John Ludlow Pendery (1823-)






Nine Fugitives Case (1854) – 9 remanded

  • Nine enslaved people escaped from Bourbon County, Kentucky on June 11, 1854–22-year-old Anderson, 26-year-old Almeda and her 3-year-old infant Sarah Jane, 24-year-old Lewis, 39-year-old Susan, 9-year-old Wesley, 7-year-old John, 21-year-old Lee, and 60-year-old Shadrach. The group of freedom seekers encountered John Gyser, a free African American man, who “promised to assist them in making their way north.” However, once Gyser learned of the $1,000 reward posted for their return, he informed authorities of their whereabouts. Obtaining warrants from Commissioner Pendery, Deputy Marshal George Thayer and a group of Kentuckians seized the freedom seekers on Monday night, June 12. The nine freedom seekers were then brought before Pendery at Cincinnati. Anti-slavery attorneys attempted to dispute the witnesses’ credibility. While one witness, Kentuckian William Walton, testified that he “have always known [Shadrach] to be the slave of Mr. Crisler,” an anti-slavery attorney forced him to admit that he was “not present when Scott sold Shadrach to Crisler” but only “understood so.” When anti-slavery attorneys later challenged that the claimants had not presented any concrete evidence that slavery existed in Kentucky, Pendery ruled that “he was satisfied in his own mind that it was recognized by the laws of Kentucky… The Court took ex-officio cognizance of the fact.” [1854-06-19 New York Herald]
  • Pendery remanded the group of nine to the claimants, explaining that while he “conscientiously believe[d] that slavery is a sin,” he also believed that it would be wrong “for me to refuse to execute what I know to be the established law of the land. We believe our private and conscientious opinions have nothing to do in administering the law of the land, acting officially, as I now do.” [1854-07-06 New York Observer]

Harvey Case (1854) – 1 remanded

  • On September 19, a fugitive named Harvey was seized near Goshen, Ohio, and brought before Commissioner Pendery, who remanded him to slavery. “The underground railroad must be out of repair,” commented the Cincinnati Commercial. [1854-09-27 Richmond, VA Daily Dispatch]

Rosetta Armistead Case (1855) – 1 released

  • In March 1855, Rosetta Armistead, a 16-year-old enslaved woman from Virginia, was brought with the permission of her owner to Columbus, Ohio. After Columbus African Americans helped file a writ of habeas corpus on her behalf, and Armistead expressed her determination to remain on free soil, the claimant, Henry Dennison (the son-in-law of John Tyler) obtained a warrant for her arrest from Commissioner Pendery. [1855-03-21 Cleveland Herald]
  • Future president Rutherford B. Hayes appeared as counsel for Armistead. He argued that “the proof showed that an unrestricted liberty was given” by the claimant “to take the girl to Va; if he brought her into Ohio it was at the risk of the principal–if one slave can pass through Ohio, gangs of forty in number may do so.” Finally on April 3, Pendery declared Rosetta free, grounding his decision on the argument that “as she was brought here by her master, that act emancipated her and she could not be claimed under the fugitive slave act.” [1855-04-07 New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle]

Garner Family Case (1856) – 7 remanded

  • In January 1856, Margaret Garner and seven family members escaped from Kentucky into Ohio. However, when cornered by slave catchers, Garner killed her two-year-old daughter, Mary, rather than see her child be returned to slavery. The sensational case came before Commissioner Pendery in Ohio, who on February 26 remanded the seven men, women and children to slavery. “The question is not one of humanity that I am called upon to decide,” Pendery argued in his decision. “The laws of Kentucky and of the United States make it a question of property. It is not a question of feeling, to be decided by the chance current of my sympathies.” Pendery further avowed that “our highest moral obligation in this case is to administer impartially the plain provisions of the law.” [1856-02-28 Sandusky, OH Commercial Register]


  • In 1901, Pendery prepared an autobiographical statement that addressed his tenure as commissioner.
  • Before Pendery announced his decision in the Garner Family Case, an acquaintance of the commissioner informed the editors of the New York-based National Anti-Slavery Standard that Pendery personally “would rather see all the negroes set free than sent back to slavery. He is a Whig Know-Nothing, and opponent of the Pierce Administration, and must have obtained his office through the influence of Judge McClean, being a relative of Mrs. McClean.” [1856-02-29 New York Tribune]
  • After the Garner case, an anti-slavery novel Liberty or Death (1856) included a parody of Pendery, “Commissioner Leadhead.” [Hattia McKeehan, Liberty or Death, or, Heaven’s Infraction of the Fugitive Slave Law (Cincinnati, OH: Published for and by the Author, 1856), 76, 79-80]