Monday, July 30, 2007

James Emmitt’s Anti-Abolition Mob

Part II

The anti-abolitionist mobs of Pike County were not simply an isolated event – they were part of a larger phenomenon that broke out in the mid-1830s. From Alton, Illinois to Cincinnati, Ohio, to the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, white Americans reacted violently to the emergence of immediate abolitionism, the movement for which Rev. Edward Weed was a paid organizer. In the history of the Lower Scioto River Valley and Pike County, in particular, the violence experienced by the Rev. Weed in the late summer of 1836 occurred at a moment when the economy of the region was experiencing dramatic growth.

The Ohio-Erie Canal had been in operation for about three years. The citing of the canal had transformed the development of the towns of Pike county. In one of the great controversies of the period, the canal commissioners, under the influence of Robert Lucas (a resident of Pike County and speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and a future governor), the canal was run down the west side of the Scioto River through a tiny village soon to be known as Waverly. Rather than run down the east side through the original county seat of Piketon, it ran through lands owned by Lucas (among others), where he laid out a new village, which he named Jasper.

The citing of the canal on the west side helped make the young James Emmitt a wealthy man, as his town of Waverly became the economic hub of Pike County. Waverly soon eclipsed Piketon and after a long drawn out battle, the county seat would eventually be moved to Waverly.

By the summer of 1836, when Rev. Weed came to Pike County, Waverly was experiencing its initial boom time and James Emmitt was already the wealthiest businessman in the area.

James Emmitt

Edward Weed arrived in Waverly around the 14th of July, where he was welcomed into the home of Dr. William Blackstone, a local supporter of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Exactly where Weed gave his first lecture is unknown, but once word spread an angry mob began to form, which according to Weed, had none-other-than James Emmitt at is head.

In his memoirs, James Emmitt provides a fairly detailed account of Rev. Weed’s visit, but strangely, he changes Weed’s identity to that of George Thompson, a much more infamous English abolitionist, who was met with angry mobs on his tour of New England. Although a mob sought Thompson in Boston around this time, the British abolitionist never visited Ohio in 1836. Writing some fifty years later, perhaps for dramatic reasons, Emmitt chose to portray Weed as Thompson, but one thing that is clear is that Emmitt downplayed his own leading role in the whole affair. He acknowledged his opposition to abolitionism at the time, but explained it as being the common sentiment. As he put it in his memoir, “Blackstone and his … followers, in 1836, had arrayed against them the combined, determined, outspoken sentiment of this whole community, and this whole section as well.”

According to Emmitt, Dr. Blackstone publicized the upcoming visit of Rev. Weed and at that time was warned that if the abolitionist speaker “came he would not be allowed to make a public speech, and warned that it would not add any to Dr. Wm. Blackstone’s happiness, for him to slap public sentiment in the face. But warnings and threats only intensified the doctor’s bitterness, and strengthened his determination to have [Weed] come to Waverly and enlighten us as to the iniquity of the national crime we were sustaining in upholding slavery….”

Weed arrived the night before his first scheduled lecture. That evening, according to Emmitt, his opponents broke into Blackstone’s stable – they clipped the mane from Weed’s horse and shaved off all of its hair. They took Weed’s buggy and smeared it with excrement. The following morning, a mob gathered outside Blackstone’s house. According to Emmitt, the leader of the mob yelled: “I tell you, Blackstone, the unanimous sentiment of the people is agin this thing. You’ve imported [an outsider] into Pike County to teach seditious doctrine. …. And I tell you, Blackstone, the loyal people ain’t going to stand it. Do you expect us to stand here and listen to a traitorous [abolitionist] telling us what is right and what is wrong? Do you think we’re going to let [this] fanatic lead us around by the nose and give us good advice, and tell us just what an iniquitous, miserable lot of scalawags we are? …. We’re here to tell you that that man isn’t here to preach for our good. And we are here to tell you that that man can’t make a speech here today. We are fully determined on that.”

The leader of the mob then told Blackstone: “That man … is a traitor and here for a traitor’s purpose; and the sooner he gets out of this community, the better it will be for Dr. William Blackstone” and his unwelcome guest. With the cheers of the crowd behind him, he continued: “The best thing you can do for your nigger-loving friend, Blackstone, is to get him out of the country, just as soon as it is possible to jump the border.”

At this point, Blackstone emerged from his house and declared that his guest would speak “if he had to wade in blood knee deep to protect him.” The mob’s leader responded: “If that man attempts to make a speech here today … we’ll pull down the last log in the house over your head. If you think you can defy the sentiment of this community, just let that traitorous [abolitionist] attempt to make a speech. I say attempt, because he’ll never finish it. Now, we give [your guest] just fifteen minutes to get outside of the city limits, and five hours to leave the county.” According to Emmitt, this threat led Blackstone to give in and Rev. Weed fled out a back door and to his horse, which he quickly road off upon without a saddle or any of his belongings. As he galloped down the road towards Piketon, the young children of the town were waiting with rotten eggs, with which they pelted the young minister – what Emmitt called “a fitting, loud-smelling, farewell salute.”

Judge Samuel Reed

Emmitt’s account underplays his own role and misrepresents how the standoff was actually resolved. According to a letter later published in the Chillicothe Gazette, Samuel Reed, a former Associate Judge of the Court Common Pleas in Pike County, negotiated Weed’s peaceful exit. Reed, who was later accused of being an abolitionist for his role in the affair, defended his actions, stating that he “went and reasoned with [the leaders of the mob] on the impropriety of using any force, it being in direct violation of law – and proposed that, if they would use no violence to the persons or property of any of the citizens, I would persuade Weed to leave the place, which he did….”

With the intervention of Judge Reed, the Reverend Weed fled to Piketon, where he spent the night in the home of another supporter before leaving the county the following morning. While there he wrote a letter to his new wife, who at the time was living near Cincinnati: “Much violence is abroad in the land. For the last four days” – Weed had apparently lectured in Waverly, contrary to the account provided by Emmitt – “I have been in the midst of an infuriated mob who were seeking my life. But the Lord has delivered me out of their hand. …. Now, while I am writing, there are men all around thirsting for my blood, and would kill me, if they had a good opportunity, as soon as they would a snake! Pray for me, that I may, in patience, possess my soul, and be ready to depart whenever God calls. We have fallen upon perilous times; law is prostrate, God alone must be our shield and protector. The crisis is not yet come, but is fast approaching. I say, with all my soul, let it come; I may fall, but truth must and will triumph”

The crisis would come at the village of Sinking Spring and Edward Weed would live to tell about it.

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