Willing to whip his weight in wildcats: The Addison White Story Part I

As this week marks the 156th anniversary of two significant turning points in the Civil War, specifically the Battle of Antietam and Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, it seemed an opportune time discuss the real world outcome of those events and how it impacted Ohioans. Lincoln’s proclamation and the Union’s continuing struggles with suppressing the rebellion opened the door in early 1863 for the acceptance of black troops into the army. Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts secured approval to raise the first black regiment in January 1863- this would become the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry which contained in its ranks a number of Ohioans.

Click here to read part II of this story.

(Stories about a couple of these Ohioans of the 54th Massachusetts have been featured in earlier posts which can be viewed here:

This article (the first in a two part series) will focus on the story of Addison White of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, a salt maker who would go on to enlist in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. But Addison White’s story doesn’t begin or end with his service in the 54th Massachusetts; he had struck a blow for freedom six years prior which is where our story begins…
Addison White

Addison White was born in 1822 as a slave in Fleming County, Kentucky, and by the 1850s he was considered the property of a man named Daniel White. In August 1856, Addison escaped from slavery, crossed the Ohio River and traveled north in Ohio along the Underground Railroad. Finding that he had exhausted his funds and feeling safe, he stopped in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. “Finding employment, he concluded to remain there until he made enough to send for his wife and children who were still in Kentucky, but free,” it was reported. The region was known as a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment, and Addison hired out to local farmer and abolitionist named Udney H. Hyde who lived about a mile from town. (Hyde, a 50 year old native of Vermont, had a reputation for assisting slaves escape to freedom, and for his superlative command of profanity.) A newspaper article described Addison as “remarkably large and stout” and stated that “he is a powerful man, able to raise a barrel of whiskey over his head with great ease; a feat that but few men are able to perform.”[i]

In the meantime, Addison’s former master had tracked him down. The circumstances of which have been variously related, but the most plausible story was that his friend Charles Taylor wrote a letter to Addison’s wife in Kentucky and advised her where her husband was living. Postmaster William Boggs of Springfield reputedly directed the letter to Daniel White, and thus he learned where his escaped slave was residing. (Interestingly, his wife refused to join him in Ohio and Addison eventually remarried.) Under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Daniel White obtained an arrest warrant in Cincinnati and set out to Champaign County in the company of Deputy Marshal John C. Elliott of Cincinnati and four other Kentuckians, including slave catcher Benjamin P. Churchill.
Udney Hay Hyde (Ohio History Connection)

On Tuesday May 19, 1857, this group was joined by Deputy Marshal John Poffinbarger of Urbana (Champaign County Federal Marshal) and the group traveled to Mechanicsburg to arrest Addison and return him to slavery in Kentucky.[ii] “Ad was at that time a powerful man, able and willing to whip his weight in wildcats if necessary, and had expressed his determination never to return to slavery alive. Churchill & Co. had been advised of this and made their approaches to Hyde's house cautiously, informing some persons in Mechanicsburg of their business, and suggesting to them to go out and see the fun, which invitation was promptly accepted.”[iii]

The Urbana Citizen & Gazette reported that “quite early in the morning, the party made a descent upon the cabin of Mr. Hyde where the colored man resided. Making known the object of their visit, and reading their warrant, Mr. Hyde told them that Addison was there and interposed no objection to his arrest.”[iv]

 “Addison was in the front room of the Hyde house pulling on his boots when a squad of U.S. marshals and deputies passed the window. He quickly sprang to the ladder and ascended to the loft of the cabin. To prevent escape, the deputies were stationed on all sides of the house. The three marshals without stopping to knock pushed open the door and entered.”[v]

The 1881 History of Clark County continues: “Ad slept in the loft of Hyde's house, to which access could only be obtained by means of a ladder and one person only at a time. Here he had provided himself with such articles of defense as a rifle, double-barreled shot-gun, revolver, knife and ax, and had the steady nerve and skill to use them successfully if circumstances forced him to. Churchill and his party arrived at Hyde's and found the game in his retreat. They parleyed with him for some time, coaxed him to come down, ordered old man Hyde to go up and bring him out, deputized the men who followed them to go up and bring him down, but all declined, telling them five men ought to be able to take one. White finally proposed, in order to relieve Hyde of danger of compromise, that if the five Marshals would lay aside their arms and permit him to go into an adjoining field, and they could then overpower him, he would make no further resistance, but so long as they persisted in their advantage, he would remain where he was, and kill the first man who attempted to enter the loft.”[vi]

“Deputy Marshal Elliot, of Cincinnati, was the first and only one to make the attempt to enter where White was, and as his body passed above the floor of the loft, he held a shotgun before him, perhaps to protect himself, but particularly to scare White. But White was not to be scared that way. He meant what he said when he warned them to let him alone, and, quick as thought, the sharp crack of a rifle rang out in the air, and Elliott dropped to the floor, not killed, but saved by his gun, the ball having struck the barrels.” [vii]
The Udney Hyde home in Mechanicsburg, Ohio where Addison White confronted the slave catchers. It is no longer standing. (Ohio History Connection)

Marshal Elliott’s ear was wounded when the bullet ricocheted off his gun barrel, and “he fell to the floor below exclaiming ‘I am a dead man.’ [Udney] Hyde, a very excitable man, fumed and swore, “Why didn’t you go up and get him? Damn you!”[viii]

In a ploy to inform his neighbors of what was going on, Udney called to his daughter Manda and told her to go feed the chickens. Manda set off toward the barnyard, and then headed off to the neighbor’s house. After she had a good head start, “one of the marshal’s shouted after her, ‘You girl, stop, or I’ll shoot!’ Her black eyes snapped as she shouted back “Shoot and be durned!” and away she fled and the people in the ‘abolition hole’ of Mechanicsburg were notified of the situation.”[ix]

 “Word soon went to town and in a short time, quite a crowd came out to the rescue. The braggadocio spirit of the slave catchers was properly resented, and finding that they had got into the ‘wrong diggins’ to catch fugitives, the whole party left in double quick time.”[x] The crowd “rallied them considerably on their failure and in all probability was not very choice in their English to express their opinions of slave hunters.” The men left for Urbana and then returned to Cincinnati empty-handed.[xi]

The Citizen & Gazette defiantly reported that “Addison is still in the neighborhood, fully armed, and determined never to be taken alive.” Interestingly, one of the guns that Addison White used to defend himself (which was given to him by Udney Hyde) is now property of Ohio History Connection.[xii]

 “Chagrined and mortified at their failure, and smarting under the sharp rallies of the bystanders, Churchill and Elliott made their report to the Court at Cincinnati, and made oath that Azro L. Mann, Charles Taylor, David Tullis and Udney Hyde had interfered and prevented the capture of the Negro White, and refused to assist when called upon.”[xiii] Warrants were issued for their arrest, and a posse of 14 men set out to execute the warrants.

They arrived in Urbana on Monday May 25th on the 10:30 train from Cincinnati, but stayed in Urbana until Wednesday. It was reported that Addison had left for Canada several days before the posse arrived. “These deputy marshals, it appears, were determined to arrest somebody, and well knowing that the fugitive Addison was more than a match for them, they had writs for five or six citizens of Mechanicsburg who were suspicioned of aiding Addison in his escape. Not suspecting anything of the kind, the people of the burg were taken by surprise when four of their citizens were suddenly arrested and carried off from their homes by those official dignitaries.” The men arrested were Charles and Edward Taylor (brothers), Hiram Guthridge, and Russell Hyde, a son of Udney Hyde.[xiv]

 “The men were prominent in the community, and their arrest created intense excitement. Parties followed the Marshals, expecting them to go to Urbana to board the cars for Cincinnati, but they left the main road, striking through the country, their actions creating additional excitement, and causing a suspicion of abduction. A party went at once to Urbana and obtained from Judge S.V. Baldwin a writ of habeas corpus, commanding the marshals to bring their prisoners and show by what authority they were held. John Clark, Jr., then Sheriff of Champaign County, summoned a posse and started in pursuit, overtaking the Marshals with their prisoners just across the county line at Catawba, when the two parties dined together.”[xv]

The Fremont Journal picks up the story, quoting from the Xenia News: “We have heard some facts in regard to the conduct of the United States marshal and his accomplices towards the prisoners while in their custody which go very far towards showing that they were engaged in a scheme to kidnap these men under the color of legal authority, take them into Kentucky, and deal with them as their depraved passions might dictate. They not only hand cuffed the prisoners, but they treated them with all manner of indignity, as for instance, remarking when a convenient limb projected over the road that ‘that would be a good place to hang such damned abolitionists’ as they were. They threatened to blow out their brains if they opened their mouths to tell anybody they were under arrest or what for.”[xvi]
Joseph C. Brand of Urbana

 “In the meantime, Judge Ichabod Corwin and Hon. Joseph C. Brand went to Springfield with a copy of the writ, and started Sheriff John E. Layton, of Clark County, and his deputy to intercept them at South Charleston. They reached there just as the Marshals passed through, and overtook them half a mile beyond the town. In attempting to serve the writ, Layton was assaulted by Elliott with a slingshot, furiously and brutally beaten to the ground, receiving injuries from which he never fully recovered. Layton's deputy, Compton, was shot at several times, but escaped unhurt, and when he saw his superior stricken down and helpless, he went to him and permitted the Marshals to resume their journey. Sheriff Clark and his party came up soon after, and Sheriff Layton was borne back to South Charleston in a dying condition, it was supposed, but a powerful constitution withstood the tremendous shock, although his health was never fully restored.”[xvii]

“The assault upon Sheriff Layton was at once telegraphed to Springfield and other points, causing intense excitement and arousing great indignation. Parties were organized and the capture of the Marshals undertaken in earnest. Their track now lay through Greene County. Sheriff Lewis was telegraphed for and joined the party. On the following morning, near the village of Lumberton, in Greene County, the State officers, headed by Sheriff Lewis, overtook the Marshals, who surrendered without resistance. The prisoners were taken to Urbana before Judge Baldwin and released, as no one appeared to show why they were arrested, or should be detained.”[xviii]

“The United States Marshals were all arrested at Springfield, on their way to Urbana, for assault with intent to kill, and, being unable to furnish security, were lodged in jail overnight. James S. Christie was Justice of the Peace at the time, and issued the warrants for the arrest of the Marshals; the excitement was so great that the examination was held in the old court house which proved too small for the crowd. Mr. Christie was one of those who were obliged to attend at Cincinnati. The Marshals again returned to Cincinnati and procured warrants for the arrest of the four persons released upon habeas corpus, together with a large number of citizens of Mechanicsburg, Urbana, Springfield and Xenia, who participated in the capture of the Marshals.”[xix]

In Champaign County the feeling against the enforcement of this feature of the fugitive slave law had become so intense that the officers serving the warrants were in danger of violence. Ministers of the Gospel and many of the best and most responsible citizens of Urbana said to Judge Baldwin, Judge Corwin, Judge Brand and Sheriff Clark, on the day of arrest: "If you do not want to go, say the word, and we will protect you." feeling that the conflict was inevitable, and might as well be precipitated at that time. These men, however, counseled in moderation, and were ready and willing to suffer the inconvenience, expense and harassment of prosecution for the sake of testing this feature of the slave driver's law, and also in hope and belief that it would make it more odious, and secure its early repeal or change.”[xx]

“The cases of Udney Hyde and Hon. Joseph C. Brand were selected as test cases representing the two features — that of Hyde for refusing to assist in the arrest of a fugitive slave, and that of Brand for interference with a United States officer in the discharge of duty. The District Attorney was assisted by able counsel, and the most eminent lawyers in the State were secured to conduct the defense, when, after a long and stormy trial, the jury failed to make a verdict. The contest had now lasted nearly or quite a year, and all parties were becoming tired of it. The patriotism actuating both sides, though being of a different character and order, was entirely exhausted, and the glory to be obtained would now be left for others yet to follow.

The Kentucky gentlemen (Daniel White) who had stirred up all this racket in an effort to get possession of his $1,000  in human flesh and blood now stepped to the front and proposed to settle the trouble if he could have $1,000 for his Ad White, and all the costs in the cases paid.[xxi] This proposition was readily acceded to, the money paid (presumably by the citizens of Mechanicsburg), and the cases all nulled by District Attorney Matthews. The deed of Ad White was made in regular form by his Kentucky owner, and now forms one of the curious and interesting features of the Probate Court records for Champaign County. Thus ended one of the great conflicts in the enforcement of the fugitive slave law, which did much toward crystallizing public sentiment against the extension of slavery, and added thousands to the Republican voters of the State.”[xxii]
Addison White historical marker in Mechanicsburg, Ohio was dedicated in 2005.

“Ad White was notified of his freedom, and at once returned to Mechanicsburg, where he yet resides (1881), borne down by hard work and age, but ever cherishing the memory of those who gave him shelter and protection when fleeing from oppression and seeking his freedom.”[xxiii] Udney Hyde remained in hiding for a period of time, but eventually returned to Champaign County and is claimed to have helped 513 slaves on their way to freedom.[xxiv]

After the war, Addison White worked for the Street Department of Mechanicsburg and died in 1885. He is buried with his second wife Amanda at Maple Grove Cemetery with a government stone noting his service with the 54th Massachusetts.[xxv]

This concludes part I of the Addison White story. Click on the link below to read part II in which Addison provides an account of his experiences after joining the 54th Massachusetts regiment.

[i] “Slave Catcher’s Baffled,” Urbana Citizen & Gazette, May 22, 1857, pg. 3
[ii] This date has been variously reported as May 15 and also as late April- the Citizen & Gazette article already cited states that the event occurred the previous Tuesday which was May 19, 1857.
[iii] History of Clark County, Ohio.  Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881, pg. 287
[iv] “Slave Catcher’s Baffled,” op. cit.
[v] Ware, Joseph. History of Mechanicsburg, Ohio. Columbus: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1917, pgs. 40-42
[vi] History of Clark County, op cit.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Ware, op. cit.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] “Slave Catcher’s Baffled,” op. cit.
[xi] History of Clark County, op cit.
[xii] “Slave Catcher’s Baffled,” op. cit.
[xiii] History of Clark County, op cit.
[xiv] “Slave Catcher’s Baffled,” op. cit.
[xv] History of Clark County, op cit.
[xvi] “The Man Hunt-Slave Catching: Resistance of Officers and High-Handed Outrages,” Fremont Journal, June 5, 1857, pg. 2
[xvii] History of Clark County, op cit.
[xviii] Ibid.
[xix] Ibid.
[xx] Ibid.
[xxi] This has been reported in various accounts ranging from $800-1,000.
[xxii] History of Clark County, op cit.
[xxiii] Ibid.
[xxiv] http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Udney_H._Hyde
[xxv] “Addison White” Ohio Historical Marker in Mechanicsburg, Ohio and findagrave.com


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