Jacob Green, runaway slave
The Pursuit of Jacob Green by the Parsons Family
and the Problem of Free States
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What appears below are portions of articles that appeared in the Virginia Argus and Hampshire Advertiser dealing with the personal dispute between Isaac Parsons whose nephew was arrested in Pennsylvania attempting to apprehend the runaway slave, Jacob Green. Mr. Parsons had enlisted the assistance of Mr. Charles James Faulkner, a local politician, to help in freeing Mr. Parson's nephew. There followed a dispute between the two men (apparently during a political campaign) concening a fee for legal services. It is thanks to this personal quarrel between two white men that we have some of the details of the escape of the slave, Jacob Green.
See the two links below for more detailed information on the Jacob Green-James Parsons case and the cause celebre it became.
Virginia Argus and Hampshire Advertiser, Thursday, May 14, 1857 No. XVIII p. 2
For the Argus
Col. Parsons vs. Hon. Mr. Faulkner
I am no little desirous of being instrumental in giving publicity to the private transactions of other gentlemen as any man; but there are occasions when the moral delinquency of the one party is so great and palpable that justice to the other and duty to the community demand that their should be a fair and impartial exposition and the consequent condemnation of public sentiment, than by any other means. For, although the strictest observance of these laws is essential to the peace and harmony of society, yet municipal law takes no cognizance of their violation, and the threatened displeasure of God too often proves an ineffectual preventive.
With these explanitory remarks it is my pleasure and purpose to give to the public a correct version of the course of conduct pursued by the Hon. C. J. Faulkner in a certain recent transaction between himself and Col. Isaac Parsons, one of our most worthy and estimable citizens. I do it both because a perverted statement of the facts of the case has already been whispered about to the prejudice of Col. Parsons, and because I believe it due to the people to know the truth of the mater, since Mr. Faulkner, as a candidate for Congress, is again asking their confidence and their suffragy. For if he has been guilty of a violent breach of faith - of a knavish duplicity in his dealings with a private individual, what confidence can an honest, intelligent constituency have in his political integrity.
In November, 1855, James Parsons, jr., a nephew of Col. Parsons, whilst in the act of arresting a fugitive slave of the latter, in Hollidaysburg, Pa., was assaulted by a mob of abolition, a law-defying black guards, who rescued the negro, treated young Parsons with insult and violence, and to add a deeper dye to their villainy and turpitude arrested and arraigned him on the charge of an attempt to kidnap. The Hon. Mr. Faulkner, on being informed of the facts, addressed Col. Parsons a letter expressing deep sympathy, and tendering his services to go on and defend young Parsons. In the meantime the Legislature of Virginia took cognizance of the matter, and after investigating the facts, deemed it a case eminently deserving its interference. That body felt that it was a duty incumbent upon them to protect a citizen of the Commonwealth in the persuit [sic] of his constitutional rights, and to see that he was not deprived of his liberty contrary to the constitution. By an almost unanimous vote of both Houses, a special commissioner [J. R. Tucker] was instructed to attend the trial, to note the evidence and to report the same to them that they might, if necessary, take further action in the matter.
The commissioner, in company with Col. Parsons, proceeded to Hollidaysburg, and on their way, Col. Parsons called upon the Hon. Mr. Faulkner and requested his attendance - not because he had no other counsel employed, for he had already engaged the services of three - but because the Hon. Mr. Faulkner had gratuitously tendered his services. Mr Faulkner attended.... [source missing]
....the case was disposed of without argument, and the young Parsons honorably acquitted. The papers throughout his district took up the matter and lauded Mr. Faulkner for his having performed a noble and magnanimous act in volunteering his services in the case. They deemed it a case eminently proper for a gratuitous tender of services on the part of Mr. Faulkner, since Virginia through her legislature, had nobly interfered in the matter, and since Mr. Faulkner was a Representative of Parson's district, was acquainted with the family and knew that young Parsons was incapable of committing a crime so base as the one with which he was charged, and if convicted, he must be convicted up on the false testimony of free negroes. But notwithstanding Mr. Faulkner had received the credit throughout the whole district for having acted gratuitously in the case, without any statement to the contrary from himself, notwithstanding he had in a letter to Col. Parsons tendered his services, he came over to Romney, last September, nearly a year after the occurrence, after he had derived all the advantage he possibly could from the reported magnanimity of his conduct, and charged Col. Parsons a fee of one hundred and fifty dollars. The amount is a pitiful, insignificant sum. Col. Parsons is a man of wealth, and notwithstanding his expenses in this case were upwards of two thousand dollars, does not complain of the amount of the charge, but that there was any charge made at all. It was not the money, but the principle involved - the duplicity and deception resorted to in procuring it that constitute the offense and gives rise to the complaint.
But how does Mr. Faulkner attempt to excuse himself and explains the matter to his friends; for he cannot deny that he in the first place tendered his services? He says, "I knew Col. Parsons was a man of wealth, and though I would gladly have made no charge at all - though it would have been more agreeable to me to have given him services gratuitously, I was restrained by motives of delicacy. I was afraid he would think I was attempting to place him under obligations to myself." In all candor I ask the people of this county, of this district - do you believe Mr. Faulkner was actuated by motives of delicacy in pursuing the course he did? Do you believe he was apprehensive lest his motives might be misconstrued? Has he always been so conscientiously scrupulous about placing people under obligations to himself? On the contrary, has it not been the policy of his life to place the people of his district under obligations by specious acts of munificence - by acts of duplicity and deception?
You all remember, that when the operations of the Harper's Ferry Armory were about being suspended in consequence of the failure of the Army appropriation bill, he tendered his private fortune to the Secretary of War to defray the expwnces of the Armory and continue the operations. Now I ask, what was this but an attempt to place the people there under obligations to himself? What was it but duplicity and deception He knew that the Secretary of War had no power to receive his money for his fortune for this purpose. He knew that the Secretary could neither receive or appropriate any money but by an act of...... [text missing]
May 21, 1857 p. 2
Fellow Citizens: In a speech at Frenchburg, on the 16th of this month, the Hon. Mr. Faulkner gave in detail what he reported to be a correct statement of a transaction between us, in which he demanded and received a legal fee from me. As I considered the statement made by him a gross misrepresentation of nearly all the facts connected with the affairs, and being so unfortunate as not to have had the acquirements to meet him in debate I feel that this is the only way that I can do my self justice and prevent the unfavorable construction attempted to be placed upon this transaction by a legal schemer. I shall not attempt to answer the many little pleas employed in his speech by the gentleman, but as a witness before God, I will give a fair, true and accurate statement of the transaction and the facts connected with it; and I will do it without any fear of the hand of the hired assassin or the threat of "war to the knife from this time forward," made by the honorable gentleman, and let the people judge for themselves as to the truth of our statements.
In August, 1855, a negro man of mine, called Jake Green, ran off, carrying with him four others, the property of my neighbors. Very little effort having been made to capture him, he got off clear. In October, he returned and persuaded four more to start off with him, not one of whom belonged to me. Green being somewhat of a bold and daring character, it was thought that if here was not some great effort made to capture him, he would soon rid this community and especially that of Springfield (for all of Green's family lived in and about Springfield,) of their property in slaves. All the force that could be raised in the short time allowed, which consisted of all who were seen and requested to go, amounting to some eight or ten, started in pursuit not one of whom ever charged me one cent fort heir services. A reward of $800 was offered for the apprehension of Green, which placed it beyond my power to make anything, by his apprehension, in a pecuniary point of view. - Green was arrested by a.... [source obiterated]
....of which you are too familiar with to need a restatement here.
I felt under the circumstances, that although my efforts to capture Green was for the benefit of the slave community as much as for myself, I was morally bound, though not by law, to defray the expenses of my nephew's trial, and to do everything that was honorable in my power to acquit him of the offense with which he was charged. With this in view, knowing that Congress would be in session some time before the case would be tried, I addressed a letter to the Hon. Mr. Faulkner, the Representative of this District, and another one to our U. S. Senator, J. M. Mason, the one a duplicate of the other, stating the facts connected with the case. They both knew the family of the accused and might through the Representatives from Pa. act upon the public sentiment favorable to him, and give such advice as their position enabled them to give. This is my recollection of the contents of my letter, not having a copy of it at hand. I was not inclined from the first to sue the parties concerned in the rescue of my servant, as my nephew can testify. Both Mr. Mason and Mr. Faulkner replied to my letter. The Hon. Mr. Mason in a most unequivocal manner, offered to render any service that I might require of him in the case. As for the other gentleman, I will let his letter speak of itself:
Martinsburg, Nov. 6th, 1855
Col. Isaac Parsons.
Dear Sir: My absence from home has prevented the earlier receipt of your letter. I had seen all the facts stated in the papers. I would not advise a criminal prosecution against those wretches. You would waste much time and money in the operation and so but little good. But if any of them are responsible persons I would advise a suit in the Federal Court for damages. Any service that I can render you professional or otherwise, by going to Hollidaysburg and defending your son, or attending to your claim in the Federal Court, you may command me at pleasure.
I am truly, yours,
Chas Jas. Faulkner
The rest of the article is hard to decipher as the original newspaper was creased and/or torn so the microfilmed copy is not clear. The article continues the story of how Mr. Parsons and Mr. Faulkner pursued the case and includes something about a bill being introduced in the Virginia legislature dealing with the case. The article ends as follows:
...But the charge made by the gentleman that it was a blot upon our statutes and a disgrace to the Legislative records I will notice. I fear there is a blot upon the gentleman's heart of a deeper dye than any act of the last legislature placed upon the records of the State. Who supported and sustained that bill? A democratic legislature. Who voted for its passage? The members of both parties. Some of the most prominent and distinguished men of the State. It passed the House of Delegates by an almost unanimous vote - only seven members voting in opposition to it. Gov. Floyd, a member of Mr. Buchanan's Cabinet voted for it; the Hon. Mr. Garnett, a member of the last Congress voted for it; Mr. James D. Armstrong, the present State Senator from this District voted for it; Mr. Asa Hiett, a member of the last legislature from this county voted for it. And yet Mr. Faulkner presumes to denounce this bill as infamous and disgraceful, and that too in the county of Hampshire, whose citizens it proposed to protect in the pursuit of his constitutional rights.
You all know the position occupied by James Parsons, Jr., at the time this bill was introduced. He had pursued a fugitive slave, the property of his uncle, to a free State; he knew the slave and arrested him. The Constitution says he shall be delivered up, but the people there disregard the Constitution, they rescue the slave and send him beyond the reach of the owner. James Parsons, Jr. is arrested for a violation of their State statutes. He is held under arrest as a criminal; at his trial he is not to be confronted by his accuser; he is to be tried upon free negro testimony; and if perjury and bribery will convict him, a felon's doom awaits him.
Under these circumstances is there a heart in the Commonwealth that would not say, "Virginia protect your citizen, he has no earthly chance for an impartial trial!" Yes, one, Charles, James, Faulkner.
This bill provided for nothing more than the protection of a citizen in the pursuit of his constitutional rights. And I, for one,... [source obliterated]
....and the members of the Legislature who voted to sustain it.
Near Romney, May 18, 1857
An interesting reference to an official Virginia source can be found at:
This is a .rtf file so your browser will open WordPad to read it.
Other important newspaper articles on the Jacob Green case.