Document 3: Excerpt from letter from Martha Coffin Wright to David Wright, 7 April 1859, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Introduction

       In 1859, a runaway slave named Daniel Dangerfield was caught and brought into the Philadelphia courts. The judge released the ex-slave on a minor legal technicality, probably influenced by the presence of Lucretia Mott and other anti-slavery advocates attending the trial, including Martha Coffin Wright, who described the events to her husband.

                                                                                     127 S. Twelfth St. Phila.
                                                                                     April 7th. 1859

My dear husband--

       My last letter was delayed longer than I meant it should be and I am hardly rested enough from the exciting attendance at Court to be able to write now, but while every body is taking a nap I will give you a little history of our movements.[A] I believe I told you that Miller[B] feared there was no hope for the slave, but he was anxious that as many as could should go to the Commissioners office on monday. Sister L. wrote to me to meet her there at 91/2. So Ellen[C] and I started at 9, found a man just coming out, so we walked in. He demurred a little, but I told him we expected to meet some friends there, and would wait. He said the girl had only let him in because he had to leave something and the commissioner wd. not be there till 10. I said coolly “It is of no consequence. I will just sit here till then.” So he went out & we had leisure to admire the neatness of the office, a little back room, not half so large as your office. I doubt whether any but the claimants & witnesses & counsels would have been admitted, if we had not got foothold. People soon began to look in at the half glass door, and try the latch; Ellen helped me find out the secret of it, and we open’d the door for Sister L, Mrs. McClintock, Mrs. Truman, Anna Brown[D] & others of our family & friends, & when the commissioner came from his back entrance, he must have been astonished to find a perfect jam. He said this case was not one for a town meeting. I will send you the papers telling of the adjournment to the Court House. When we got there there was a perfect jam and the door closed against us the moment they got the slave in amid the roars of the crowd. Charles Walton had Ellen & Anna Davis[E] under his care, and I kept by Sister L. & Miller McKim. It was very evident that none but the claimants and their friends were to be admitted, but by going round to another door, we got in and were fairly lifted from our feet by the pressure of the crowd to the little jury room. The glass was broken from the door, but we got the places we wanted. Sister L. held on to the slave & kept close by him all the time. The heat became almost insupportable, but we remained there till 1 P.M. & then adjourned to 4. We went early, & got in with less difficulty, but Mr. Furness[F] who had dined with us at Edw. Hopper’s[G] was excluded, & they wd. only admit ladies--by sending for the counsel however a good many managed to get in. Thomas Mott, Charles Walton, & his brother, Ned Hallowell[H] and other persevering ones. Abm. Barker & wife & many others of our friends, so that the room was nearly as crowded as the little jury room, tho’ twice as large. Sarah & Rebecca Yarnall went with us, on Tuesday. They adjourned between 9 & 10 to 4 P.M. on Tuesday. Sister L. & I dined at br. Benjamin’s[I] & went early, but found the room nearly full. The excitement of the day before, and the heat of the room made me sick--my throat was inflamed & I had fever, but determined to remain as long as I could keep up. I could only stand it eight hours and then had to leave with Sarah & Rebecca at 1/2 past 11. They would have liked to stay longer, but Sarah urged me to go, seeing how sick I was. Mary Grew[J] begged me not to leave. I told her there was no hope for the slave & I was too ill to sit up. Thomas & Marianna & Miss Quincy were out at two parties & the girls had gone to bed, so being unable to get in, I waited on Sarah & Rebecca home, and staid all night there. Found in the morning that the decision was postponed to 4 P. M.--and then came home and went to bed, determined to go live or die. Took Belladonna & Mercurius--got up at 1/2 past 1--ready to receive Sister L. who came here to dinner, and accompanied by Thos. & Marianna Ellen & the Miss Waltons & Miss Quincy we started at 3--found a crowd at the door, many of them policemen, they said they had strict orders to admit only Mrs. Mott--we remonstrated, but finding them inexorable, Thos. advised her to go in, so she did, but we maintained our ground & at last they relented & let us in. The first day Sister L. sat by the slave but the other days they took care to surround him. An old black man said if Mrs. Mott didn’t have a high place in Heaven he didn’t want to go there. No one believed there was the remotest chance for the slave, it was therefore a joyful surprise when we found he was likely to be released. The officers couldn’t prevent the cheers that followed, and Charles Walton threw up the window & gave the word to the crowd below thronging the street. The slave was hurried into a carriage & borne off by his excited friends, and after dark they paraded up Arch Street to 13th, and past here giving before Edward Hopper’s and here “Three cheers for Lucretia Mott.” You never saw such an excited & happy crowd--they had a carriage drawn by some of the crowd, with a long rope. Sister L. went out of town immediately after the decision. I was invited to go with her and spend the evening at Miller’s but did not feel well enough--did not expect even to sit up to hear Miss Quincy sing to a small company invited here, but felt a little better after tea & kept up. Anna Hopper[K] & Liv[L] & Anna Davis were here notwithstanding. Anna D. & Ellen had seen the sun set and rise in the court room--they remained with Sister L. till the adjournment--after 6--Anna & Liv went home at 3 A. M. The party here was pleasant, every body was so elated at the unexpected decision. Miss Q. sang beautifully. She trembled with excitement, in court, and was very much overcome, as were some others at the decision, but said she wd. not have missed being there for a thousand pounds. She has always been so carefully guarded from everything, her brothers being rather conservative, that they would not have thought of the possibility of her being in such a crowd, but I have no doubt the determination of respectable people to witness the proceedings & to show their sympathy for the slave had a good effect. The counsel were serenaded last night. Perhaps you would rather I wd. not have written so much about it, and I would not, if there had been anything else, but I have neither seen nor heard anything else.

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A. This trial is also discussed in Otelia Cromwell, Lucretia Mott (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), p. 168. The fugitive slave had been seized on a farm near Harrisburg, but was reportedly acquitted because of an error concerning his height in the writ of accusation.
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B. James Miller McKim, a Philadelphia abolitionist and close friend of Lucretia Mott.
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C. Ellen Wright, Martha’s youngest daughter, then 19.
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D. Anna Temple Brown was a daughter of Solomon Temple and Mary Coffin, sister of Lucretia and Martha.
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E. Anna Davis, then 21, was a daughter of Edward Davis and Maria Mott, daughter of Lucretia.
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F. Probably William H. Furness, Philadelphia Unitarian clergyman. In her biography of Lucretia Mott, Otelia Cromwell quotes from an account of the trial written many years later by Furness: “In the close, crowded space, by the side of the ragged fugitive, the only woman present stood in her pure Quaker garb like an angel of light, Lucretia Mott. She uttered never a word, caused no interruption, and no picture by an old master of saint or martyr could be more impressive than that scene.” See Otelia Cromwell, Lucretia Mott (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), p. 168 and Friends Weekly Intelligencer, XLVIII (14 February 1891), p. 103.
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G. Edward Hopper was the husband of Anna Mott, daughter of Lucretia.
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H. Thomas Mott was the son of Lucretia Mott and son-in-law of Martha Wright; Charles Walton was a Philadelphia Quaker and friend of the Motts; Ned Hallowell was probably Edward Needles Hallowell, then 19, a friend of Ellen Wright and others in the Mott extended family.
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I . Sarah and Rebecca Yarnall were daughters of Benjamin Yarnall and Elizabeth (Eliza) Coffin, sister of Lucretia and Martha.
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J. Mary Grew was a prominent member of Philadelphia’s Female Anti-Slavery Society, and also became active in the woman’s rights movement.
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K. Anna Mott Hopper, Lucretia Mott’s daughter.
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L. Probably Elizabeth Mott Cavender, Lucretia Mott’s daughter.
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