This episode discusses is a specific event that occurred due to the establishment of the Fugitive Slave Laws in the 1850s called the Jerry Rescue.
William “Jerry” Henry was a Missouri slave during this time period. He grew tired of the brutality and sought freedom in the north. He successfully escaped from Missouri and went to Syracuse, New York, which was a popular immigration city. He lived and worked in the city for a while, but in October 1852, U.S. Marshal Allen arrested him. The officer tricked him into cooperating by saying he was under arrest for a minor offence. He was immediately questioned and examined by a large crowd. During the examination process he fled the scene, but was arrested again soon after. However, he managed to escape again and went to the free state of Illinois. From Illinois he secured his freedom by crossing Lake Ontario into Canada.
His escape sparked controversy that did not end with his departure from the states. The government continued the investigation and arrested about 20 people who aided in Henry’s escape. The Fugitive Slave Laws stated that the harboring or helping of a runaway slave was a large criminal offense. The U.S. Court system debated whether or not these people should be charged with treason. In the 1850s, those charged with treason were hung. However, the tensions between the North and the South were dangerously high. If the South would have hung 20 people, the North would have largely revolted. Therefore, instead of the traditional hangings, the people accused of assisting William Henry were charged with a misdemeanor and a $500 fine.
- "Arrest of a Fugitive Slave-His Rescue-Great Excitement-The Military Called Out," New York Times, Oct 2, 1851.
- "Official Action in Regard to the Syracuse Outrage," New York Times, Oct 31, 1851.
- Jayme A. Sokolow, "The Jerry McHenry Rescue and the Growth of Northern Antislavery Sentiment During the 1850s," Journal of American Studies 16.3 (December 1852): 427-45.