Clark County, Ohio

History and Genealogy



John E. Layton and th eGreene County Rescue Case of 1857


From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 287


The following is inserted as being both historical and biographical, as it relates to one of Clark's most respected citizens, very recently deceased

Mechanicsburg, a beautiful village of 1,500 inhabitants, is situated in the southeast corner of Champaign County, on the headquarters [sic] of Darby Creek, and has always been noted for the strong and unyielding prejudice against slavery among her people. In the days of the underground railroad, this was one of the regular depots, and not George Haris, fleeing from the smarting lash of the slave driver, ever failed to obtain protection and assistance within her borders; and like the old Jewish cities of refuge, her people never yielded up those who sought their protection. Ad White, a fugitive from Kentucky, bearing the surname of his master, had made his way to the place of rest for the oppressed, and, thinking he was far enough away, had quitely settled down to work on the farm of Udney Hyde, near Mechanicsburg. His master had tracked him to the farm of Hyde, and obtained a warrant for his arrest at the United States Court in Cincinnati. Ben Churchill, with eight others, undertook his capture. Ad was at that time a powerful man, able and willing to whip his weight in wildcats if necessary, and had expressed his determination never to return to slavery alive. Churchill & Co. had been advised of this and made their approaches to Hyde's house cautiously, informing some persons in Mechanicsburg of their business, and suggesting to them to go out and see the fun, which invitation was promptly accepted. Ad slept in the loft of Hyde's house, to which access could only be obtained by means of a ladder, and one person only at a time. Here he had provided himself with such articles of defense as a rifle, double-barreled shot-gun, revolver, knife and ax, and had the steady nerve and skill to use them successfully if circumstances forced him to. Churchill and his party arrived at Hyde's and found the game in his retreat. They parleyed with him for some time, coaxed him to come down, ordered old man Hyde to go up and bring him out, deputized the men who followed them to go up and bring him down, but all declined, telling them five men ought to be able to take one. White finally proposed, in order to relieve Hyde of danger of compromise, if the five Marshals would lay aside their arms and permit him to go into an adjoining field, and they could then overpower him, he would make no further resistance, but so long as they persisted in their advantage, he would remain where he was, and kill the first man who attempted to enter the loft. Deputy Marshal Elliot, of Cincinnati, ws the first and only one to make the attempt to enter where White was, and as his body passed above the floor of the loft, he held a shotgun before him, perhaps to protect himself, but particularly to scare White. But White was not to be scared that way. He meant what he said when he warned them to let him alone, and, quick as thought, the sharp crack of a rifle rang out on the air, and Elliott dropped to the floor, not killed, but saved by his gun, the ball having struck the barrels, and thus prevented another tragedy in the slavehunter's path. This was the only effort made to dislodge White, and after consultation they left for Urbana, going thence to Cincinnati. The gentlemen who had followed them out to Hyde's rallied them considerably on their failure, and in all probability were not very choice in their English to express their opinions of "slave-hunters."

Chagrined and mortified at their failure, and smarting under the sharp rallies of the bystanders, Churchill and Elliott made their report to the Court at Cincinnati, and made oath that Azro L. Mann, Charles Taylor, David Tullis and Udney Hyde had interfered and prevented the capture of the negro White, and refused to assist when called upon. Warrants were issued for their arrest, and a possee of fourteen, headed by Churchill and Elliott, went to Mechanicsburg and took them in custody. The men were prominent in the community, and their arrest created intense excitement. Parties followed the Marshals, expecting them to go to Urbana to board the cars for Cincinnati, but they left the main road, striking throught he country, their actions creating additional excietement, and causing a suspicion of abduction. A party went at once to Urbana and obtained from Judge S.V. Baldwin a writ of habeas corpus, commanding the marshals to bring their prisoners and show by what authority they were held. John Clark, Jr., then Sheriff of Champaign County, summoned a posse and started in pursuit, overtaking the Marshals with their prisoners just across the county line at Catawba, when the two parties dined together. In the meantime, Judge Ichabod Corwin and Hon. J.C. Brand went to Springfield with a copy of the writ, and started Sheriff John E. Layton, of Clark County, and his deputy to intercept them at South Charleston. They reached there just as the Marshals passed through, and overtook them half a mile beyond the town.

In attempting to serve the writ, Layton was assaulted by Elliott with a slungshot, furiously and brutaly beaten to the ground, receiving injuries from which he never fully recovered. Layton's deputy, Compton, was shot at several times, but escaped unhurt, and when he saw his superior stricken down and helpless, he went to him and permitted the Marshals to resume their journey. Sheriff Clark and his party came up soon after, and Sheriff Layton was borne back to South Charleston in a dying condition, it was supposed, but a powerful constitution withstood the tremendous shock, although his health was never fully restored.

The assault upon Sheriff Layton was at once telegraphed to Springfield and other points, causing intense excitement and arousing great indignation. Parties were organized and the capture of the Marshals undertaken in earnest. Their track now lay through Greene County. Sheriff Lewis was telegraphed for and joined the party. On the following morning, near the village of Lumberton, in Greene County, the State officers, headed by Sheriff Lewis, overtook the Marshals, who surrendered without resistance. The prisoners were taken to Urbana before Judge Baldwin and released, as no one appeared to show why they were arrested, or should be detained.

The United States Marshals were all arrested at Springfield, on their way to Urbana, for assault with intent to kill, and, being unable to furnish security, were lodged in jail overnight. James S. Christie was Justice of the Peace at the time, and issued the warrants for the arrest of the Marshals; the excitement was so great that the examination was held in the old court house which proved too small for the crowd. Mr. Christie was one of those who were obliged to attend at Cincinnati. The Marshals again returned to Cincinnati and procured warrants for the arrest of the four persons released upon habeas corpus, together with a large number of citizens of Mechanicsburg, Urbana, Srpingfield and Xenia, who participated in the capture of the Marshals. In Champaign County the feeling against the enforcement of this feature of the fugitive slave law had become so intense that the officers serving the warrants were in danger of violence. Ministers of the Gospel and many of the best and most responsible citizens of Urbana said to Judge Baldwin, Judge Corwin, Judge Brand and Sheriff Clark, on the day of arrest: "If you do not want to go, say the word, and we will protect you." feeling that the conflict was inevitable, and might as well be precipitated at that time. These men, however, counseled in moderation, and were ready and willing to suffer the inconvenience, expense and harassment of prosecution for the sake of testing this feature of the slave driver's law, and also in hope and belief that it would make it more odious, and secure its early repeal or change.

The cases of Udney Hyde and Hon. J.C. Brand were selected as test cases representing the two features — that of Hyde for refusing to assist in the arrest of a fugitive slave, and that of Brand for interference with a United States officer in the discharge of duty. The District Attorney was assisted by able counsel, and the most eminent lawyers in the State were secured to conduct the defense, when, after a long and stormy trial, the jury failed to make a verdict. The contest had now lasted nearly or quite a year, and all parties were becoming tired of it. The patriotism actuating both sides, though being of a different character and order, was entirely exhausted, and the glory to be obtained would now be left for others yet to follow. The Kentucky gentlemen who had stirred up all this racket in an effort to get possission of his $1,000 in human flesh and blood now stepped to the front and proposed to settle the trouble if he could have $1,000 for his Ad White, and all the costs in the cases paid. This proposition was readily acceded to, the money paid, and the cases all nolled by District Attorney Matthews. The deed of Ad White was made in regular form by his Kentucky owner, and now forms one of the curious and interesting features of the Probate Court records for Champaign County.

Thus ended one of the great conflicts in the enforcement of the fugitive slave law, which did much toward crystallizing public sentiment against the extension of slavery, and added thousands to the Republican voters of the State. These scenes transpired in 1857, twenty-four years ago, and nearly all the prominent actors have passed away. Ad White was notified of his freeodm, and at once returned to Mechnicsburg, where he yet resides, borne down by hard work and age, but ever cherishing the memory of those who gave him shelter and protection when fleeing from oppression and seeking his freedom.