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The rescue of Angeline Palmer

I was at an informational event on sanctuary cities and the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act this afternoon, and before it started, I was chatting with Cliff McCarthy, a wonderful local historian (I've shared one of his other stories in the past--a tale of poverty, murder, and arson). This time he told me the extremely dramatic story of Angeline Palmer, a free child of color "hired out" by the town of Amherst (Angeline was an orphan and ward of the town) to work for the Shaw family in Belchertown in the late 1830s. "Right in that house over there," Cliff said, pointing out the window to the house next door to where our event was happening.

You can read the full story at Freedom Stories of the Pioneer Valley, Cliff's history website, but here is the outline--and some highlights. Mason Shaw, known as "Squire Shaw," had gotten swept up in western Massachusetts' "mulberry craze"--he was investing in mulberry trees, with the hopes of making a fortune in the silk industry. He was also trying to *sell* mulberry trees--in 1840, he traveled to Georgia to try to interest farmers there in buying them. While there, he sent a letter to his wife, telling her to bring twelve-year-old Angeline south, where Shaw reckoned he could sell her for $600.

Cliff writes,
Servants in the house overheard the letter being read aloud and immediately raised the alarm with the African American community in Amherst. The Amherst selectmen were still legal guardians of the girl. Angeline Palmer’s half-brother was twenty-year-old Lewis Frazier and he and his friends Henry Jackson, 23, and William Jennings, 27, appealed to the selectmen to take action. The selectmen refused to get involved, leaving few options available.

Frazier, Jackson, and Jennings decided they had to take matters into their own hands:
Frazier entered the Park Street home in search of his sister, while Jackson and Jennings waited in the wagon. A commotion erupted in the house, where Mrs. Shaw and a neighbor had Frazier – with Angeline in his arms – trapped in an upstairs room. Responding to their friend’s call for assistance, Jackson and Jennings forced their way into the house and up the stairs. They pushed Mrs. Shaw aside and opened the door and the three men led Angeline down the stairs, past a crowd that was assembling, and into the buggy.

The raced away, but their flight was not without incident...
Their hurried trip was interrupted when they sped past a rider going in the same direction towards Amherst. That rider, Sheriff Dwight, ordered them to stop. Dwight recognized Henry Jackson as one of his deputy’s loyal employees and, unaware of the abduction, warned the men about traveling at excessive speed, then sent them on their way.

The three men hid Angeline in the African American community in the northern Massachusetts town of Colrain. They were arrested on charges of assault--for pushing Mrs. Shaw. Their defense lawyer was Edward Dickinson, Emily Dickinson's older brother. (Emily was about a year younger than Angeline at the time.) Unfortunately, they lost their case, but when they were told the sentence would be waived if they revealed the whereabouts of Angeline, they refused.

The community, White and Black alike, was on the side of the three men:
The Daily Hampshire Gazette opined: “The people of Amherst believe, pretty generally, that the fears of the blacks were justly excited about the little girl, and that Frazier was justified in rescuing her in the eye of humanity, if not in the eye of the statute law.” Another newspaper, the Northampton Courier, lamented: “Had the selectmen of Amherst interfered and, as was their right, not to say their duty, forbidden the removal of the girl from the Commonwealth, all this trouble and expense might have been saved.”

The prisoners themselves did something less than “hard time.” The jailer agreed to give them liberty each day on the promise that they would return to jail each evening. Local townsfolk provided gifts of good food for the men to supplement their usual jail fare. They were hailed as heroes in Amherst, upon their release.

As for Angeline, she grew up and married, but sadly seems to have died in her twenties in childbirth.

The story was so dramatic, so empowering, and--at least briefly--had a happy ending. There are no pictures of Angeline! I wish there were--as it is, we'll just have to imagine her. Visit Cliff's page on Angeline to see a sketch of Henry Jackson and a photo of the house from which Angeline was rescued.

This entry was originally posted at http://asakiyume.dreamwidth.org/848587.html. Comments are welcome at either location.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2017 10:59 pm (UTC)
And nothing happened to Mason Shaw and his family who plotted to sell and enslave Angeline.
May. 1st, 2017 11:03 am (UTC)
I know, right?! I asked Cliff about that, and the best he could say was that Shaw seems to have lost everything when the mulberry craze didn't pan out. But there should have been legal repercussions!
May. 1st, 2017 10:41 am (UTC)
Oh, geez. Poor Angeline--I was hoping for a better ending than that, sigh.
May. 1st, 2017 11:02 am (UTC)
Yeah, I would have loved it if her descendants were alive and well here in western Massachusetts and across the country :(
May. 1st, 2017 02:10 pm (UTC)
Still, that would make an awesome children's book! What a wonderful story!
May. 1st, 2017 02:55 pm (UTC)
I agree--with beautiful, full color illustrations
May. 1st, 2017 08:53 pm (UTC)
I am amazed at how much I've been learning in the last couple years about American history. So many important, long-lost stories! So many new angles.
May. 2nd, 2017 10:21 am (UTC)
The past turns out to be *so rich* in stories.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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