Criminalizing heroes and sometimes saving them


Plantation Slaves: Son of the South website

Continued from previous post

Note: I know this is a lot of information, but I chose not to edit so the readers can get a feel for the language, emotion, etc. that surrounded these events (that and I haven’t a lot of time to edit…).

In a letter to his former congregation, Pardon Davis expressed fear that the church wouldn’t support his decision to help the runaway slaves,

“If [you] could go on the plantation near where I lived, and at night, when the cotton was weighed, out of two hundred, not less than twelve are whipped every night—O! could you hear the shrieks, cries, groans, prayers — yes, if you could see the victim on his knees praying with all the earnestness a man is capable of, to that brutal overseer, and promising to strain every nerve on the morrow to pick more cotton – it is enough to melt the heart of any one. Who can look on such scenes as these, and not be moved? Brethren, i cannot. And now what more can I say? Have I done wrong? Have I done more than any man ought to do? Dear brethren, I leave you to judge. and I am willing to be governed by your decision. I wait with the greatest anxiety to hear from you, to know whether I shall receive your sympathies and prayers, or whether I have done wrong, and am considered a heathen. If the former, I can bear my affliction with fortitude; but if the latter, I feel my life hangs by a slender thread that my days are numbered. In the mean time, brethren pray for me. Sisters, remember me in your prayers.


but he shouldn’t have…



Slaves working cotton


[The following was quoted from HERE]

In 1855 the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference in session at First Brookfield Church in New York adopted two resolutions in regard to the case of Pardon Davis, now in the Penitentiary of Louisiana.

Resolved, That this Conference deeply sympathizes with Pardon Davis, now imprisoned in Louisiana for the alleged offense of assisting slaves to escape from their masters; and especially as he is compelled to work on the Sabbath and attend Catholic services on the first day of the week or Sunday, contrary to his conscience and convictions of duty to God.

Resolved, That this Conference recommends that the petition recently published in the Sabbath Recorder be so altered as to embrace the two particulars embraced in the preceding resolution, and that the same be as speedily and extensively circulated for signatures as practicable, and forwarded to the Governor of Louisiana for the relief of Bro. Pardon Davis from the unlawful and unconstitutional violation of his religious rights, under which he is now suffering. (1)

This action followed similar action by the Eastern, the Central, the Western and the Northwestern Associations of Seventh Day Baptist Churches.

The Eastern Association comprising churches in Rhode Island, Connecticut, eastern New York State and New Jersey, in a series of anti-slavery resolutions, reiterated its opposition to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 and ending with the statement that it: “now deplores the consequences of repealing what is commonly called the Missouri Compromise, as seen in the acts of brutality and lawlessness lately perpetrated in the Territory of Kansas; and that it enjoins upon every Christian the duty of doing all in his power, by his voice and his vote, to restore the statute prohibiting Slavery in new Territories, and to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law.”

Resolved, That this Association has learned with utmost grief, that Pardon Davis, a member of our denomination, has been apprehended and imprisoned in Louisiana for acts of mercy, in feeding and clothing the oppressed and famishing in their escape from bondage.

It then appointed a committee of three consisting of Lucius Crandall, Darwin E. Maxson, and Thomas Greenman, “to ascertain and report what can be done for the relief of Pardon Davis (2)

Two weeks later the Central Association comprising churches in Central New York State, likewise published its minutes in the Sabbath Recorder in order that others would know of their action.

Resolved, That we sympathize deeply with our brother, Pardon Davis, who is unrightiously doomed to imprisonment for the exercise of the nobler impulses of manhood, and a practical development of Christianity, in relieving the oppressed; that we are glad that our brethren in the Eastern Association have appointed a Committee of inquiry in relation to what may be done for his relief. . .”

The Association then asked for a uniting on the last Sabbath in June in earnest prayer to God:

. . . for the deliverance of Brother Pardon Davis from prison; and that we urge them on that occasion to remember others who may be suffering imprisonment for aiding the panting fugitive in his flight from bondage, and above all to remember “as bound with them” the three millions of poor slaves who are wearing out their lives in the dark prison-house of Slavery.” (3)

The Western Association with churches in the western regions of New York and Pennsylvania, expressed its concern with these resolutions enacted:

Resolved, That this Association reaffirm its settled conviction of the inhumanity of American Slavery, and that its workings in the case of Bro. Pardon Davis are only the legitimate fruits of its system.

Resolved, That we commend brother Davis for the course he pursued towards the suffering fugitives in furnishing them flood and raiment, and that we earnestly pray God to grant him sustaining grace, that he may endure with true martyr-spirit the trials which his faithfulness to the instincts of humanity has subjected him to, and that we are ready to unite with our brethren in any effort that may tend to his relief. (4)

The Northwestern Association which was organized in 1847 with churches in Wisconsin and surrounding territories also made its sentiment known in the resolutions passed in its meeting in Berlin, Wisconsin in September of that year.

3. Resolved, That we look upon the act of Congress in throwing open the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska to the interests of slavery, as a flagrant abuse of legislative power.

4. Resolved, That we cherish a deep and lively sympathy for Bro. Pardon Davis, now imprisoned in Louisiana, and that we are ready to do all in our power to aid his friends in their efforts to secure his release. (5)

Unfortunately the efforts of the church did nothing to save Pardon.  But the love and dedication of a father did…


The Sabbath Recorder for September 25, 1856 carried a letter to the editor from the father of Pardon Davis, who told the circumstances which brought about the release of his son from Prison. Under a dateline from Berlin, Wis., Sept. 10, 1856 he wrote:

I noticed in your paper of July 17th an inquiry for Pardon Davis, and by what means he was liberated in answer to D. E. M. [presumably Darwin E. Maxson], I say, that Pardon Davis is now in the Wisconsin; and as I am the man who procured his liberation, I would say, that I was under the necessity of using as much deception as Jacob did to obtain Esau’s birthright, and this is the reason why we have deferred publishing it. I left home last December for the South, with a firm determination that my son must be liberated, and that if fair means could not procure it, some other means must. i proceeded directly to Baton Rouge, where I found my son. After conversing with him, and taking some names of persons and places, I returned to St. Joseph’s, the place where he had his trial. On landing, i met four men, whom I took to be at least half drunk. I at first thought to pass them, but they hailed me, and after some salutations, I inquired for a certain lawyer. One said, “I am the man.” I then inquired for the Judge, and also the Sheriff, to which two responded,. “I am the man;” and the fourth cried out with an oath, saying, “I am the County Clerk.” We then proceeded to the Clerk’s office, and I soon made known my business, and made my fraudulent plea, (being of the opinion that no other would avail.) The Judge within ten minutes had a petition written and signed by himself and by the other three. In a few minutes more I had the names of the Jurors, and places of residence. I soon started on horseback, through the swamps and frog ponds of Louisiana, in search of the Jurors. After riding five days, I succeeded in finding eight of them who signed my petition. Four of them had left the country. I then found myself twenty from the place of starting, and at Waterproof, the place where the great crime (as they called it) was committed. I presented my petitions for signatures, and some eighty people signed it. I then left for St. Joseph’s and upon arriving there, I found a steamer at the landing. I settled my usiness, and went on board. The County Clerk, hearing of my return, came on board, and presented me with letters of recommendations to the Governor, a Senator, and the two Representatives of the Parish, requiring them to do all they could for me, and signed by the four officials. Finding myself thus more prosperous by far than i anticipated, I felt like St. Paul when he saw the Three Taverns — thanked God and took courage.

On returning to the Capital, I found the Legislators assembling. I went to work among them, vindicating my cause. As soon as the Legislature was organized, my petition was presented to the old Governor, Faber, who would have nothing to do with it. His term expired in ten days, and glad I was when the time came. As soon as the new Governor, Wicklief, took his seat, I again presented my petition. He informed me that my case was a very doubtful one; he said that aiding slaves to escape from their masters, they considered the most heinous of all crimes; said he, “Were it for murder, I could give you some encouragement, but as it is, I can give you none.‘t He said that I might leave the petition, and when he had leisure to look it over, and I might call again in three days, and he would give me an answer. I soon informed those with whom I had become acquainted what I had done, and requested them to intervene on my behalf At the expiration of three days, I was requested by some to postpone seeing him, as they had not all had an opportunity of conversing with him. After eight days, he informed me that there was some hope in my case. Said he, “Mr. Davis, will you please inform me how you go to work to gain so many friends in so short a time, for since I last saw you, more than half of both Houses have been before me, pleading your case.” He said that he had promised them, and would promise me, that he would do something, but I must be patient. To cut my letter short, I would say, that after spending five weeks in the city, I succeeded. As to the fraudulent plea, I never have published it, and never shall. Without it, I have no doubt my son would have remained in prison his twenty years, had he lived that length of time. I am well persuaded, that if the truth of the case should be found out, it would be called a real Yankee trick.
J. R. D. (8)

Before this account appeared in the Sabbath Recorder, a previous issue told of Pardon Davis’ appearance at an anniversary celebration of the founding of Albion Academy , at which time he gave a brief account of his offense, trial, imprisonment and liberation.
The audience gave Bro. Davis an expression of their “approbation of his conduct and welcome home by clapping of hands waving of handkerchiefs and parasols, most heartily done. Brother Davis addressed the audience a few moments, much to the satisfaction of those who heard him, but was too much affected to speak very distinctly. He feels that it is in answer to prayer that God blessed the efforts of his father in recovery from prison. After his address, “three cheers” were given, that made the woods ring. (9)

Unfortunately I have found nothing that even hints at the lies Pardon’s father told to get him released-but I am glad it worked.

Unfortunately this story ends on a sad note…

The following was was discovered by a Milton researcher:

The Sabbath Recorder carried the following news item in July 1870.

Murder of Pardon Davis For several years, Pardon Davis, son of Jeremiah Davis, of Milton, Wis., has been engaged in mining near Atlantic City, Wyoming Territory. On Monday the 23d of May, at half past nine P. M. while on his way to his house, and within a few rods of it, he was fired on by some concealed person. One shot produced a flesh wound in the shoulder, and a second shot took effect in the spine, passing through the abdomen. This shot proved fatal. He reached the door of his cabin, where friends, aroused by the shot and the cry of murder, came to his assistance. He lingered in great agony until the next day, May 24th at 1 o’clock P. M., and then suddenly dropped away. Up to last accounts it had not been ascertained who was the author of this dastardly and assault. Suspicion rested upon parties who had been engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to jump one of his most valuable claims. Several persons had been arrested, but at last accounts no one had been convicted. It is but a too common incident of mining life.


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