What would you do if you saw a person you knew as an acquaintance being taken away by two strange men?
John Price escaped from slavery in 1856 with few skills and in sorry health. When the residents of the utopian Christian town of Oberlin, Ohio took him in, they found Price odd jobs and had him stay at various homes realizing Price didn’t have the strength or skill set to make it further up the Underground Railroad.
As the leaves turned on a chilly fall day in 1858 an Oberlin teenager picked up Price who’d been gathering potatoes on a freedman’s farm at the edge of town, for Oberlin was fully integrated and strongly abolitionist. Oberlin had been established by two Presbyterians who believed that Christians needed to work out their salvation by living a truly righteous life–one that advocated freedom for slaves. Oberlin College was open to men of all races and their town had hidden many runaway slaves.
Let us stop to wonder about men who establish towns. From scratch.
Sometimes I fear I may offend a random visitor to my blog who hates Christians. This random visitor may see my favorite Bible quote , “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 and dismiss me as one of those people.
It’s obvious that I don’t have the moral courage to form a town based on my understanding of Christianity. I doubt I’d even have the courage to wear a t-shirt proclaiming my belief in the sanctity of all life (it helps ease my conscience that I look terrible in t-shirts, but still.). The men and women at Oberlin didn’t have to wear t-shirts. Their acts of courage and commitment were the greatest form of advertisement for the Good News of JC (I often cringe at saying Jesus Christ out loud).
My blog is a small one and I think it would be fair to admit that the likelihood of real harm coming to me for mentioning my Christian beliefs is relatively small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but my ego is big. But enough about me. 🙂
John Price, the runaway slave picking potatoes, rides along with the teenager from Oberlin. The teenager slows his horse as another carriage approaches with two strange men. The men are slave hunters. They capture Price quite easily since the teenager is an accomplice in the kidnapping. Further down the road two white students from Oberlin pass the carriage carrying Price back to slavery. Price calls out to them in their buggy, but they turn their eyes away.
Ansel Lyman, one of the students in the buggy runs through the town of Oberlin upon his return with news of Price’s kidnapping, and the town comes alive. As men and women race toward Wellington, some with guns, the crowd grows as news of the kidnapping spreads. No one sits at home watching TV or watching their fireplaces.
In Wellington the slave catchers and Price watch from their hotel as the crowds gather. The catchers are armed of course but they fear their fate will be the same as the building across the way which happened to burn down that morning. I imagine this was a bit more than the catchers bargained for. The Dred Scott decision had made it legal to catch slaves in free states.
The people of Oberlin considered the Scott decision unconstitutional and morally wrong as did many brave souls in the North. Here we must remember that abolitionists were painted as extremists. Most people chose peace over righteousness. I wonder if I would have done the same. I like staying home before the fire.
Rumors spread that the army will be called in. A few good men with guns rescue Price. A freedman eventually gets Price to Canada, but the incident challenges the nation.
The Rescuers as the men who stormed the hotel and hid Price are now called are marched to stand trial before a jury and judge of the Democratic persuasion who hate abolitionists. Two men are tried and both are found guilty. All the others after the judge frees them on bail refuse to pay and spend time in the jail across the courtyard. The head of the jail happens to support abolition and opens the place to visitors. At first it’s just the families of the men but before long people from across the North journey to support the abolitionists. Black and white men and women flood the area united against immoral and corrupt government policies and actions.
The Democrats‘ worst nightmare comes true. War is just around the corner, but forgive them for not knowing it just yet.
**Featured image of John Mercer Langston, a lawyer and Oberlin’s town clerk, came from a family of abolitionists. His brother Charles and his brother-in-law O.S.B. Wall were among the town’s residents who rescued John Price from a slave-catcher.
4 responses to “Bravery=Freedom”
It’s always easy to sit at a distance and cheer those of moral courage. Should I find myself facing similar moral corruption, I hope I’d have the fortitude to stand up against injustice. Courage only really gets tested when your feet are already on fire.
I understand your reticence about declaring your faith. It can be hard to do so in a world where others take may offense and draw swords if you don’t choose theirs. I respect your religion and your allegiance to it and will always defend your right to stand by your faith. Still, there are millions of people of moral courage and ethical behavior who practice other religions and many who practice none.
I am Jewish. Theoretically at least, I would give safe harbor to anyone running from injustice, as have many of my faith. For myself, I see everyone as a child of God, neither more nor less, and that divine connection imbues everyone with rights to justice.
Thanks for posting a provocative article, Adrienne. Presents a lot to think about.
I’ve always been a “live and let live” kind of person so I find it difficult to relate to people getting so offended by other people’s beliefs about God (or lack of belief).
I find 19th century Christianity in America fascinating because so many practiced their religion so boldly as abolitionists, missionaries and organizers of so many humanitarian and cultural organizations. Of course sometimes they got it very wrong, but it’s fun to learn about men and women who take the Bible seriously.
As someone who was so ignorant of the old Jewish stories when I finally read Psalms, Job, the Prophets and the great stories about David and Saul I was blown away. My faith flourished once I understood the connection between God’s promises and who Christians believe is the fulfillment of the prophecies. When I first read the story of Joseph and his brothers selling him into slavery, I wept.
A long response to say I share your vision of people being children of God. The 10 commandments are all about love and justice, don’t you think?
I hope I’ll never have to defend our right to practice (or not) our religions as we see fit in a big way, but I pray that I’d have the courage!
Much love for your thoughtful comment, my friend~
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It can be scary to leave the fireplace, but as far as representing JC, I think sometimes we do it best when we don’t shout it. Your faith does not surprise me given what I have read on your blog, even if you see yourself as sitting by the fire most of the time. I suspect you sit out opportunities for moral courage less often than you think. And I bet that at least some of the Oberlin rescuers occasionally felt the same way.
Aw, Sarah, you’re very kind.
I think you’re right. I think JC cautioned against showing off. I remember once reading Mother Theresa saying she was going to love JC better than anyone else ever had. I found that off-putting. Can you imagine? I was put off by a spiritual giant. LOL. I guess her work started off quietly enough but look how many people she touched. I would hate that kind of celebrity. Such a burden.
Thank God I haven’t been “called” to that hard work. I’m also happy and grateful to live so comfortably, but I still can’t help admire people willing to even go to jail or death for their beliefs.
My husband just started a fire in the woodstove so we can watch the CUBS will the World series so I’ll close here. 🙂
Thanks again for your words~
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