IN the long
list of names who have suffered and died in the cause of
freedom, not one, perhaps, could be found whose efforts
to redeem a poor family of slaves were more Christlike
than Seth Concklin's, whose noble and daring
spirit has been so long completely shrouded in mystery.
Except John Brown, it is a question, whether his
rival could be found with respect to boldness,
disinterestedness and willingness to be sacrificed for
the deliverance of the oppressed.
By chance one day he came across a copy of the
Pennsylvania Freeman, containing the story of Peter
Still, "the Kidnapped and the Ransomed," - how
he had been torn away from his mother, when a little boy
six years old; how, for forty years and more, he had
been compelled to serve under the yoke, totally
destitute as to any knowledge of his parents'
whereabouts; how the intense love of liberty and desire
to get back to his mother hand unceasingly absorbed his
mind through all these years of bondage; how, amid the
most appalling discouragements, prompted alone by his
undying determination to be free and be reunited with
those from whom he had been sold away, he contrived to
buy himself; how, by extreme economy, from doing
over-work, he saved up five hundred dollars, the amount
of money required for his ransom, which, with his
freedom, he, from necessity, placed unreservedly in the
confidential keeping of a Jew, named Joseph Friedman,
whom he had known for a long time and could venture to
trust, - how he had further toiled to save up money to
defray his expenses on an expedition in search of his
mother and kindred; how, when this end was accomplished,
with an earnest purpose he took his carpet-bag in his
hand, and his heart throbbing for his old home and
people, he turned his mind very privately towards
Philadelphia, where he hoped, by having notices read in
the colored churches to the effect that "forty-one or
forty-two years before two little boys.*
* Sons of Levin and Sidney - the last
names of his parents he was too young to remember.
were kidnapped and carried South" - that the memory of
some of the older members might recall the
circumstances, and in this way he would be aided in his
ardent efforts to become restored to them.
And, furthermore, Seth Concklin had read now, on
arriving in Philadelphia, after traveling sixteen
hundred miles, that almost the firt man whom Peter
Still sought advice from was his own unknown brother
(whom he had never seen or heard of), who made the
discovery that he was the long-lost boy, whose history
and fate had been enveloped in sadness so long and for
whom his mother had shed been enveloped in sadness so
long, and for whom his mother had shed so many tears and
offered so many prayers, during the long years of their
separation; and, finally, how this self-ransomed and
restored captive, notwithstanding his great success, was
destined to suffer the keenest pangs of sorrow for his
wife and children, whom he had left in Alabama bondage.
Seth Concklin was naturally too singularly
sympathetic and humane not to feel now for Peter,
and especially for his wife and children left in bonds
as bound with them. Hence, as Seth was a
man who seemed wholly insensible to fear, and to know no
other law of humanity and right, than whenever the
claims of the suffering and the wronged appealed to him,
to respond unreservedly, whether those thus injured were
amongst his nearest kin or the greatest strangers, - it
mattered not to what race or clime they might belong, -
he, in the spirit of the good Samaritan, owning all such
as his neighbors, volunteered his services, without pay
or reward, to go and rescue the wife and three children
of Peter Still.
The magnitude of this offer can hardly be appreciated.
It was literally laving his life on the alter of freedom
for the despised and oppressed whom he had never seen,
whose kins-folk even he was not acquainted with.
At this juncture even Peter was not prepared to
accept this proposal. He wanted to secure the
freedom of his wife and children as earnestly as he had
ever desired to see his mother, yet he could not, at
first, hearken to the idea of having them rescued in the
way suggested by Concklin, fearing a failure.
To J. M. McKim and the writer, the bold scheme
for the deliverance of Peter's family was alone
confided. It was never submitted to the Vigilance
Committee, for the reason, that it was not considered a
matter belonging thereto. On first reflection, the
very idea of such an undertaking seemed perfectly
appalling. Frankly was he told of the great
dangers and difficulties to be encountered through
hundreds of miles of slave territory. Seth
was told of those who, in attempting to aid slaves to
escape, had fallen victims to the relentless Slave
Power, and had either lost their lives, or been
incarcerated for long years in penitentiaries, where no
friendly aid could be afforded them; in short, he was
plainly told, that without a very great chance, the
undertaking would cost him his life. The occasion
of this interview and conversation, the seriousness of
Concklin and the utter failure in presenting the
various obstacles to his plan, to create the slightest
apparent misgiving in his mind, or to produce the
slightest sense of fear or
hesitancy, can never be effaced from the memory of the
writer. The plan was, however, allowed to rest for
In the meanwhile, Peter's mind was continually
vacillating between Alabama, with his wife and children,
and his new-found relatives in the North. Said a
brother, "If you cannot get your family, what will you
do? Will you come North and live with your
relatives?" "I would as soon go out of the world,
as not to go back and do all I can for them," was the
prompt reply of Peter.
The problem of buying them was seriously considered,
but here obstacles quite formidable lay in the way.
Alabama laws utterly denied the right of a slave to buy
himself, much less his wife and children. The
right of slave masters to free their slaves, either by
sale or emancipation, was positively prohibited by law.
With these reflections weighing upon his mind, having
stayed away from his wife as long as he could content
himself to do, he took his carpet-bag in his hand, and
turned his face toward Alabama, to embrace his family in
the prison-house of bondage.
His approach home could only be made stealthily, not
daring to breathe to a living soul, save his own family,
his nominal Jew master, and one other friend - a slave -
where he had been, the prize he had found, on anything
in relation to his travels. To his wife and
children his return was unspeakably joyous. The
situation of his family concerned him with tenfold more
weight than ever before.
As the time drew near to make the offer to his wife's
master to purchase her with his children, his heart
failed him through fear of awakening the ire of
slaveholders against him, as he knew that the law and
public sentiment were alike deadly opposed to the spirit
of freedom in the slave. Indeed, as innocent as a
step in this direction might appear, in those days a man
would have stood about as good a chance for his life in
entering a lair of hungry hyenas, as a slave or free
colored man would, in talking about freedom.
He concluded, therefore, to say nothing about buying.
The plan proposed by Seth Concklin was told to
Vina, his wife; also what he had heard from his
brother about the Underground Rail Road, - how, that
many who could not get their freedom in any other way,
by being aided a little, were daily escaping to Canada.
Although the wife and children had never tasted the
pleasures of freedom for a single hour in their lives,
they hated slavery heartily, and being about to be far
separated from husband and father, they were ready to
assent to any proposition that looked like deliverance.
So Peter proposed to Vina, that she
should give him certain small articles, consisting of a
cape, etc., which he would carry with him as memorials,
and, in case Concklin or any one else should ever
come for her from him, as an unmistakable sign that all
was right, he would send back, by
whoever was to befriend them, the cape, so that she had
the children might not doubt but have faith in the man,
when he gave her the sign, (cape).
Again Peter returned to Philadelphia, and was
now willing to accept the offer of Concklin.
Ere long, the opportunity of an interview was had, and
Peter gave Seth a very full description of
the country and of his family and made known to him,
that he had very carefully gone over with his wife and
children the matter of their freedom. This
interview interested Concklin most deeply.
If his own wife and children had been in bondage,
scarcely could he have manifested greater sympathy for
For the hazardous work before him he was at once
prepared to make a start. True he had two sisters
in Philadelphia for whom he had always cherished the
warmest affection, but he conferred not with them
on this momentous mission. For full well did he
know that it was not in human nature for them to
acquiesce in this perilous undertaking, though one of
these sisters, Mrs. Supplee, was a most faithful
Having once laid his hand to the plough he was not the
man to look back, - not even to bid his sisters
good-bye, but he actually left them as though he
expected to be home to his dinner as usual. What
had become of him during those many weeks of his
perilous labors in Alabama to rescue this family was to
none a greater mystery than to his sisters. On
leaving home he simply took two or three small articles
in the way of apparel with one hundred dollars to defray
his expenses for a time; this sum he considered ample to
start with. One course he had very safely
concerned about him Vina's cape and one or two
other articles which he was to use for his
identification in meeting her and the children on the
He first thought was, on reaching his destination,
after becoming acquainted with the family, being
familiar with Southern manners, to have them all
prepared at a given hour for the starting of the
steamboat for Cincinnati, and to join him at the wharf,
when he would boldly assume the part of a slaveholder,
and the family naturally that of slaves, and in this way
he hoped to reach Cincinnati direct, before their owner
had fairly discovered their escape.
But alas for Southern irregularity, two or three days
delay after being advertised to start, was no uncommon
circumstance with steamers; hence this plan was
abandoned. What this heroic man endured from
severe struggles and unyielding exertions, in traveling
thousands of miles on water and on foot, hungry and
fatigued, rowing his living freight for seven days and
seven nights in a skiff, is hardly to be paralleled in
the annals of the Underground Rail Road.
The following interesting letters penned by the hand of
Concklin convey minutely his last struggles and
characteristically represent the singleness of heart
which impelled him to sacrifice his life for the slave -
FEB. 3, 1851
- Our friends in Cincinnati have failed finding anybody
to assist me on my return. Searching the country
opposite Paducah, I find that the whole country fifty
miles round is inhabited only by Christian wolves.
It is customary, when a strange negro is seen, for any
white man to seize the negro and convey such negro
through and out of the State of Illinois to Paducah,
Ky., and lodge such stranger in Paducah jail, and there
claim such reward as may be offered by the master.
There is no regularity
by the steamboats on the Tennessee River. I was
four days getting to Florence to Paducah.
Sometimes they are four days starting, from the time
appointed, which alone puts to rest the plan for
returning by steamboat. The distance from the
mouth of the river to Florence, is from between three
hundred and five to three hundred and forty-five miles
by the river; by land, two hundred and fifty, or more.
I arrived at the shoe-shop on the plantation, one
o'clock, Tuesday, 28th. William and two
boys were making shoes. I immediately gave the
first signal, anxiously waiting thirty minutes for an
opportunity to give the second and main signal, during
which time I was very sociable. It was rainy and
muddy - my pants were rolled up to the knees. I
was in the character of a man seeking employment in this
country. End of thirty minutes gave the second
William appeared unmoved; soon sent out the
boys; instantly sociable; Peter and Levin
at the Island; one of the young masters with them; not
safe to undertake to see them till Saturday night, when
they would be at home; appointed a place to see Vina,
in an open field, that night; they to bring me something
to eat; our interview only four minutes; I left;
appeared by night; dark and cloudy; at ten o'clock
appeared William; exchanged signals; led me a few
rods to where stood Vina; gave her the signal
sent by Peter; our interview ten minutes; she did
not call me "master," nor did she say "sir," by which I
knew she had confidence in me.
Our situation being dangerous, we decided that I meet
Peter and Levin on the bank of the river
early dawn of day, Sunday, to establish the laws.
During our interview, William prostrated on his
knees, and face to the ground; arms sprawling; head
cocked back, watching for wolves, by which position a
man can see better in the dark. No house to go to
safely, traveled round till morning, eating hoe cake
which William had given me for supper; next day
going around to get employment. I thought of
William who is a Christian preacher, and of the
Christian preachers in Pennsylvania. One watching
for wolves by night, to rescue Vina and her three
children from Christian licentiousness; the other
standing erect in open day, seeking the praise of men.
During the four days waiting for the important Sunday
morning, I thoroughly surveyed the rocks and shoals of
the river from Florence seven miles up, where will be my
place of departure. General notice was taken of me
as being a stranger, lurking around. Fortunately
there are several small grist mills within ten miles
around. No taverns here, as in the North; any
planter's house entertains travelers occasionally.
One night I stayed at a medical gentleman's, who is not
a large planter; another night at the ex-magistrate's
house in South Florence - a Virginian by birth - one of
the late census takers; told me that many more persons
cannot read and write than is reported; one fact,
amongst many others, that many persons who do not know
the letters of the alphabet, have learned to write their
own names; such are generally reported readers and
In being customary for a stranger not to leave the
house early in the morning where he has lodged. I
was under the necessity of staying out all night
Saturday, to be able to meet Peter and Levin,
which was accomplished in due time. When we
approached, I gave my signal first; immediately they
gave theirs. I talked freely. Levin's
voice, at first, evidently trembled. No wonder,
for my presence universally attracted attention by the
of the land. Our interview was less than one hour;
the laws were written. I to go to Cincinnati to
get a rowing boat and provisions; a first class clipper
boat to go with speed. To depart from the place
where the laws were written, on Saturday night of the
first of March. I to meet one of them at the
same place Thursday night, previous to the fourth
Saturday from the night previous to the Sunday when the
laws were written. We go to down the Tennessee
river to some place up the Ohio, not yet decided on, in
our row boat. Peter and Levin are
good oarsmen. So am I. Telegraphy station at
Tuscombia, twelve miles from the plantation, also at
Came from Florence to here Sunday night by steamboat.
Eastport is in Mississippi. Waiting here for a
steamboat to go down; paying one dollar a day for board.
Like other taverns here, the wretchedness is
indescribable; no pen, ink, paper or newspaper to be
had; only one room for everybody, except the gambling
rooms. It is difficult for me to write.
Vina intends to get a pass for Catharine and
herself for the first Sunday in March.
The bank of the river where I met Peter and
Levin is two miles from the plantation. I have
avoided saying I am from Philadelphia. Also
avoided talking about negroes. I never talked so
much about milling before. I consider most of the
trouble over, till I arrive in a free State with my
crew, the first week in March; then will I have to be
wiser than Christian serpents, and more cautious than
doves. I do not consider it safe to keep business
in these post-offices that notice might be taken.
I am evidently watched; everybody knows me to be a
miller. I may wright again, when I get to
Cincinnati. If I should have time. The
ex-magistrate, with whom I stayed in South Florence,
held three hours' talk with me, exclusive on our morning
talk. Is a man of good general information; he was
exceedingly inquisitive. "I am from Cincinnati,
formerly from the State of New York." I had
no opportunity to get anything to eat from seven o'clock
Tuesday morning till six o'clock Wednesday evening,
except the hoe cake, and no sleep.
Florence is the head of navigation for small
steamboats. Seven miles, all the way up to my
place of departure, is swift water, and rocky.
Eight hundred miles to Cincinnati. I found all
things here as Peter told me, except the distance
of the river. South Florence contains twenty white
families, three warehouses of considerable business, a
post-office, but no school. McKiernon is
here waiting for a steamboat to go to New Orleans, so we
are in company.
- The plan is to go to Canada, on the Wabash, opposite
Detroit. There are four routes to Canada.
One through Illinois, commencing above and below Alton;
one through the North Indiana, and the Cincinnati route,
being the largest route in the United States.
I intended to have gone through Pennsylvania, but the
risk going up the Ohio river has caused me to go to
Canada. Steamboat traveling is universally
condemned; though many go in boats, consequently many
get lost. Going in a skiff is new, and is approved
of in my case. After I arrive at the mouth of the
Tennessee river, I will go up the Ohio seventy-five
miles, to the mouth of the Wabash, then up the Wabash,
forty-four miles to New Harmony, where I shall go ashore
by night, and go thirteen miles east, to Charles
Grier a farmer, (colored man), who will entertain
us, and next night convey us sixteen miles to David
Stormon, near Princeton, who will take the command,
and I be released.
David Stormon estimates the expenses from his
house to Canada, at forty dollars, without which, no
sure protection will be given. They might be
instructed concerning the course, and beg their way
through without money. If you wish to do what
should be done, you will send my fifty dollars, in a
letter, to Princeton, Gibson county, Inda., so as
to arrive there by the 8th of March. Eight days
should be estimated for a letter to arrive from
The money to be State Bank of Ohio, or State Bank, or
Northern Bank of Kentucky, or any other Eastern bank.
Send no notes larger than twenty dollars.
Levi Coffin had no money for me. I paid
twenty dollars for the skiff. No money to get back
to Philadelphia. It was not understood that I
would have to be at any expense seeking aid.
One half of my time has been used in trying to find
persons to assist, when I may arrive on the Ohio river,
in which I have failed, except Stormon.
Having no letter of introduction to Stormon from any
source, on which I could fully rely, I traveled two
hundred miles around, to find out his stability. I
have found many abolitionists, nearly all who have made
propositions, which themselves would not comply with,
and nobody else would. Already I have traveled
over three thousand miles. Two thousand and four
hundred by steamboat, two hundred by railroad, one
hundred by stage, four hundred on foot, forty-eight in a
I have yet five hundred miles to go to the plantation,
to commence operations. I have been two weeks on
the decks of steamboats, three nights out, two of which
I got perfectly wet. If I had had paper money, as
McKim desired, it would have been destroyed.
I have not been entertained gratis at any place except
Stormon's. I had one hundred and twenty-six
dollars when I left Philadelphia, one hundred from you,
Telegraphed to station at Evansville, thirty-three
miles from Stormon's, and at Vinclure's, twenty-five
miles from Stormon's. The Wabash route is
considered the safest route No one has ever been
lost from Stormon's to Canada. Some had been lost
between Stormon's and the Ohio. The wolves have
never suspected Stormon. Your asking aid in money
for a case properly belonging east of Ohio, is detested.
If you have sent money to Cincinnati, you should recall
it. I will have no opportunity to use it.
Princeton, Gibson county, Ind.
P. S. First of April, will be about the time Peter's
family will arrive opposite Detroit. You should
inform yourself how to find them there. I may have
I will look promptly for your letter at Princeton, till
the 10th of March, and longer if there should have been
any delay by the mails.
In March, as
contemplated, Concklin arrived in Indiana, at the
place designated, with Peter's wife and three
children, and sent a thrilling letter to the writer,
portraying in the most vivid light his adventurous
flight from the hour they left Alabama until their
arrival in Indiana. In this report he stated, that
instead of starting early in the morning, owing to some
unforeseen delay on the part of the family, they did not
reach the designated place till towards day, which
greatly exposed them in passing a certain town which he
had hoped to avoid.
But as his brave heart was bent on prosecuting his
journey without further delay, he concluded to start at
all hazards, notwithstanding the dangers he apprehended
from passing said town by daylight. For safety he
endeavored to hide his freight by having them all lie
flat down on the bottom of the skiff; covered them with
blankets, concealing them from the effulgent beams of
the early morning sun, or rather from the "Christian
Wolves" who might perchance espy him from the shore in
passing the town.
The wind blew fearfully. Concklin was
rowing heroically when loud voices from the shore hailed
him, but he was utterly deaf to the sound.
Immediately one or two guns were fired in the direction
of the skiff, but he heeded not this significant call;
consequently here ended this difficulty. He
supposed, as the wind was blowing so hard, those on
shore who hailed him must have concluded that he did not
hear them and that he meant no disrespect in treating
them with seeming indifference. Whilst many
straits and great dangers had to be passed, this was the
greatest before reaching their destination.
But suffice it to say that the glad tidings which this
letter contained filled the breast of Peter with
unutterable delight and his friends and relations with
wonder beyond degree.* No fond wife had ever
waited with more longing desire for the return of her
husband than Peter had for this blessed news.
All doubts had disappeared, and a well grounded hope was
cherished that within a few short days Peter and
his fond wife and children would be reunited in Freedom
on the Canada side, and that Concklin and the
friends would be rejoicing with joy unspeakable over
this great triumph. But alas, before the few days
had expired the subjoined brief paragraph of news was
discovered in the morning Ledger.
- At Vincennes, Indiana, on Saturday last, a white man
and four negroes were arrested. The negroes belong
to B. McKiernon of South Florence, Alabama, and
the man who was running them off calls himself John
H. Miller. The prisoners were taken charge of
by the Marshall of Evansville. - April 9th.
suddenly these sad tidings turned into mourning and
gloom the hope and joy of Peter and his relatives
no pen could possibly describe; at least the writer will
not attempt it here but will at once introduce a witness
who met the noble Concklin and the panting
fugitives in Indiana and proffered them sympathy and
advice. And it may safely be said from a truer and
more devoted friend of the slave they could not have
WM. STILL: Dear Sir, - On last
Tuesday I mailed a letter to you, written by Seth
Concklin. I presume you have received that
letter. I gave an account of his rescue of the
family of your brother. If that is the last news
you have from them, I have very painful intelligence for
you. they passed on from near Princeton,
where I saw them and had a lengthy interview with them,
up north, I think twenty-three miles above Vincennes,
Ind., where they were seized by a party of men, and
lodged in jail. Telegraphic dispatches were sent
all through the South. I have since learned that
the Marshall of Evansville received a dispatch from
Tuscumbia, to look out for them. By some means, he
and the master, so says report, went to Vincennes and
claimed the fugitives, chained Mr. Concklin and
hurried all off. Mr. Concklin wrote to
Mr. David Stormon, Princeton, as soon as he was cast
into prison, to find bail. So soon as we got the
letter and could get off, two of us were about setting
off to render all possible aid, when we were told they
* In some unaccountable manner
this the last letter Concklin ever penned,
perhaps, ahs been unfortunately lost.
all had passed, a few hours before, through Princeton,
Mr. Concklin in chains. What kind of
process was had, if any, I know not. I immediately
came down to this place, and learned that they had been
put on a boat at 3 P. M. I did not arrive until 6.
Now all hopes of their recovery are gone. No case
ever so enlisted my sympathies. I had seen Mr.
Concklin in Cincinnati. I had given him aid
and counsel. I happened to see them after they
landed in Indiana. I heard Peter and
Levin tell their tale of suffering, shed tears of
sorrow for them all; but now, since they have fallen a
prey to the unmerciful blood hounds of this state, and
have again been dragged back to unrelenting bondage, I
am entirely unmanned. And poor Concklin!
I fear for him. When he is dragged back to
Alabama, I fear they will go far beyond the utmost rigor
of the law, and vent their savage cruelty upon him.
It is with pain I have to communicate these things.
But you may not hear them from him. I could not
get to see him or them, as Vincennes is about thirty
miles from Princeton, where I was when I heard of the
I take pleasure in stating that, according to the
letter he (Concklin) wrote to Mr. D. Stewart,
Mr. Concklin did not abandon them, but risked his
own liberty to save them. He was not with them
when they were taken; but went afterwards to take them
out of jail upon a writ of Habeas Corpus, when they
seized him too and lodged him in prison.
I write in much haste. If I can learn any more
facts of importance, I may write you. If you
desire to hear from me again, or if you should learn any
thing specific from Mr. Concklin, he pleased to
write me at Cincinnati, where I expect to be in a short
time. If curious to know your correspondent, I may
say I formerly Editor of the "New Concord Free Press,"
Ohio. I only add that every case of this kind only
tends to make me abhor my (no!) this country more
and more. It is the Devil's Government, and God
will destroy it.
Yours for the slave, N. R. JOHNSTON
P. S. I
broke open this letter to write you some more. The
foregoing pages were written at night. I expected
to mail it next morning before leaving Evansville; but
the boat for which I was waiting came down about three
in the morning; so I had to hurry on board, bringing the
letter along. As it now is I am not sorry, for
coming down, on my way to St. Louis, as far as Paducah,
there I learned from a colored man at the wharf that,
that same day, in the morning, the master and the family
of fugitives arrived off the boat, and had then gone in
their journey to Tuscumbia, but that the "white man" (Mr.
Concklin) had got away from them," about twelve
miles up the river. It seems he got off the boat
some way, near or at Smithland, Ky., a town at the mouth
of the Cumberland River. I presume the report is
true, and hope he will finally escape, though I was also
told that they were in pursuit of him. Would have
the others had also escaped. Peter and
Levin could have done so, I think, if they had had
resolution. One of them rode a horse, he not tied
either, behind the coach in which the others were.
He followed apparently "contented and happy." From
report, they told their master, and even their pursuers,
before the master came, that Concklin had decoyed
them away, they coming unwillingly. I write on a
very unsteady boat.
Yours, N. R. JOHNSTON.
A report found its way into the papers to the effect
that "Miller," the white man arrested in connection with
the capture of the family, was found drowned, with his
hands and feet in chains and his skull fractured.
It proved as his friends feared to be Seth Concklin.
And in irons, upon the river bank, there is no doubt he
In this dreadful hour one sad duty remained to be
performed. Up to this moment the two sisters were
totally ignorant of their brother's whereabouts.
Not the first whisper of his death had reached them.
But they must now be made acquainted with all the facts
in the case. Accordingly
an interview was arranged for a meeting, and the duty of
conveying this painful intelligence to one of the
sisters, Mrs. Supplee, devolved upon Mr. McKim.
And most tenderly and considerably did he perform his
Although a woman of nerve, and a true friend to the slave, an
earnest worker and a liberal giver in the Female
Anti-Slavery Society, for a time she was overwhelmed by
the intelligence of her brother's death. As soon
as possible, however, through very great effort, she
controlled her emotions, and calmly expressed herself as
being fully resigned to the awful event. Not a
word of complaint had she to make because she had not
been apprised of his movements; but said repeatedly,
that, had she known ever so much of his intentions, she
would have been totally powerless in opposing him if she
had felt so disposed, and as an illustration of the true
character of the man, from his boyhood up to the day he
died for his fellowman, she related his eventful career,
and recalled a number of instances of his heroic and
daring deeds for others, sacrificing his time and often
periling his life in the cause of those who he
considered were suffering gross wrongs and oppression.
Hence, she concluded, that it was only natural for him
in this case to have taken the steps he did. Now
and then overflowing tears would obstruct this deeply
thrilling and most remarkable story she was telling of
her brother, but her memory seemed quickened by the
sadness of the occasion, and she was enabled to recall
vividly the chief events connected with his past
history. Thus his agency in this movement, which
cost him his life, could readily enough be accounted
for, and the individuals who listened attentively to the
story were prepared to fully appreciate his character,
for, prior to offering his services in this mission, he
had been a stranger to them.
The following extract, taken from a letter of a
subsequent date, in addition to the above letter, throws
still further light upon the heart-rending affair, and
shows Mr. Johnston's deep sympathy with the
sufferers and the oppressed generally -
EXTRACT OF A LETTER FROM REV. N. R.
My heart bleeds when I think of those poor, hunted and
heart-broken fugitives, though a most interesting
family, taken back to bondage ten-fold worse than
Egyptian. And then poor Concklin! How
my heart expanded in love to him, as he told me his
adventures, his trials, his toils, his fears and his
hopes! After hearing all, and then seeing and
communing with the family, now joyful in hopes of soon
seeing their husband and father in the land of freedom;
now in terror lest the human blood-hounds should be at
their heels, I felt as though I could lay down my life
in the cause of the oppressed. In that hour or two
of intercourse with Peter's family, my heart
warmed with love to them. I never saw more
interesting young men. They would make Remonds
or Douglasses, if they had the same
While I was with them, I was elated with joy at their
escape, and yet, when I heard their tale of woe,
especially that of the mother, I could not suppress
tears of deepest emotion.
My joy was short-lived. Soon I heard of their
capture. The telegraph had been the means of their
being claimed. I could have torn down all the
telegraph wires in the land. It was a strange
dispensation of Providence.
On Saturday the sad news of their capture came to my
ears. We had resolved to go to their aid on
Monday, as the trial was set for Thursday. On
Sabbath, I spoke from Psalm xii. 5. "For the
oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
now will I arise," saith the Lord: "I will set him in
safety from him that puffeth at (from them that would
enslave) him." When on Monday morning I learned
that the fugitives had passed through the place on
Sabbath, and Concklin in chains, probably at the
very time I was speaking on the subject referred to, my
heart sank within me. And even yet, I cannot but
exclaim, when I think of it - O, Father! how long are
Thou wilt arise to avenge the wrongs of the poor slave!
Indeed, my dear brother, His way are very mysterious.
We have the consolation, however, to know that all is
for the best. Our Redeemer does all things well.
When He hung upon the cross, His poor broken-hearted
disciples could not understand the providence; it was a
dark time to them; and yet that was an event that was
fraught with more joy to the world than any that has
occurred or could occur. Let us stand at our post,
and wait God's time. Let us have on the whole
armor of God, and fight for the right, knowing that
though we may fall in battle, the victory will be ours,
sooner or later.
May God lead
you into all truth, and sustain you in your labors, and
fulfill your prayers and hopes.
N. R. JOHNSTON
LETTERS FROM LEVI COFFIN.
letters on the subject were received from the untiring
and devoted friend of the slave, Levi Coffin, who
for many years had occupied in Cincinnati a similar
position to that of Thomas Garrett in Delaware, a
sentinel and watchman commissioned for God to succor the
fleeing bondman -
- We have sorrowful news from our friend Concklin,
through the papers and otherwise. I received a
letter a few days ago from a friend near Princeton,
Ind., stating that Concklin and the four slaves
are in person in Vincennes, and that their trial would
come on in a few days. He states that they rowed
seven days and nights in the skiff and got safe to
Harmony, Ind., on the Wabash river, thence to Princeton,
and were conveyed to Vincennes by friends, where they
were taken. The papers state, that they were all
given up to the Marshal of Evansville, Indiana.
We have telegraphed to different points, to try to get
some information concerning them, but failed. The
last information is published in the Times of
yesterday, though quite incorrect in the particulars of
the case. Inclosed is the slip containing it.
I fear all is over in regard to the freedom of the
slaves. If the last account be true, we have some
hope that Concklin will escape from those bloody
tyrants. I cannot describe my feelings on hearing
this sad intelligence. I feel ashamed to own my
country. Oh I what shall I say. Surely a God
of justice will avenge the wrongs of the oppressed.
Thine for the poor slave,
N. B. - If thou
hast any information, please write me forthwith.
STILL: - Dear Friend -
Thy letter of 1st inst., came duly to hand, but not
being able to give any further information concerning
our friend, Concklin, I thought best to wait a
little before I wrote, still hoping to learn something
more definite concerning him.
We that became acquainted with Seth Concklin and
his hazardous enterprises (here at Cincinnati), where
were very few, have felt intense and inexpressible
anxiety about them. And particularly about poor
Seth, since we heard of his falling into the hands
of the tyrants. I fear that he has fallen a victim
to their to their inhuman thirst for blood.
I seriously doubt the rumor, that he had made his
escape. I fear that he was sacrificed.
Language would fail to express my feelings; the intense
and deep anxiety I felt about them for weeks before I
heard of their capture in Indiana, and then it seemed
too much to bear. O! my heart almost bleeds when I
think of it. The hopes of the dear family all
blasted by the wretched blood-hounds in human shape.
And poor Seth, after all his toil, and dangerous,
shrewd and wise management, and almost unheard of
adventures, the many narrow and almost miraculous
escapes. Then to be given up to Indianans, to
these fiendish tyrants, to be sacrificed. O!
My heart aches, my eyes fill with tears, I cannot write
more. I cannot dwell longer on this painful
subject now. If you get any intelligence, please
inform me. Friend N. R. Johnston who took
so much interest in them, and saw them just before they
were taken, has jsut returned to the city. He is a
minister of the Coventer order. He is truly a
lovely man, and his heart is full of the milk of
one of our best Anti-Slavery spirits. I spent last
evening with him. He related the whole story to me
as he had had it form friend Concklin and the
mother and children, are then the story of their
capture. We wept together. He found they
letter when he got here.
He said he would write the whole history to thee in a
few days, as far as he could. He can tell it much
better than I can.
Concklin left his carpet sack and clothes here
with me, except a shirt or two he took with him.
What shall I do with them? For if we do not hear
from him soon, we must conclude that he is lost, and
there port of his escape all a hoax.
Truly thy friend,
Stunning and discouraging as this horrible ending was to
all concerned, and serious as the matter looked in the
eyes of Peter's friends with regard to Peter's
family, he could not for a moment abandon the idea of
rescuing them from the jaws of the destroyer. But
most formidable of rescuing them from the jaws of the
destroyer. But most formidable difficulties stood
in the way of opening correspondence with reliable
persons in Alabama. Indeed it seemed impossible to
find a merchant, lawyer, doctor, planter or minister,
who was not too completely interlinked with slavery to
be relied upon to manage a negotiation of this nature.
Whilst waiting and hoping for something favorable to
turn up, the subjoined letter from the owner of Peter's
family was received and is here inserted precisely as it
was written, spelled and punctuated -
ALA 6 Augest 1851
Mr. WILLIAM STILL
No 31 North Fifth street Philadelphia.
Sir a few days sinc mr Lewis Tarenton of
Tuscumbia Ala shewed me a letter dated 6 June 51 from
cincinnati signd samuel Lewis in behalf of a
Negro man by the name of peter Gist who informed
the writer of the Letter that you ware his brother and
wished an answer to be directed to you as he peter
would be in philadelphi. the object of the letter
was to purchis from me 4 Negros that is peters
wife & 3 children 2 sons & 1 Girl the Name of said
Negres are the woman Viney the (mother) Eldest
son peter 21 or 2 years old second son Leven
19 or 20 years 1 Girl about 13 or 14 years old.
the Husband & Father of these people once Belonged to a
relation of mine by the name of Gist now
Decest & some few years since he peter was
sold to a man by the Name of Freedman who removed
to cincinnati ohio & Tuck peter with him of
course peter became free by the volentary act of
the master some time last march a white man by the name
of Miller apperd in the nabourhood & abducted the
bove negroes was caut at vincanes Indi with said negroes
& was there convicted of steling & remanded back to Ala
to Abide the penalty of the law & on his return met his
Just reward by Getting drownded at the mouth of
cumberland River on the ohio in attempting to make his
escape I recovered & Braught Back said 4 negroes or as
You would say coulard people under the Belief that
peter the Husband was accessery to the offence
thareby putting me to much Expense & Truble to the amt
$1000 which if he gets them he or his Friends must
refund these 4 negroes are worth in the market about
4000 for thea are Extraordinary fine & likely & but for
the fact of Elopement I would not take 8000 Dollars for
them but as the thing now stands you can say to peter
& his new discovered Relations in philadelphia I will
take 5000 for the 4 culerd people & if this will suite
him & he can raise the money I will delever to him or
his agent at paduca at mouth of Tennessee river said
negroes but the money must be Deposeted in the Hands of
some respectabl person at paduca before I remove the
property it wold not be safe for peter to come to
this countery write me a line on recpt of this & let me
Know peters views on the above
I am Yours &c B. McKIERNON
WM. STILL'S ANSWER.
To B. McKIERNON,
ESQ.: Sir - I have
received your letter from South Florence, Ala., under
date of the 6th inst. To say that it took me by
surprise, as well as afforded me pleasure, for which I
feel to be very much indebted to you, is no more than
true. In regard to your informants of myself -
Mr. Thornton, of Ala., and Mr. Samuel Lewis, of
Cincinnati - to them both I am a stranger.
However, I am the brother of Peter, referred to, and
with the fact of his having a wife and three children in
your service I am also familiar. This brother,
Peter, I have only had the pleasure of knowing for the
brief space of one year and thirteen days, although he
is now past forty and I twenty-nine years of age.
Time will not allow me at present, or I should give you
a detailed account of how Peter became a slave,
the forty long years which intervened between the time
he was kidnapped, when a boy, being only six years of
age, and his arrival in this city, from Alabama, one
year and fourteen days ago, when he was re-united to his
mother, five brothers and three sisters.
None but a father's
heart can fathom the anguish and sorrows felt by
Peter during the many vicissitudes through which he
has passed. H looked back to his boyhood and saw
himself snatched from the tender embraces of his parents
and home to be made a slave for life.
During all his prime days he was in the
faithful and constant service of those who had no just
claim upon him. In the meanwhile he married a
wife, who bore him eleven children, the greater part of
whom were emancipated from the troubles of life by
death, and three only survived. To them and his
wife he was devoted. Indeed I have never seen
attachment between parents and children, and wife, more
entire than was manifested in the case of Peter.
Through these many years of servitude, Peter
was sold and resold, from one State to another, from one
owner to another, till he reached the forty-ninth year
of his age, when, in a good Providence, through the
kindness of a friend and the sweat of his brow, he re-
gained the God-given blessings of liberty. He
eagerly sought his parents and home with all possible
speed and pains, when, to his heart's joy, he found his
Your present humble correspondent is the youngest of
Peter's brothers, and the first one of the family he
saw after arriving in this part of the country. I
think you could not fail to be interested in hearing how
we became known to each other, and the proof of our
being brothers, etc., all of which I should be most glad
to relate, but time will not permit me to do so.
The news of this wonderful occurrence, of Peter
finding his kindred, was published quite extensively,
shortly afterwards, in various newspapers, in this
quarter, which may account for the fact of "Miller's"
knowledge of the whereabouts of the "fugitives."
Let me say, it is my firm conviction that no one had any
hand in persuading "Miller" to go down from
Cincinnati, or any other place, after the family.
As glad as I should be, and as much as I would do for
the liberation of Peter's family (now no longer
young), and his three "likely" children, in whom he
prides himself - how much, if you are a father, you can
imagine; yet I would not, and could not, think of
persuading any friend to peril his life, as would be the
case, in an errand of that kind.
As regards the price fixed upon by you for the family,
I must say I do not think it possible to raise half that
amount, through Peter authorized me to say he
would give you twenty-five hundred for them.
Probably he is not as well aware as I am, how difficult
it is to raise so large a sum of money from the public.
The applications for such objects are so frequent among
us in the North, and have always been so liberally met,
that it is no wonder if many get tired of being called
upon. To be sure some of us brothers own some
property, but no great amount; certainly not enough to
enable us to hear so great a burden. Mother owns a
small farm in New Jersey, on which she has lived for
nearly forty years, from which she derives her support
in her old age. This small farm contains between
forty and fifty acres, and is the fruit of my father's
toil. Two of my brothers own small places also,
but they have young families, and consequently consume
nearly as much as they make, with the exception of
adding some improvements to their places.
For my own part, I am employed as a clerk for a living,
but my salary is quite too limited to enable me to
contribute any great amount towards so large a sum as is
demanded. Thus you see how we are situated
financially. We have plenty of friends, but little
money. Now, sir, allow me to make an appeal to
your humanity, although we are aware of your power to
hold as property those poor slaves, mother, daughter and
two sons, - that in no part of the United States could
they escape and be secure from your claim -
nevertheless, would your understanding, your heart, or
your conscience reprove you, should you restore to them,
without price, that dear freedom, which is theirs by
right of nature, or would you not feel a satisfaction in
so doing which all the wealth of the world could not
equal? At all events, could you not so reduce the
price as to place it in the power of Peter's
relatives and friends to raise the means for their
purchase? At first, I doubt not, but that you will
think my appeal very unreasonable; but, sir, serious
reflection will decide, whether the money demanded by
you, after all, will be of as great a benefit to you, as
the satisfaction you would find in bestowing so great a
favor upon those whose entire happiness in this life
depends mainly upon your decision in the matter.
If the entire family cannot be purchased or freed, what
can Vina and her daughter be purchased for?
Hoping sir, to hear from you, at your earliest
convenience, I subscribe myself.
Your obedient servant,
To B. McKIERNON,
No reply to this letter was ever received from
McKiernon. The cause of his reticence can be
as well conjectured by the reader as the writer.
Time will not admit of further details kindred to this
narrative. The life, struggles, and success of
Peter and his family were ably brought before
PETER STILL, The Kidnapped and Ransomed
CHARITY STILL, Twice Escaped from Slavery.
the public in the "Kidnapped and the Ransomed," being
the personal recollections of Peter Still and his
wife "Vina," after forty years of slavery, by
Mrs. Kate E. R. Pickard; with an introduction by
Rev. Samuel J. May and an appendix by William H.
Furness, D. D., in 1856. But, of
course, it was not prudent or safe, in the days of
Slavery, to publish such facts as are now brought to
light; all such had to be kept concealed in the breasts
of the fugitives and their friends.
The following brief sketch, touching the separation of
Peter and his mother, will fitly illustrate this
point, and at the same time explain certain mysteries
which have been hitherto kept hidden -
With regard to
Peter's separation from his mother, when a little
boy, in few words, the facts were these: His parents,
Levins and Sidney, were both slaves on the
Eastern Shore of Maryland. "I will die before I
submit to the yoke," was the declaration of his father
to his young master before either was twenty-one years
of age. Consequently he was allowed to buy himself
a very low figure, and he paid the required sum and
obtained his "free papers" when quite a young man - the
young wife and mother remaining in slavery under
Saunders Griffin, as also her children, the latter
having increased to the number of four, two little boys
and two little girls. But to escape from chains,
stripes, and bondage, she took her four little children
and fled to a place near Greenwich, New Jersey.
Not a great while, however, did she remain there in a
state of freedom before the slave-hunters pursued her
and one night they pounced upon the whole family and
without judge or jury, hurried them all back to slavery.
Whether this was kidnapping or not is for the reader to
decide for himself.
Safe back in the hands of her owner, to prevent her
from escaping a second time, every night for about three
months she was cautiously "kept locked up in the
garret," until, as they supposed, she was fully "cured
of the desire to do so again." But she was
incurable. She had been a witness to the fact that
here own father's brains had been blown out by the
discharge of a heavily loaded gun, deliberately aimed at
his head by his drunken master. She only needed
half a chance to make still greater struggles than ever
She had great faith in God, and found much solace in
singing some of the good old Methodist tunes, by day and
night. Her owner, observing this apparently
tranquil state of mind, indicating that she "seemed
better contented than ever," concluded that it was safe
to let the garret door remain unlocked at night.
Not many weeks were allowed to pass before she resolved
to again make a bold strike for freedom. This time
she had to leave the two little boys, Levin and
On the night she started she went to the bed where they
kissed them, and, consigning him into the hands of God,
bade her mother good-bye, and with her two little girls
wended her way again to Burlington County, New Jersey,
but to a different neighborhood from that where she had
been seized. She changed her name to Charity,
and succeeded in again joining her husband, but, alas,
with the heart-breaking thought that she had been
compelled to leave her two little boys in slavery and
one of the little girls on the road for the father to go
back after. Thus she began life in freedom anew.
Levin and Peter, eight and six years of
age respectively, were now left at the mercy of the
enraged owner, and were soon hurried off to a Southern
market and sold, while their mother, for whom they were
daily weeping, was they knew not where. They were
too young to know that they were slaves, or to
understand the nature of the afflicting separation.
Sixteen years before Peter's return, his older
brother (Levin) died a slave in the State of
Alabama, and was buried by his surviving brother,
No idea other than that they had been "kidnapped"
from their mother ever entered their minds; nor had they
any knowledge of the State from whence they supposed
they had been taken, the last names of their mother and
father, or where they were born. On the other
hand, the mother was aware that the safety of herself
and her rescued children depended on keeping the whole
transaction a strict family secret. During the
forty years of separation, except two or three Quaker
friends, including the devoted friend of the slave,
Benjamin Lundy, it is doubtful whether any other
individuals were let into the secret of her slave life.
And when the account give of Peter's return,
etc., was published in 1850, it led some of the family
to apprehend serious danger from the partial revelation
of the early condition of the mother, especially as it
was about the time that the Fugitive Slave law was
Hence, the author of "The Kidnapped and the Ransomed"
was compelled to omit these dangerous facts, and had to
confine herself strictly to the "Personal recollections
of Peter Still" with regard to his being
"kidnapped." Likewise, in the sketch of Seth
Concklin's eventful life, written by Dr. W. H.
Furness for similar reason he felt obliged to make
but bare reference to his wonderful agency in relation
to Peter's family, although he was fully aware of
all the facts in the case.
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