During the winter break, Dickinson’s History Department funded a research trip for this Honors project to Philadelphia, where over two days I conducted archival research at three repositories: the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia branch of the National Archives.

At the Library Company,  which traces its origins to a lending library founded at the behest of Benjamin Franklin in 1731, I poured over books, pamphlets and scrapbooks from the personal library of U.S. Commissioner (and longtime Library Company member) Edward D. Ingraham. Although there was no material directly dealing with his much-criticized implementation of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, I still uncovered an array of biographical information on the notorious commissioner. A bibliophile, antiquarian and regular auction house bidder, Ingraham–who was in his late 50s by the time he served as U.S. Commissioner–was usually clad in relatively mundane clothes, “a blue dress coat, plain pantaloons and vest,” complemented by a “characteristic hat, small in size and with the brim archly turned up at the sides.” He was, in the eyes of the Philadelphia Daily Reporter, the consummate “book-worm.” [1] Even as he handled fugitive cases throughout the early 1850s, signing warrants of arrest and remanding men and women to bondage, Ingraham was collecting rare books, purchasing autographed letters, visiting auction houses and carefully clipping (and properly citing) newspaper articles on topics that fascinated him for scrapbooks. “How much of his happiness and pride were bound up” in his copy of Shakespeare’s 1623 folio, pondered one sympathetic Philadelphia paper. [2] Of particular interest to Ingraham during the waning years of his life (he died suddenly on November 5, 1854) was a scrapbook about the post office he began scrupulously assembling in August 1851. However, Ingraham was no ordinary stamp collector–instead of collecting stamps, he voraciously collected newspaper articles about stamps, and was particularly engrossed in a controversy over the post office’s new pre-stamped envelopes that spiraled into the public eye in 1853. [3] Ingraham also owned a number of titles related to slavery–ranging from a political speech to a pamphlet containing one Louisiana slaveholder’s instructions on slave management. However, these books contain no notations in his hand (except his name), as the avid collector apparently made a practice of not scrawling notes in the marginalia. [4]

Next, I briefly visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, specifically to look at the minute books of the Franklin Fire Company, a group operating out of the Southwark neighborhood of Philadelphia. Prior to leaving for Philadelphia, I had run the names of the individuals Ingraham turned to as deputies during his stint as U.S. commissioner (1850-1854) through newspaper databases, looking for possible connections and insights into how the federally authorized slave catching posses were formed. I had already discovered that one of the special deputies Ingraham regularly relied upon, Southwark constable John Agen, lived in a boarding house run by William Byerly, who himself served as a special deputy to Commissioner Ingraham in the arrest of alleged freedom seeker Henry Massey in September 1854. [5] Searching their names jointly through newspaper databases unearthed a seemingly commonplace article about a trumpet presentation from Philadelphia’s Franklin Fire Company to the Empire Fire Company of New York. However, the members who headed up the Franklin Fire Company’s committee of presentation overlapped with those who composed the posses employed by Commissioner Ingraham, suggesting that the Franklin Fire Company served as something akin to a receptacle for able-bodied men willing to execute the controversial 1850 law–for financial gain. [6] At HSP, I scoured the minutes of the Franklin Fire Company for any references to its members’ involvement in fugitive cases. Despite the lack of specific references to the 1850 law, the minutes helped corroborate details about membership, and also revealed that Byerly was serving as president of the company when he was deputized by Commissioner Ingraham in September 1854. [7]

Afterwards, I headed to the Philadelphia branch of the National Archives, where I poured over Circuit and District court records relating to the law’s enforcement. The Appointment papers yielded valuable insights into the federal courts’ struggle to appoint enough U.S. commissioners to handle the anticipated caseload under the new 1850 law; though the most important find came in the Habeas Corpus files. Those files abounded with writs of habeas corpus filed by anti-slavery attorneys against U.S. Marshals (or in some cases, deputy marshals) in an effort to force the marshal to produce the captive freedom seeker and remove the legal process from the hands of a U.S. commissioner to a more amenable state court. Marshals responding to the writs of habeas corpus usually produced as evidence the warrant of arrest signed by the U.S. commissioner–consequently, many of the warrants still reside within the habeas corpus files, instead of the National Archives’s distinct series of fugitive slave case files. Among the former were a sizable cache of documents related to a September 1853 case which unfolded in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where three of Commissioner Ingraham’s deputies attempted–and failed–to arrest a freedom seeker, and were later arrested for trespass and assault and battery. The protracted point, counterpoint between Luzerne County, Pennsylvania officials and Federal judges Robert C. Grier (Circuit Court) and John K. Kane (U.S. District Court) produced over 50 pages of depositions and petitions from eyewitnesses, claimants and the deputies themselves, previously untapped by historians. [8]

Moving forward, the trove of documents relating to the Wilkes Barre case will undoubtedly prove crucial in this Honors project, particularly for Chapter 2, which focuses explicitly on the arrest process. My next priority is placing the 1853 case, and the practice of legal retaliation against U.S. commissioners’ deputies, in broader context, particularly in light of the efforts of the incoming Franklin Pierce administration to bolster the law’s enforcement–and support its enforcers.


[1] “Philadelphia Eccentrics,” Philadelphia Daily Reporter, March 16, 1854; The Reporter’s description of “The Book-Worm,” who went unnamed, was part of a series of “sketches of sundry Philadelphians, who are celebrated for their eccentricities, either of person, manner, habits, taste or character.” While the paper avoided naming the subjects of their sketches (to ensure “no one can be offended”), a clipping of this column was inserted in one of Ingraham’s own books, which he had gifted to a friend in 1849. See Edward Ingraham, A Sketch of the Events which preceded the Capture of Washington, by the British, on the Twenty-Fourth of August, 1814 (Philadelphia: Charles Marshall, 1849), Library Company of Philadelphia.

[2] “Sale of Mr. Ingraham’s Library, Autographs, &c.,” Philadelphia Daily Bulletin, March 13, 1855.

[3] Scrapbook, started by Edward Ingraham, August 30, 1851, in Table of Post Offices in the United States on the First Day of January 1851 (Washington, D.C.: W. & J.C. Greer, 1851), Library Company of Philadelphia; “Death of Edward D. Ingraham, Esq.,” Philadelphia Daily Bulletin, November 6, 1854.

[4] The Library Company of Philadelphia holds several slavery-related volumes from Ingraham’s extensive personal library. See Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge: Delivered in the Court-House Yard at Lexington, Ky., on the 12th day of October, 1840 (Lexington, KY: N.L. & J.W. Finnell, 1840); The Orthographic Will of John McDonogh, of Louisiana, Formerly a Citizen of Baltimore (Baltimore: James Lucas, 1850); The Memoranda of Instructions of John McDonogh, Late of Macdonoghville, State of Louisiana, To His Executors, Relative to the Management of His Estate (Baltimore: James Lucas, 1851). For a complete listing of Ingraham’s library upon his death, prepared for the sale in early 1855, see Executrix’ Sale. Miscellaneous Library, of the late E.D. Ingraham, Esq. (Philadelphia:  M. Thomas & Sons, 1855) [WEB]. Curiously, the Library Company’s copy of the Executrix’ Sale was inscribed by Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner, who donated the book (it is unclear where) on December 4, 1860.

[5] 1850 U.S. Census, Southwark Ward 3, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA, Family 679, Ancestry; For details on the Henry Massey Case, and the hearing (at which Byerly testified) see “U.S. Commissioners’ Office,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 26, 1854.

[6] “Trumpet Presentation,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, January 10, 1851; two of the men on the committee, John Agen and John Thornton, had been involved in the arrest of Henry Garnett in October 1850. While Thompson Tully, the third deputy involved in the arrest, was not listed as a member of the committee, two other members of the Tully family were. In addition, William Byerly was part of the committee, and would later become involved in an 1854 case for Ingraham. For details on the deputies who arrested Henry Garnett, see “Important Fugitive Slave Cases in Philadelphia,” Honesdale, PA Wayne County Herald, October 24, 1850.

[7] Minute Book of the Franklin Fire Company, 1838-1854, September 17, 1850, March 14, 1851, March 12, 1852, July 14, 1854, Fire Companies of Philadelphia Collection, Collection Number 0205, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

[8] United States ex relat. Jenkins & Crossen v. Chollet, Entry 42-E-11-8.1 and 42-E-11-9.8, Box 1, Habeas Corpus Files, 1848-1862, Record Group 21, National Archives, Philadelphia.