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penniless widow lady, I have Served her 25 yers 2 months, I think that is long Enough for me to live A Slave. Dear Sir, I am very sorry to hear of the Accadent that happened to our Friend Mr. Meakins, I have read the letter to all that lives in St. Catharines, that came from old Virginia, and then I Sented to Toronto to Mercer & Clayton to see, and to Farman to read fur themselves. Sir, you must write to me soon and let me know how Meakins gets on with his tryal, and you must pray for him, I have told all here to do the same for him. May God bless and protect him from prison, I have heard A great del of old Richmond and Norfolk. Dear Sir, if you see Mr. or Mrs. Gilbert Give my love to them and tell them to write to me, also give my respect to your Family and A part for yourself, love from the friends to you Soloman Brown, H. Atkins, Was. Johnson, Mrs Brooks, Mr. Dykes. Mr. Smith is better at presant. And do not forget to write the News of Meakin's tryal. I cannot say any more at this time; but remain yours and A true Friend ontell Death. W. H. GILLIAM, the widow's Mite. . .

NEW BEDFORD, August 26, 1855.

MR. STILL: -I avail my self to write you thes few lines hopeing they may find you and your family well as they leaves me very well and all the family well except my father he seams to be improveing with his shoulder he has been able to work a little I received the papers I was highly delighted to receive them I was very glad to hear from you in the wheler case I was very glad to hear that the persons ware safe I was very sory to hear that mr Williamson was put in prison but I know if the praying part of the people will pray for him and if he will put his trust in the lord he will bring him out more than conquer please remember my Dear old farther and sisters and brothers to your family kiss the children for me I hear that the yellow fever is very bad down south now if the underground railroad could have free course the emergrant would cross the river of gordan rapidly I hope it may continue to run and I hope the wheels of the car may be greesed with more substantial greese so they may run over swiftly I would have wrote before but circumstances would not permit me Miss Sanders and all the friends desired to be remembered to you and your family I shall be pleased to hear from the underground rail road often

Yours respectfully,


HAVANA, August 11, 1856, Schuylkill Co., N. Y.


MR. WM. STILL · Dear Sir I came from Virginia in March, and was at your office the last of March. My object in writing you, is to inquire what I can do, or what can be done to help my wife to escape from the same bondage that I was in. You will know by your books that I was from Petersburg, Va., and that is where my wife now is. I have received two or three letters from a lady in that place, and the last one says, that my wife's mistress is dead, and that she expects to be sold. I am very anxious to do what I can for her before it is too late, and beg of you to devise some means to get her away. Capt. the man that brought me away, knows the colored agent at Petersburg, and knows he will do all he can to forward my wife. The Capt. promised, that when I could raise one hundred dollars for him that he would deliver her in Philadelphia. Tell him that I can now raise the money, and will forward it to you at any day that he thinks that he can bring her. Please see the Captain and find when he will undertake it, and then let me know when to forward the money to you. I am at work for the Hon. Charles Cook, and can send the money any day. My wife's name is Harriet Robertson, and the agent at Petersburg knows her.

Please direct your answer, with all necessary directions, to N. Coryell, of this village, and he will see that all is right.

Very respectfully,


William Still, The Underground Railroad (Philadelphia, 1872), 57–330 passim.

33. A Personal-Liberty Act (1855)


This statute is a fair sample of those passed by nine other states in the North. They were not caused by the Fugitive-Slave Law itself so much as by the KansasNebraska Act, but they approximated a nullification of the former law and helped to make it a dead letter. The personal-liberty laws were the most serious grievance of the South in 1861. In Massachusetts the measures of the personal-liberty law were intended especially to prevent a repetition of the Burns case (see No. 31 above).— Bibliography as in No. 29 above.

ECT. 1. All the provisions of the "Act further to protect Personal Liberty," passed the twenty-fourth day of March, in the year one thousand eight hundred and forty-three, shall apply to the act of con


gress, approved September eighteen, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty, entitled "An Act to amend, and supplementary to, the act entitled 'An Act respecting fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters.'"

SECT. 2. The meaning of the one hundred and eleventh chapter of the Revised Statutes is hereby declared to be, that every person imprisoned or restrained of his liberty is entitled, as of right and of course, to the writ of habeas corpus, except in the cases mentioned in the second section of that chapter.

SECT. 3. The writ of habeas corpus may be issued by the supreme judicial court, the court of common pleas, by any justice's court or police court of any town or city, by any court of record, or by any justice of either of said courts, or by any judge of probate; and it may be issued by any justice of the peace, if no magistrate above named is known to said justice of the peace to be within five miles of the place where the party is imprisoned or restrained, and it shall be returnable before the supreme judicial court, or any one of the justices thereof, whether the court may be in session or not, and in term time or vacation.

SECT. 4. The supreme judicial court, or any justice of said court before whom the writ of habeas corpus shall be made returnable, shall, on the application of any party to the proceeding, order a trial by jury as to any facts stated in the return of the officer, or as to any facts alleged, if it shall appear by the return of the officer or otherwise, that the person whose restraint or imprisonment is in question is claimed to be held to service or labor in another State, and to have escaped from such service or labor, and may admit said person to bail in a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars.

SECT. 6. If any claimant shall appear to demand the custody or possession of the person for whose benefit said writ is sued out, such claimant shall state in writing the facts on which he relies, with precision and certainty; and neither the claimant of the alleged fugitive, nor any person interested in his alleged obligation to service or labor, nor the alleged fugitive, shall be permitted to testify at the trial of the issue; and no confessions, admissions or declarations of the alleged fugitive against himself shall be given in evidence. Upon every question of fact involved in the issue, the burden of proof shall be on the claimant, and the facts alleged and necessary to be established, must be proved by the testimony of at least two credible witnesses, or other

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legal evidence equivalent thereto, and by the rules of evidence known and secured by the common law; and no ex parte deposition or affidavit shall be received in proof in behalf of the claimant, and no presumption shall arise in favor of the claimant from any proof that the alleged fugitive or any of his ancestors had been actually held as a slave, without proof that such holding was legal.

SECT. 7. If any person shall remove from the limits of this Commonwealth, or shall assist in removing therefrom, or shall come into the Commonwealth with the intention of removing or of assisting in the removing therefrom, or shall procure or assist in procuring to be so removed, any person being in the peace thereof who is not "held to service or labor" by the "party" making "claim," or who has not "escaped" from the "party" making "claim," or whose "service or labor" is not "due " to the "party" making "claim, " within the meaning of those words in the constitution of the United States, on the pretence that such person is so held or has so escaped, or that his "service or labor" is so "due," or with the intent to subject him to such "service or labor," he shall be punished by a fine not less than one thousand, nor more than five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment in the State Prison not less than one, nor more than five years. . . .

SECT. 9. No person, while holding any office of honor, trust, or emolument, under the laws of this Commonwealth, shall, in any capacity, issue any warrant or other process, or grant any certificate, under or by virtue of an act of congress, approved the twelfth day of February, in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, . . . or under or by virtue of an act of congress, approved the eighteenth day of September, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty, . . . or shall, in any capacity, serve any such warrant or other process.

SECT. 10. Any person who shall grant any certificate under or by virtue of the acts of congress, mentioned in the preceding section, shall be deemed to have resigned any commission from the Commonwealth which he may possess, his office shall be deemed vacant, and he shall be forever thereafter ineligible to any office of trust, honor or emolument, under the laws of this Commonwealth.

SECT. 11. Any person who shall act as counsel or attorney for any claimant of any alleged fugitive from service or labor, under or by virtue of the acts of congress mentioned in the ninth section of this act, shall be deemed to have resigned any commission from the Commonwealth that he may possess, and he shall be thereafter incapacitated from

appearing as counsel or attorney in the courts of this Commonwealth.

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SECT. 14. Any person holding any judicial office under the constitution or laws of this Commonwealth, who shall continue, for ten days after the passage of this act, to hold the office of United States commissioner, or any office under the laws of the United States which qualifies him to issue any warrant or other process, or grant any certificate under the acts of congress named in the ninth section of this act, shall be deemed to have violated good behavior, to have given reason for loss of public confidence, and furnished sufficient ground either for impeachment or for removal by address.

SECT. 15. Any sheriff, deputy sheriff, jailer, coroner, constable or other officer of this Commonwealth, or the police of any city or town, or any district, county, city or town officer, or any officer or other member of the volunteer militia of this Commonwealth, who shall hereafter arrest, imprison, detain or return, or aid in arresting, imprisoning, detaining or returning, any person for the reason that he is claimed or adjudged to be a fugitive from service or labor, shall be punished by fine . . . and by imprisonment. . . .

SECT. 16. The volunteer militia of the Commonwealth shall not act in any manner in the seizure, detention or rendition of any person for the reason that he is claimed or adjudged to be a fugitive from service or labor. Any member of the same who shall offend against the provisions of this section shall be punished by fine . . . and by imprison



SECT. 19. No jail, prison, or other place of confinement belonging to, or used by, either the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or any county therein, shall be used for the detention or imprisonment of any person accused or convicted of any offence created by either of the said acts of congress mentioned in the ninth section of this act, or accused or convicted of obstructing or resisting any process, warrant, or order, issued under either of said acts, or of rescuing, or attempting to rescue, any person arrested or detained under any of the provisions of either of said acts, nor for the imprisonment of any person arrested on mesne process, or on execution in any suit for damages or penalties accruing, or being claimed to accrue, in consequence of any aid rendered to any escaping fugitive from service or labor.

Acts and Resolves passed by the General Court of Massachusetts in the Year 1855 (Boston, 1855), Chapter 489, pp. 924-929 passim.

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