Sept. 13, 1858

The Oberlin rescuers at the Cuyahoga County Jail in April 1859. Photo by T.J. Rice. Credit: Library of Congress.

A federal marshal arrested John Price in Oberlin, Ohio, under the Fugitive Slave Act. Price was moved to nearby Wellington, but when abolitionists learned of the arrest, they stormed the hotel where he was being held, later helping him cross the Canadian border to freedom. 

A federal grand jury indicted 37 for their involvement. Not to be outdone, Ohio officials arrested the federal marshal, his deputies and several others involved in Price’s arrest. Officials agreed to release them in exchange for all but two of the 37 indicted. 

The two remaining men received light sentences. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the convictions, leading to a protest of more than 10,000 in Cleveland. 

Because of his support of the Fugitive Slave Act, the chief justice lost reelection to the court. Two participants in the rescue — Lewis Sheridan Leary and John A. Copeland — joined John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Leary was killed during the attack. Copeland was captured and executed.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.