for the claimant, who have not seen the respondent for twenty-three, one for twenty-four years, are to be believed in preference to four witnesses on the other side, three of whom have seen her frequently since 1826, and known her as Euphemia Williams, and the fourth who has not seen her for a quarter of a century, but who testifies that when they were children they used to jest each other about scars, which they still bear on their persons; I am bound to say that the proof by the four witnesses has not been overthrown by the contrary evidence of the two who only recognized her when they called on her with the Marshal.  One says he called her Mahala Purnell as soon as he saw her.  He might be mistaken.  He inferred he would find her at the place to which he went.  There were three persons in the room, Mahala Richardson, whom he knew, a young girl, and the prisoner ; none could have been fixed upon as the fugitive but the prisoner.  If she had been alone his recognition would have been of no avail.  The fact is obvious to this court, that the respondent has no peculiar physiognomy or gait.  It has been shown she has no peculiarity of voice; I cannot but feel that the fact alleged by the claimant is very doubtful, when the witnesses without mark or peculiarity testify that they can readily recognize the girl of fifteen in the woman of forty.  The prisoner is therefore discharged.

A slight attempt at applause in the court-room was promptly suppressed.  The intelligence of the discharge of the woman was quickly spread to those without, who raised loud shouts of joy.  The woman, with her children, was hurried into a carriage, which was driven to the Philadelphia Institute in Lombard street, above Seventh.   Here also was produced a large audience of colored people, who hailed her appearance with lively joy; several excited speeches were made, and great enthusiasm was manifested in and outside of the building and the adjacent streets.  When Euphemia came out, the horses were taken out of the carriage, a long rope was attached, which was taken by as many colored people as could get hold of it, and the woman and her children thus conveyed to her home.  The procession was accompanied by several hundreds of men, women, and boys.  They dragged the carriage past the residence of the counsel for the respondent, cheering them by huzzas of the wildest kind, and then took the vehicle and its contents to the residence of the woman, Germantown Road, near Fifth street, beguiling the way with songs and shouts.  The whole scene was one of wild, ungovernable excitement, produced by exuberance of joy.

The peculiarity of the case excited the most lively sympathies in every breast.  Money to any amount could have been raised to buy the woman’s time if the decision had been against her.  Before the hearing was concluded, T. C. Rockhill and Henry C. Townsend, Esqrs., each tendered Mr. Brown a check for $500 to purchase her freedom.  There would have been no difficulty in collecting a very large sum about the court room if occasion required it.   There was no excitement in the neighborhood of the court room during the hearing.  The number of colored people in the vicinity during the day was small. Probably there were not a hundred there at any one time.  If the decision had been against the woman, the law would have been enforced without opposition.  The outburst of excitement took place after the woman was taken in the part of the town in which the colored people reside, and taking every thing into consideration was very natural.


Pennsylvania Freeman, February 13, 1851

A New Slave Case.

Another deeply interesting case of the arrest of an alleged fugitive from slavery occurred in this city, last week.  So frequent has the occurrence of these disgraceful scenes become, that it seems as if Pennsylvania is to be rendered especially infamous by the new Fugitive Slave Law.  Our readers will find, in another part of our paper, a very full account of this arrest and trial, as furnished by our own reporters and those of other city papers.  The proceedings, from the commencement to the close of the trial, were of the most exciting character.  The facts that the alleged slave was the mother of six children, that she had been, by the acknowledgment of her claimants, at least twenty-two years in freedom, naturally increased the sympathy which every benevolent heart would feel for one whose dearest rights were in peril.  All the seats in the court room were filled at an early hour, and the stair-case and avenues leading to the room were densely crowded, while large numbers of colored persons were assembled in Independence Square, during the whole of the intensely cold day.  Among the audience was a large number of ladies, drawn thither by the unusual interest of the case.

In full view of the audience sat the unhappy mother, with her infant in her arms, and by her side and on the floor at her feet, sat her children, most of them too young to understand the danger which threatened them.  She was surrounded by her friends, and probably felt that she had the sympathies of most of the persons in the room.  Not far from the group, sat the man who claimed property in the body and soul of his fellow-creatures, awaiting the permission of the Court to seize his prey.  Beside him were his two witnesses, and the trio looked more like criminals at the bar, than plaintiffs in a just cause.  The atmosphere, evidently, did not agree with them ; and probably, had they foreseen what an ordeal they were to endure, they would have stayed in Maryland.

The counsel for the defendant were David Paul Brown and William S. Peirce; the claimant’s counsel was Richard McMurtrie, a young member of the bar, who seems likely to gain distinction of no enviable kind.  We deeply regretted to see a young man of his station and talents selling himself for so base a purpose.  It will not be long before he will rue the day when he joined hands with kidnappers, and sought to tear a mother from her young children, to convert her into a beast of burden on Mr. Wm. Purnell’s plantation in Maryland.  His heartlessness was apparent at the outset, in the cool insolence with which he remarked, “The name of this girl is Mahala ; I believe that in the South, they give the slave property by one name.” The slave property indeed ?   A northern man thus designating his fellow creatures !  Truly southern in his style ; as he also was in alluding to her marriage, saying that she had “taken up” with a “boy” on Mr. Bower’s plantation.  This was as contemptible as it had been designed to be contemptuous.  Entirely gratuitous and highly indecorous was his statement that the husband of the alleged slave was also a fugitive slave, and is now in the Moyamensing prison.  What but an unmanly and cruel wish to make an argument against this poor woman, could have elicited this unnecessary statement ?  Really, we do not wonder at the conviction produced in the mind of a lady in the audience, who is remarkably slow to censure any one, who said of him,  “That man never loved his Mother !”  How any man who had ever known the blessedness of a mother’s love, and who had cherished her name as a sacred word, could find it in his heart to join voluntarily—for such is the fact, whatever may be said of “professional obligation”—in the effort to reduce to slavery this woman, this mother, is more than we can understand or imagine.

The first witness who was called to the stand was Robert F. Bowen, a neighbor of the claimant, and who pretended to own the husband of Euphemia Williams, or, as they called her, Mahala Purnell.  Mr. Bowen was, evidently, in a very uncomfortable stiuation, apparently striving to conceal the truth and to avoid perjury.  Hence his testimony was contradictory, and much of it more injurious to himself and his friend than to the defendant.  He trembled under the severe cross-examination of David Paul Brown ; his face became pale, his voice agitated, he called for water and at length was obliged to sit down.  This, apparently, gave him little relief ; the paleness which overspread his countenance increased, and he became faint ; the examination was suspended, and he was assisted to leave the court room.  Just before this occurrence, some one standing near him, listening to the untruthfulness of his replies and statements, exclaimed in an undertone, “I wonder that the man does not drop down dead !”  whether or not the words reached his ear, and increased his confusion and distress, we know not.

The witness who succeeded him, Zachariah Bowen, seemed to be of somewhat sterner stuff, yet in his testimony he contradicted both his colleague and himself, and evinced no more frankness or truthfulness and did the former.  Terribly searching were some of the questions, and scathing the rebukes which they received from Mr. Brown.

Mr. Robert Bowen remembered, with accuracy, the time of Mahala’s escape, from the fact that during the previous year he had “professed religion.”  A derisive laugh passed round the assembly, accompanied with a slight shudder on the part of some, at the profaneness of the incongruity.  A similar feeling was produced when Mr. Brown asked the witness how he recollected the date of his conversion, and he replied that it was recorded in his bible, and he could not help noticing it, every time he turned over the pages of that precious book.

The fact that one of these witnesses was, by profession, an overseer on a slave plantation, did not add any weight to his testimony.  As these two were the only witnesses for the claimant, excepting one, who seemed to know almost nothing about the matter, and might as well have been silent, there appeared little need of opposing testimony to refute what was so contradictory, and in many respects evidently untrue.  But the witnesses for the defense—highly respectable persons, whose intelligence and sincerity were complimented by the Judge, in contrast with the shuffling and duplicity of the opposing witnesses,—presented a chain of evidence so strong, that no doubt seemed to be left on the mind of the Judge, and his verdict was given in favor of the defendant.  The bearing of Judge Kane, throughout the trial was dignified and impartial.  While he declared that as long as he sat on that bench, he should enforce the Fugitive Slave Law faithfully, he was, evidently, disposed to protect the rights of the defendant, to the fullest extent possible, in his official station.  We would fain hope that his sense of right, and love of justice might impel him to resign an office in which he is sworn to execute so infamous a statute, from which his soul revolts.  But perhaps this is too much to expect.  The counsel for the defendant discharged their duty faithfully, and honorably to themselves.  William S. Peirce performed his part well, and the admirable manner in which David Paul Brown conducted the case, on his part, elicited the praised of everyone.  The warmest sympathies of the audience were elicited on behalf of the poor woman, and the judge’s decision was received with unutterable joy.  The attempted applause, suppressed in the court room, burst forth from the eager crowd outside, as the liberated woman passed out with her friends.  She was taken, with her six children, immediately to the Anti-Slavery Office, where she received the congratulations of many friends of freedom, and was then dismissed with three heartfelt cheers, from the crowd which had by this time assembled.  Her numerous colored friends now took her in charge, and escorted her to the Philadelphia Institute, Lombard street, where preparation had been made for her reception, and the celebration of this joyous event.  After brief expressions of sympathy and delight, the excited multitude placed the woman and her children again in the carriage, from which they had taken the horses, and drew them in triumph to their home.

On the route they passed the dwellings of Mr. Brown and Mr. Peirce, and gave them many hearty cheers.  Congress Hall, which is becoming quite famous as the stopping place of kidnappers, and also Mr. McMurtrie’s office, were saluted with hideous groans.  These ebullitions of popular feeling indicate that the Fugitive Slave Law is not acquiesced in by the masses, as some of our newspapers insinuate.  A strong tide of indignation is setting against it, which must overwhelm and destroy it.  And such occurrences as this arrest and trial, are powerful incentives to this popular indignation.  Are slave-catchers to come into our midst, to promenade our streets in broad daylight, with the avowed purpose of hunting down our citizens—are they to tear women and children from their quiet homes—and is all this to be borne in silence, and without resistance, because it is according to an act of congress ! Men have hearts and consciences left, in spite of compromises and “peace measures,” and iniquitous laws ; and those hearts and consciences have spoken out, during the last week, in this city, in tones which southern slaveholders cannot misinterpret.  Our freemen have felt insulted by the presence of the traders in slaves and souls of men, and have made their indignation so clearly manifest, that those “gentlemen” thought it advisable to make a sudden retreat from our city.   Notwithstanding the threat of one of them, that he will yet have Euphemia Williams, if he can do nothing but shoot her, we do not believe that he will very soon show his face in Philadelphia, or that his witnesses will be eager to assist him in such business again. We believe that they all took the train for Baltimore, on Saturday night, after the close of the trial. We learn that two or three others came with them from Maryland, on the same honorable business, but they have been very quiet during their stay. The names of two of them are Messrs. Ennis and Jones. They came in search of their own slaves, whom, they allege, are somewhere in the city. During their stay here, we are informed on reliable authority, they found a home at the house of Mr. Moses Johnson, of Arch St., a prominent member of one of our Presbyterian churches, and an active supporter of Missionary and Bible Societies. Their coajutors, Messrs. Purnell and Bowen, were frequent visitors at Mr. Johnson’s house while they were in the city, and thither they resorted, on Saturday evening, after their defeat, to vent their disappointment and rage. Messrs. Ennis and Jones remained in the city during Sunday, (and, probably, attended church with their host,) but, alarmed at the popular excitement which had been produced, they started on a southern route, on Sunday night, expressing their intention to return and accomplish their business, when the agitation should have subsided.

We intend to publish the names of every one connected with such nefarious transactions, as far as our knowledge extends. The connection of the house of Taylor & Paulding with this affair, has been a subject of comment. A distinguished merchant of this city, not an abolitionist, expressed his surprise and indignation that a firm of such respectable reputation should be implicated in such disgraceful business. It was evident, from the testimony on the trial, that Mr. Taylor, Mr. Gloucester, two Messrs. Massey, Messrs. Burbage, Burroughs, etc., were present at private conferences with the slave-catchers. If they are not participants in the outrage, it would be well for them to let the public know it. Public sentiment will not much longer endure these atrocities, and men who are not to be affected by motive of justice or humanity, will yet be compelled, for the sake of their reputation, to wash their hands of all participation in the business of slave-catching.

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