Friday, August 17, 2007

John I. Vanmeter and the Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions

Part III

Having been run out of Waverly by a mob, which had been led by James Emmitt, the Rev. Edward Weed traveled west on horseback, just over the line into Highland County, where he had arranged for another series of abolition lectures for the first week of August, 1836.

John Inskeep Vanmeter

Meanwhile back in Piketon, in reaction to Weed’s visit, a group of prominent community members called a public meeting to be held at the County Court House. According to an account of the meeting published in the Chillicothe Gazette, “a large and respectable meeting of citizens of Piketon and the vicinity” assembled on the 29th of July and chose John Innskeep Vanmeter to preside. Vanmeter was a Virginian by birth, who had been raised in a family of wealthy slaveowners. He was a graduate of Princeton University, a lawyer and former state representative in Virginia before moving to Pike County in the 1820s, where he settling on lands inherited from his father. Vanmeter had quickly emerged as a prominent leader of the local Whig party and was, at the time of the meeting, a candidate for the Ohio legislature in the upcoming fall elections. His victory that November of 1836 would re-launch his political career, which ultimately took him to Washington, D.C., as a US Congressman, representing a district that included much of the Lower Scioto Valley.

Vanmeter was given the job of selecting a committee to draft resolutions – and on this committee were among others, Abraham Chenoweth and William Reed. Abraham Chenoweth, one of the older members of the committee, was an early settler on what was then called Pee Pee Prairie, just north of Piketon. Chenoweth, it turns out, was the father-in-law of Dr. William Blackstone – Weed’s host in Waverly. But, he was also the father-in-law of one of the other committee members, William Reed. William Reed was the son of Judge Samuel Reed, who had intervened in Waverly to stop the mob from destroying the home of Blackstone and doing violence to Rev. Weed. William Reed’s mother, Rebecca Lucas Reed, was the sister of Robert Lucas, who was just then finishing his second term as governor of Ohio. These men -- the powerful and influential of Pike County – leading anti-abolitionists – were often related to each other, but also to some of the supporters of Rev. Weed and the American Anti-Slavery Society. Chances are that it was the family ties between the Reeds, Chenoweths, and Blackstones that enabled Judge Reed to negotiate Rev. Weed’s safe exodus from Waverly.

The committee produced and the meeting then adopted the following resolutions:

“Whereas, the subject of modern abolition has created, and is still causing great excitement in this State, particularly in the town of Waverly and Piketon, and the county generally, and viewing with regret the unwarrantable steps taken by certain enthusiastic abolitionists lately, to agitate the public mind on this subject by lectures, and by circulating pamphlets, calculated not only to disturb our peace and happiness as citizens, but, if suffered to proceed, will ultimately cause a disunion of this great and glorious Republic. Viewing, then, Abolitionism as one of the greatest evils, and tending directly to infringe the compact of our Federal Union, we cannot but look upon these infatuated zealots as the worst of enemies we have to fear in this day of our national prosperity.

1. Resolved, Therefore, that we, the citizens of Piketon and the vicinity, in council assembled, are diametrically opposed to modern abolitionism, and feel no desire to interfere with the concerns of the slave-holing States, and still less between master and slave.

2. Resolved, That we disapprove of the late conduct of certain abolitionists who have attempted to deliver lectures on this subject; also, we are determined to discountenance them in the circulation of inflammatory publications.

3. Resolved, That we do in the most unequivocal terms request all abolitionists to desist from visiting our towns for the purpose of delivering lectures, or circulating publications on the subject of abolition; and should they persist we will not hold ourselves accountable for the consequences.”

The last of these – the one about not holding themselves “accountable for the consequences” virtually authorized the use of violence if Edward Weed or any other abolitionist returned to Pike County. As far as the existing correspondence of Reverend Weed and other records indicate, neither Weed and nor any other agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society returned to Pike County. Dr. Blackstone would soon thereafter relocate to Athens, Ohio. James Emmitt would claim that Blackstone left after stating that he would no longer live “in such a damned intolerant community.”

The controversy surrounding Reverend Weed, however, was not over. The Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions appear to have encouraged some Pike countians to follow Weed into neighboring Highland county. At Sinking Spring, the Reverend would have his “crisis,” which he had predicted soon after he fled James Emmitt’s mob.


  1. Drew,
    These blogs are really interesting. Please keep them up. I had NO idea of the history behind this. Perhaps this is why there is so much racial intolerance to this day here in Southern Ohio. Steve

  2. Steve: Thanks for reading. I have no doubt the early history of the Lower Scioto River Valley can shed light on the modern day racism found here. The majority of the white population that originally settled the area came primarily from Virginia, a southern slaveholding state. Certainly, some of these immigrants were antislavery, but many of them were also anti-black.