The Situation in Ohio



Background Notes

Samuel Freeman moved his family from Sturbridge, Massachusetts to Parma, Ohio in 1825. In this letter to his brother− and sister−in−law back in New England, he discussed family matters, compared life in Ohio to that in Massachusetts, and indicated his sympathy with both the temperance and anti−slavery causes. He admired the success that the temperance campaign had enjoyed in his native state, and seems to have wished that anti−slavery could be as successful. Freeman lived in northern Ohio near Cleveland, but because the southern part of the state bordered on Kentucky and Virginia, he heard and read in the newspapers a good deal about the pursuit of fugitive slaves. He clearly disliked the arrogance of the southern slaveholders who came North seeking fugitives; this was a feeling that many Northerners were coming to share. He also noted that the men who freed the fugitive slave in Marion were “not abolitionists,” but were primarily concerned with upholding the courts and laws of Ohio—ones that did not recognize slavery. Freeman’s comments foreshadowed two issues that would soon be mobilizing Northern opinion against slavery—belief in a hostile and aggressive “slave power,” and, after 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act, which required courts in the free states to enforce the rights of slaveholders.

Transcription of Primary Source

Parma, Cuyahoga Co. Ohio October 10, 1839

Dear Brother and Sister,

We were very glad when we received a letter from you. We were glad to learn that you were enjoying so good health…

I used to call myself a healthy man; but since I have entirely left off the use of alcohol and tobacco in all their forms, I have enjoyed much better health in body and mind, than when I was a slave to both. Next after the welfare of my friends, I have a strong desire to see Religion, Temperance and Human rights prevail and flourish. If the former prevails, there is almost a certainty that the other two will. Massachusetts has taken a noble stand in regard to temperance…

The people in Mass. do not take so decided and active measures in the cause of antislavery as I wish they would. Probably you do not hear so much about Slavery as we do in Ohio. The slave holders from Virginia and Kentucky are often here in pursuit of their runaway slaves. They are often very insolent and overbearing. I will relate one trial in the County of Marion in this state. A virginian claimed a negro as his property, obtained a warrant and had him arrested as a runaway slave.

Upon trial five virginians attended court in order to identify the slave and to prove whatever might be necessary to entitle them to a warrant of removal, or to carry the slave into Virginia. Upon trial the Court thought the claimant had not proved his claim. As soon as the court discharged the negro, the virginians drew their Pistols and Bowie knives, seized the negro, forced him from the court house into the street and declared that if anyone attempted to rescue him he would do it at the expence of his life. The citizens interfered with stones and brick bats and the negro finally made his escape. The rioters were arrested and fined 20 Dollars each. The people who rescued him were not abolitionists, but were determined the laws and decision of the court should be respected.

My situation here is in many respects a pleasant one; on a good turnpike road leading from Cleveland to Columbus and Cincinnati. It is a market road for a large tract of Country, we have a daily Stage and an almost constant passing of Country teams and carriages. Probably there is more travel here in one day than there was in a year when we lived in Sturbridge…We have kind neighbors here as we had in Sturbridge; yet they are not like those with whom I associated from my infancy. We have not so much religious, well educated society here as we might have in Sturbridge. If we could have Massachusetts society and meeting houses etc I should be willing to take with them some of its rocks, hills, mountains and swamps…

At this time I presume my work is quite different from yours. Probably you are now engaged in making cider, digging potatoes etc. Samuel carries on my farm and I am engaged in fencing my wheat…

I wish you to write me a long letter and inform me all about your neighbors which would be proper for me to know…

I have written a long and tedious letter, but you are not obliged to read it all. You have found many blunders, blots and interlinations which you must excuse, for I write in haste and have no time to copy.

Convey our best wishes to all our friends,

Yours affectionately Sam’l Freeman

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
S Freeman to P Belknap Ltr, Oct. 10, 1839
Freeman, Samuel
Old Sturbridge Village
Catalog Code: