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Below is a section of script featuring the Joshua Glover story from RHM’s exhibit This Train is Bound for Glory.  The Glover story is but one story highlighted in the exhibit – and can be best introduced using the quote below from Finding Freedom.

“What took place following [Joshua Glover’s and his master’s] association of slightly more than three years would … set in motion a series of events that would have a profound effect on both men and the country as a whole.  It would build some careers and wreck others…. It would result in a Northern state, Wisconsin, attempting to nullify the U.S. Constitution.”  

(Finding Freedom, Jackson and MacDonald, 2007)

Escaping from his master in Missouri in 1852, Joshua Glover had become a member of the Racine County community, working at the Sinclair Rice and Saw Mill in town.  Two years after settling in Racine, he was captured in the middle of the night by several men including his master Benammi Garland, and jailed in Milwaukee.

The story of Joshua Glover is famous, not only for the roughness of his capture, but for the reaction of southeastern Wisconsin’s citizens to his jailing, the subsequent jailbreak and the aftermath that brought national attention to our state.

The Reaction and Jailbreak Of Glover Story

“Imagine a crowd of four to six thousand persons smashing in the jail, releasing the negro and then running as fast as they could the distance of a mile, and every man in town running, too – windows open, handkerchiefs waving…”  

(Racine Daily Morning Advocate, March 12, 1854)

Upon hearing the news of Glover’s “kidnapping,” Racine citizens gathered in Haymarket Square (today’s Monument Square), the largest gathering to that date ever in Racine. During this gathering, the following was decided: (1) a delegation of representatives would travel to Milwaukee to ensure Glover received a fair trial; (2) resolutions were outlined and the newspapers were given the minutes of the meeting so that they could be published and publicized; and (3) a finance committee began its work, raising money to take care of costs of Glover’s trial.  

At 5:00pm, the delegation from Racine arrived by boat in Milwaukee where they joined a crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse upon hearing of Glover’s capture.  Included in this crowd was Sherman Booth, editor of the newspaper Wisconsin Free Democrat and an outspoken abolitionist.  Soon after the arrival of the Racine delegation, the abolitionists took matters into their own hands and, using pickaxes and large pieces of lumber, freed Glover from his cell.  He was spirited away onto the Underground Railroad.

Glover’s next three to four weeks were spent in and around Racine County – being helped by men such as John Messenger, C.C. Olin, Alfred Payne, Richard Ela, Joel Cooper, Moses Tichenor and more; and traveling through Prairieville (now Waukesha), Rochester, Racine, Burlington, Spring Prairie and other areas, all the while being chased by Garland and his posse.

Glover’s final stop on Racine County’s Underground Railroad was a warehouse owned by A.P. Dutton on Racine’s harbor.  Dutton, a noted abolitionist, was privy to information about the ships coming in and out of the harbor including which ships and captains were friendly toward fugitives.  It is unclear which ship took Glover to freedom, but evidence of Glover’s arrival in Canada can be found in a note in an account book in Canada. (Finding Freedom, Jackson and MacDonald, 2007)

The Aftermath: Nationwide Attention

“Resolved, that inasmuch as the Senate of the United States has repealed all compromises heretofore adopted by the Congress of the United States, we as citizens of Wisconsin, are justified in declaring, and herby declare, the slave-catching law of 1850 disgraceful and also repealed.”  (a resolution adopted by the citizens of Racine during the Glover incident, printed in the Daily Morning Advocate, March 12, 1854)

While Glover’s arrival in Canada completed his flight to freedom, it began a long legal battle and a state-wide repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act that would bring national attention to Wisconsin.

After warrants were issued for people on both sides of the incident – slaveholder Garland as well as abolitionists Charles Clement, Thomas Mason, John Ryecraft and others – a criminal case was brought against Sherman Booth.  Byron Paine, Booth’s attorney, argued that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was unconstitutional by not allowing fugitives a trial by jury.  Therefore, Booth had been wrongfully jailed.  Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Andrew Smith agreed with Paine’s argument, declared the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional and freed Booth.  Later, the entire Wisconsin Supreme Court supported Smith’s decision.

This decision brought nationwide attention to Wisconsin, directly challenging federal law. However, when the decision reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Roger Taney declared the Wisconsin decision wrong.  Booth was sentenced to a fine and imprisonment, and later underwent a civil case brought by Garland.  

While the abolitionist movement was strong throughout northern states, Wisconsin remained the only state to declare the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.

The gathering of Racine County’s citizens in Haymarket Square, today known as Monument Square, is remembered by a marker that was placed in the Square in June 2003.  This site is 1 block north of RHM, and is recognized by the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.