by Jim North
Southeast Campus Editor
Emancipation of slaves in the U.S. can be attributed in substantial degree to some supremely dedicated and courageous college students.
Dwight Theodore Weld was a young convert of revivalist Charles G. Finney. Finney believed Weld would one day become a preacher like himself. Instead, Weld became one of the foremost anti-slavery lecturers of the Civil War era.
Weld was personally responsible for the distribution of millions of pieces of literature, decrying the racial condition of the United States.
He was later to write the second most widely-read publication of the time on the subject: “Slavery as it Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.”
Though President Abraham Lincoln generally receives credit for emancipation, there were ‘boots on the ground’ throughout the country, hundreds of lecturers calling for the immediate release of three million African-American slaves.
Weld scouted land in Cincinnati, Ohio with Finney’s approval for what would become Lane Theological Seminary, with a purpose of raising additional voices for the civil rights cause. Weld later enrolled himself at the college as a student.
He organized student debates on campus in February 1834, where the topic was argued for 18 days. Should slaves be ‘colonized’ and returned to Africa or should they be immediately released? Debates featured the live testimony of an actual slave.
By its conclusion, students voted for the full and immediate emancipation of slaves within the United States. The radical position flew counter to the college hierarchy, including the president, who advocated colonization as the best
solution to the raging conflict.
The president of Lane had a daughter attending school at the time, who listened intently to the subject matter of the debates. Captivated by the student cause, she became a staunch advocate for oppressed African-Americans.
The division within Lane became so pronounced, a large block of students dismissed themselves from the school, and eventually migrated north to enroll at Oberlin College near Cleveland.
Their decision was influenced by a desire to be under the tutelage of Finney, who presided over Oberlin’s theology department, later becoming the college’s second president. Lane theology students became known as the “Lane Rebels.”
‘Safe places’ were locations along the ‘Underground Railroad,” where fleeing slaves from the south could take refuge from the pursuit of their ‘masters’. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it illegal to harbor such slaves.
Oberlin did not merely ‘contain’ safe places; the entire town was considered a ‘safe town’.
John Price, a young 14-yearold slave of John P.G. Bacon, escaped his Kentucky plantation and settled in the safe haven of Oberlin.
He took up residence and lived peaceably there for two years until his ‘owner’ and a federal marshal sought to apprehend him.
Captors included Anderson Jennings (Bacon’s neighbor), Richard P. Mitchell (former Bacon employee), Jacob K. Lowe (U.S. deputy marshal), and Samuel Davis (Lowe’s
Knowing the resistance that would be encountered within Oberlin, Price was lured out-of-town with a bribe to labor in a field for the sum of $20.
On September 13, 1858, the men succeeded in capturing Price, transporting him 10 miles south to the small town of Wellington.
Checking into the Wadsworth Hotel for the night, they would return Price to Kentucky by daybreak.
The citizens of Oberlin and Wellington were incensed at the kidnapping, as more than two hundred people surrounded the hotel that evening and took Price back.
Returning him to Oberlin, he stayed in the home of a college professor, James Franklin. Soon after, citizens escorted him further north along the Underground Railroad and released him across the border into Canada.
Mysteriously, no one knows what came of Price. Historical records offer no clues as to his eventual destination, occupation, or ultimate fate.
Months of trials ensued in the Cleveland Cuyahoga County courthouse, as charges were filed on both sides of the matter.
On one hand, the slave-owner and federal marshal were charged with kidnapping. On the other, 37 citizens of Oberlin and Wellington who recaptured Price and gave him haven were charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Many were jailed.
Eventually, charges on both sides were dropped. The incident came to be known as the “Oberlin-Wellington Rescue,” a key trigger for the long, protracted, bloody war that
Political journalist David Ross Locke wrote under the pseudonym, ‘Petroleum V. Nasby,’ both during and after the war. “Oberlin commensed this war. Oberlin wuz the prime cause uv all the trubble,” he wrote.
Oberlin College students and faculty involved in the rescue included William E. Lincoln (student/jailed), Ansel W. Lyman (student/jailed), Henry E. Peck (professor/jailed), William D. Scrimgeour (student), Jacob R. Shipherd (student/jailed), Richard Winsor (student/jailed), John G. W. Cowles (student), James H. Fairchild (professor), and James L. Patton (student).
Many students suspended their studies, pledging for the cause of emancipation by enlisting in the army, some losing their lives.
The young girl captivated by listening to the student debates and the teaching of Weld, authored the single most influential book denouncing slavery, ahead of Weld’s popular work.
Her 1852 novel came to be the top-selling book ever, next to the bible, born of her resolute conviction as a student.
The girl’s father (president of Lane Theological
Seminary) was Lyman Beecher. His daughter was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The book exposing the cruelties of slavery and advocating the plight of suffering African-Americans swept the land, contributing greatly to the changing landscape of U.S. history.
President Lincoln invited Stowe to the White House and declared, “So you are the young lady responsible for stirring up all this trouble?”
Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring, “That all persons held as slaves are and henceforth shall be free.”
For additional information about the Oberlin-Wellington rescue, read “The Town that Started the Civil War,” by Nat Brandt and published by Syracuse University Press, available in the Tulsa Community