Monday, February 29, 2016

Fugitive Slave: Eyewitness of the Trial (Part II)

Continued from Fugitive Slave: Freedom, Capture and Redemption (Part I)

Cast of Characters:
  • AMANDA KITCHELL, former slave
  • Alfred Chavers, Amanda's husband
  • J. T. Leach, one-time owner of Amanda
  • J. T. Leach, son of J. T. Leach 
  • Malcom McCullom, slave catcher and last owner of Amanda
I can just picture this lady sitting by her window listening to the proceedings across the alley, can't you?

Mrs. B. F. Sargent, of Alton, who witnessed the trial, or a part of it, favors the writer with such incidents thereof as she saw or heard. Mrs. Sargent is the last survivor of her generation, of a family that has been prominent in the growth and development of Alton during the past seventy-five years. Her maiden name was Miss Susan Phinney, and her brother, the late Mr. Charles Phinney, was actively engaged in the mercantile business in Alton from 1838 until his death in 1904, a period of sixty-six years. She is doubtless the only survivor of those who participated in or witnessed the trial. And now in a serene old age with mental faculties unimpaired, she recalls with interest the early days of Alton. At the time of the trial she was at the residence of her sister, Mrs. E. L. Dimmock on Second street, which was separated from the office by a narrow vacant lot. The windows were open and she saw the proceedings and heard something of what passed.

The woman and her friends were grouped on one side of the room, and the slave catcher and his assistants on the other. Hon. George T. Brown, then a young attorney, appeared for the defense. Judge Davis sat at his desk which was piled high with legal authorities he had been consulting. The prosecuting and defendant lawyers presented their cases, and when the arguments were concluded the judge rendered his decision in favor of the prosecutor, remarking in addition: "It is the law this is my duty under the law." All his sympathies were with the woman and he gave the decision reluctantly, but it was in accordance with the law and his duty under his oath of office.

Mrs. Sargent recalls the face of the slave catcher as a repulsive one. When he saw how much sympathy there was for the woman and that an effort would be made to purchase her release he kept raising the price of her redemption until it reached the some of $1,200. All classes of citizens, white and colored, joined in raising the sum necessary. Chavers, mortgaged the little home owned by himself and his mother, and other colored men helped to the best of their ability. Mrs. C. W. Hunter, wife of Major Hunter, personally circulated a subscription list. Some of the Abolitionists, Mrs. Sargent says, were reluctant to subscribe for the reason that they did not believe in the purchase or sale of human beings, but, in this case, their sympathies overcame their scruples and they subscribed liberally.

A notable change in public sentiment is here exhibited, sixteen years previous to this incident Lovejoy had been slain in Alton by a proslavery mob, for advocating the freedom of the slave; but later, when the horrors of slavery are brought to their doors, we find the citizens uniting in raising a large sum to purchase liberty for a slave. Thus was Lovejoy's sacrifice vindicated in the place of his martyrdom.

Wood engraving of pro-slavery mob killing Abolitionist Lovejoy; image
courtesy of Wikipedia

Judge Resigns in Disgust

Judge Davis felt the affair so keenly, when the inequity of the slave law was thus brought home to him for the first time, that he indignantly resigned this office of commissioner, refusing longer to hold a position where he could be made a party to the enforcement of a law so obviously opposed to morality and humanity. Judge Davis was for many years one of Madison county's most distinguished lawyers and was held in universal esteem. He was a native of Cecil county, Maryland, and was born in 1808 of an old Revolutionary family. He came to Illinois prior to 1830, in company with David Davis afterwards of the U.S. Supreme Court. He located near Vandalia, in 1835, was elected state auditor by the legislature and served two terms. When the state capitol was located at Springfield, he removed to that city, and came to Alton in 1846. He was prominent in public affairs and was a friend of Lincoln, Douglas, Trumbull, and other great men of the day. He was a man of the highest integrity and of spotless character. In his young manhood he was a soldier in the Black Hawk war of 1832 and his three sons, Capt. James W. Davis, Surgeon Charles Davis and Lieut. Levi Davis, Jr., served with honor in the Civil war as officers in the Ninety-Seventh Illinois. Judge Davis died at the residence of his son, Dr. Davis, March 3, 1897, at the ripe age of eighty-nine.

The Principals' After Life

A word as to the Chavers family: The husband Alfred Chavers, "ran on the river" and, some two years after this incident lost his life in a disaster on a steamboat plying between St. Louis and New Orleans. After his death his wife removed to a town in Southern Illinois where she had relatives, and nothing more seems to have been known of her in Alton. The couple left no children.

Fugitive Slave: Freedom, Capture and Redemption (Part I) 
The Killing of Abolitionist Lovejoy
Slave Name Roll Project


  1. Thank you for sharing Schalene. I enjoyed reading both parts. We cannot change history. It is heartwarming to read "sympathies overcame their scruples." They had a good reason to lay money on the table to buy a slave, the reason being her freedom.

    I find it unfortunate when a narrative is found about any person and there are no descendants to pass the story on to. In this case the descendants of the people of Alton who took part in giving Amanda her freedom can be proud. ~ Cathy

    1. The complete about face of the citizens of Alton regarding slavery was heartwarming. However, I found it sad that the original author didn't know what happened to Amanda after her husband died.

  2. Oh my Mr. Chavers died. So sad after all that. No children. This was a wonderful 2 Part series Blog Post. Bless Judge Davis for his works. I'm wrapping my heart around Amanda and Alfred. Thanks for sharing this and releasing Amanda Story. Her Case is a mighty example and tells the story of this Community as well. True-

    1. Thank you, True. But I can take no credit. I found the story in a book about the history of Madison County, Illinois, published in 1912, and therefore I could reproduce it here without copyright issues.