Samuel S. Phillips


TENURE:  1862 –




Caroline Slater Case (1862) – 1 released*

  • On May 30, 1862, Caroline Slater was seized as an alleged fugitive upon a warrant issued by Commissioner Phillips. She was released after Commissioner Phillips received a letter from the claimant’s attorney, advising that Slater should be released. No formal hearing was held. [1862-06-05 Washington, D.C. National Republican]

Berry Fugitives Case (1862) – 7 returned

  • Recently appointed, U.S. Commissioner Samuel S. Phillips issued a warrant of arrest for seven freedom seekers claimed by Maryland slaveholder T.E. Berry. In August 1862, the alleged fugitives were apprehended by slave catchers A.R. Allen and John H. Wise, and brought before Phillips for a hearing. Commissioner Phillips remanded them to slavery. Military governor of Washington, D.C., Brig. Gen. James S. Wadsworth, declared that “the Circuit Court had no right to appoint commissioners under the fugitive slave law, and therefore the officers were kidnappers.” Wadsworth ordered the arrest of Allen and Wise. [1862-08-14 Baltimore Sun]

Three Fugitives Case (1862) – 3 returned

  • On October 29, 1862, three young children, males aged 11 and 10, and their 3-year-old sister, were seized by the “somewhat notorious slavecatcher”John Wise and another slave catcher, and brought before Commissioner Phillips. On October 30, the hearing commenced, with the three alleged fugitives “placed on chairs” in the hearing room. “Had they been allowed to stand,” noted a correspondent for a Washington paper, “neither of the boys would have reached the height of the table, while the little girl, sickly and diminutive, could not have been seen at all.” Witnesses for the claimant, Marylander Absalom Hall, testified that Hall was “a loyal man, and had not by word or deed aided or abetted the rebellion.” While an anti-slavery lawyer argued that the children could not be considered fugitives “within the meaning of the Fugitive Slave Law,” as the “act of Congress never contemplated stamping children of such tender years, as fugitive slaves.” Commissioner Phillips responded that “his view of the law led him to consider these children as fugitive slaves,” and he remanded them to the claimant Hall. [1862-11-05 Washington, D.C. National Republican]


  • Wadsworth’s anti-slavery policies as military governor attracted the support of a number of radical Republican senators, including Benjamin Wade and Charles Sumner. [Wayne Mahood, General Wadsworth: The Life and Times of Brevet Major General James S. Wadsworth (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003), 92, WEB]