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.

400px-oberlinrescuersRumors 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.

Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio



Pain Management and Love


We like to sit on very high horses, don’t we? Every high horse I’ve gotten comfortable on has bucked me off. I suppose that is the nature of aging (and learning). I still have my moments.

Jeff Davis was only a decent cadet at West Point, but an excellent rider and extremely good looking (according to EVERYONE who met him). His military bearing, his grace, his unflappable sense of person integrity impressed friends and acquaintances, but he wasn’t perfect. He was involved in the EGGNOG RIOTS at West Point. Yes, it was as silly as the name. The boys smuggled in whiskey and got completely out of control one Christmas.

As a handsome military man things sometimes happen. I’m no apologist but I have a checkered past (and I was a straight A student set for great things!). For over a hundred years people have wondered about Jeff’s debilitating eye infection. The current theory is that AT SOME POINT JEFFERSON DAVIS CONTRACTED HERPES SIMPLEX. Jeff was not the sort to kiss and tell (as far as we know). I wonder at our shock over the Donald’s crass words when we seemed to love the bawdy talk of  the women of Sex in the City–but maybe it’s just another high horse waiting to bolt.

Jeff Davis fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor. When her father ZACHARY TAYLOR refused to give his blessing to the couple, worried that his daughter would have a horrible life following Jeff in the military, Jeff resigned. Three months after their wedding Sarah died of malaria. Jeff almost died as well. I wonder if his eye troubled him yet?

I think we tend to gloss over what pain and tragedy does to a man (or woman). My brother went crazy for about five years when his wife died of brain cancer. Imagine a wedding and a funeral so closely following. Imagine the weakness and depression felt by a young man recovering from malaria and the loss of a young, beautiful wife.

Jeff hermit-ted himself away on the plantation his brother gave him as a wedding gift. He read history. He by chance went to a political meeting and to his surprise was given a position. This post is not about slavery. It’s not about tearing down monuments and in doing so tearing down the complexities of history (don’t you mourn the loss of photos and diaries of your forebears when you find a heartless relative threw them away as clutter?)

People in pain sometimes fight battles and cling to old ideas as their only means of survival. At a Christmas party Jeff met Varina Davis, a girl with Northern ties. Was Jeff just lonely? Did he love her as much as Sarah? They married.

We look at photographs of Jefferson Davis as either a hero of the “Lost Cause” or a hardhearted traitor to his country, but it’s never that easy. Jeff served his country in and out of the military for years. Slavery (only recently done away with in England and still quite a popular thing in the rest of the world including Africa at the time) was seen by different people in different ways–just as pro-life people see things differently about abortion than other people. Most of us go with the flow. We listen to the people with strong opinions one way or the other but very few  of us do more than that.

As the debates about slavery heated up again (for slavery was debated constantly since the founding of the nation) so did Jeff’s pain. Herpes simplex comes with black pimples forming around the eye, the eye swells and a film forms. I won’t disgust you with the horrible details of 19th century treatment but it was bad. During a recurrence of symptoms which can lay dormant for a time, Davis lay in a darkened room for days and weeks. Did he wonder if any of it was his fault? Why would he? Even a strong wind hitting the eye was said to bring on his outbreaks.

But there was more. Sudden and severe shocks of pain assaulted  his face. A pain so terrible that Varina said the only words Jeff spoke to her were intermingled with such tortured cries of anguish she could hardly stand it. But she did. With every bout of TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA (considered one of the most painful nerve disorders known to man) Varina stayed at Jeff’s side–sometimes just holding his hand. He could neither eat nor move–again this went on for days and weeks. As a senator he cared so deeply for his duties that on many occasions Varina and others carried him to his work in Washington.

If Jeff loved Varina at first, he was devoted to her now (and would be for the rest of his life).

Jeff shared an unlikely friendship with WILLIAM SEWARD, an openly pragmatic anti-slavery senator from New York, and through Jeff’s illnesses Seward visited him on a daily basis. When a doctor suggested Jeff might have to have his eye removed, Seward reportedly cried with Varina that to spoil Jeff’s face–a face of such masculine beauty– would break their hearts.

Words said in a sick bed are often quite interesting:

After Seward admitted that he never voted  but only as it might help his career, “The weakened Mississippian gasped to Seward, ‘Do you ever speak from conviction alone?’

“‘Ne-ever,’ said Seward, stretching out the word as he leaned forward in his chair.

“Davis raised his head from the pillow, looked right at his Northern friend, and said in a low voice, ‘As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive.’

“Seward was genuinely moved.”**

**Essay inspired by  Bruce Chadwick’s book 1858

Attacks of trigeminal neuralgia may be triggered by the following:

  • Touching the skin lightly
  • Washing
  • Shaving
  • Brushing teeth
  • Blowing the nose
  • Drinking hot or cold beverages
  • Encountering a light breeze
  • Applying makeup
  • Smiling
  • Talking