Samuel S. Carpenter (1823-)


TENURE:  1849 –




George Brown Case (1853) – 1 released

  • On September 13, 1853, slaveholder Jeremiah S. Ballenger of Maysville, Kentucky was walking down Sixth street in Cincinnati when he thought he recognized a freedom seeker in a barber shop. In the afternoon a U.S. officer appeared at the barber shop and arrested a man named George Brown, who insisted he was free. Transported to the U.S. Commissioner Samuel Carpenter’s office on Third Street, Brown soon marshaled enough witnesses to vouch for his freedom, and testify that he had been known in the city for upwards of 15 years (Ballenger claimed his freedom seeker escaped only several years ago). On the strength of that evidence, Commissioner Carpenter released Brown. Afterwards, Brown reportedly sued Deputy Marshal Black “for false imprisonment,” with damages totaling $10,000. [1853-09-19 Boston Herald]

Lewis Case (1853) – 1 rescued

  • After hearing testimony, on October 19 Commissioner Carpenter handed down his decision, granting an adjournment for Brown’s attorneys to gather more evidence. However, according to one recollected account, as Carpenter read his decision, “which was given in a low tone, his voice being affected by a cold,” and all in the hearing room had their attention fixed on the commissioner, Brown “seeing his opportunity, quietly withdrew from the room, no one but a few of his ‘Abolition’ friends noticing his movements.” [1853-10-21 Boston Liberator; 1853-10-24 Cleveland, OH Plain Dealer]


  • Anti-slavery activist Levi Coffin, who was present at the hearing, claimed to have spoken to Commissioner Carpenter after the hearing. Carpenter “said that he had decided that the Fugitive Slave Act conferred, or purported to confer, powers of a judicial character on him as Commissioner, which, in his opinion, he could not constitutionally exercise.” [Levi Coffin, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, The Reputed President of the Underground Railroad (Cincinnati, OH: Robert Clarke, 1880), 554]
  • Carpenter concurred with Coffin’s recollection, arguing in a widely reprinted editorial published in June 1854 that the Fugitive Slave Law was unconstitutional. He had hoped to make his feelings known “in the case of A.K. Marshall vs. Lewis, claimed as a fugitive, which was heard before me last October, but the escape of LEWIS rendered it unnecessary.” Given the wide latitude afforded commissioners under the 1850 law, Carpenter could not see “how this can be merely a ministerial act,” noting that “the Commissioner acts under the law from his own descretion in a judicial capacity, and is a judge in all but the name.” [1854-07-04 New York Times]
  • According to another post-war account, Carpenter was “awakened late at night by a loud knocking at his door. Looking out the window he found a considerable number of colored  people assembled in the street before the house, headed by a minister of one of their Churches, and apparently much excited.” Informed about the ongoing fugitive case, Carpenter assured the crowd that “if brought before him” the alleged freedom seeker “should have every means of making his defense afforded him.” A local Quaker, William Crossman, reportedly said to Carpenter: “Friend Carpenter, we are glad to have thee hold the office, for we know that thee will give the poor colored man a fair trial.” [The Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery with an Historical Sketch of the State of Ohio (Cincinnati, OH: Western Biographical Publishing Company, 1884), 2:453-454]