The George Latimer Case: Notes


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* This article is an extract from "The Two Autobiographical Fragments of George W. Latimer," published in the Journal of Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, No 1, Summer 1980.

1. Public meetings on the subject were held in Lynn, Salem, New Bedford, Worcester, Abingdon, Northampton, Springfield, and in many other large towns.

2. Norfolk Beacon, 15 October 1842.

3. Norfolk Beacon, 15 October 1842.

4. "At this time a crowd assembled around the Court House to the number of nearly 300, mostly male blacks. They seemed to fear that an attempt would be made to smuggle Latimer out of the city that night; and to quiet their fears, I pledged my word to several of them, to whom I had been personally known for many years, that Mr. Gray would take no steps not authorized and sanctioned by law" (Boston Atlas, 11 November 1842).

5. Latimer Journal and North Star, 11 November 1842.

6. Sheriff of Suffolk County.

7. Deputy keeper of the Suffolk County Jail, who also acted as agent for Gray, the claimant.

8. One of George Latimer's lawyers.

9. One of the founders of the Latimer Journal and North Star and famous Boston physician, one of the earliest proponents of public health and developers of the Massachusetts General Hospital.

10. Attorney for James B. Gray, claimant.

11. Boston Bee, 1842.

12. House No. 41, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, General Court, 1843, pp. 1-2.

13. House No. 41, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, General Court, 1843, pp. 36, 37.

14. I am grateful to the archivists at the American Antiquarian Society for permitting me to use its collection of this newspaper.

15. See John W. Hutchinson, Story of the Hutchinsons, 2 vols. (Boston, 1896) and A Brief Narrative of the Hutchinson Family (Boston, 1874).

16. The new information used in this study was culled from neglected archival sources preserved in the Chesapeake County Court House containing the deed books, chancery papers, order books, and miscellaneous loose papers that provided important peripheral information about George W. Latimer and his family as well. I wish to thank Mrs. Savin and the director of the Chesapeake County Court House for permission to consult this material.

17. Tucker, Abstracts of Norfolk Marriages 1789-1850, p. 50.

18. Thus far I have been unable to identify Mich Johnson.

19. This reference to being constantly "beaten about the head" implies that Latimer was a man who not only knew poverty but also various forms of oppression and emotional insecurity while growing up as a young hired-out slave. This probably contributed to his determination to take his freedom. It also reveals the complexities of his youth, the contrast between the newly revealed man and the little-known person. He knew what ground he was plowing and had planned to do so since he "was a young man."

20. Meager food and clothing and long work hours are three of the traditional sources of immense alienation among slaves wherever the institution prevailed.

21. I have not been able to identify John Dunson.

22. See E.G. Austin's Fugitive Slave Case: A STATEMENT OF THE FACTS, connected with the Arrest and Emancipation of GEORGE LATIMER a Fugitive Slave (Boston, 1842), which implies that Latimer was sold several times.

23. Unidentified.

24. Again the implication suggests that he ran away to avoid beatings as a type of treatment. It is interesting to note that the environs in and around Norfolk were known to have hosted runaways. (Cf. Diary of Ruth Henshaw, Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.) In addition to what has been said in note 19, it appears that Latimer had harbored a "sense of freedom" based on his claim that his mistress had freed him but one of the daughters did not probate the manumission writ. We see evidence of this in a report in the Boston Atlas, November 1842. "The reason for this postponement was in consequence of the representations of Latimer's counsel, that they wished to send to Norfolk for testimony tending to show that Latimer had been emancipated by a former owner. . . ."

25. Not identified thus far.

26. Latimer and his owner may be compared. E. G. Austin, Gray's lawyer, left an account of James B. Gray: "Mr. Gray is a young man, who, by his own exertions, has earned a legitimate mercantile business and competence. He is a married man, with a family of children and he enjoys the respect and esteem of the citizens of Norfolk. He is no slave breeder or slave dealer . . . under the laws of his native state, he holds to his service and labor some three or four persons to assist him in carrying on his business" (Boston Atlas, 21 November 1842). The remark clearly is in marked contrast to what George Latimer had to say about his former owner.

27. According to a statement in Deed Book 54, it was November.

28. See John W. Hutchinson, Story of the Hutchinsons, 2 vols. (Boston, 1896) and A Brief Narrative of the Hutchinson Family (Boston, 1874).

29. The reference to his "Quaker hat" is interesting. Many Quakers and free blacks lived in Norfolk and its environs at the time, and it is possible to hypothesize that some of them may have helped Latimer escape—even though he says he had "escape in mind" since his early youth. I am grateful to Mrs. Jean Scott for this suggestion.

30. Gray had procured "the arrest and detention of the slave through the agency of the Police Officers of Boston" before hiring E. G. Austin the following 9 November, who also charged Latimer with having "stolen" from Gray's store in Norfolk. It was his arrest, without a "warrant, and his imprisonment, without any written charges, that triggered" off demonstrations in Boston and numerous meetings all over the state. The details were recorded in a report sent back to Norfolk: "Being fully satisfied that both charges made by Mr. Gray were true, and that an attempt to retain Latimer in custody by decree of the authority which is given to the master over his fugitive slave would be attended with great difficulty, Mr. Austin entered a complaint against Latimer for 'stealing' upon which a warrant was issued by a police officer, to whom at the same time Austin 'gave a written authority signed by Mr. Gray to detain Latimer as a fugitive from his service and labour,' and another paper 'similar signed' requesting the jailer to hold Latimer as Mr. Gray's fugitive slave, adding to this case a written promise to pay the Jailer the amount that should become due for Latimer's board while in Jail."

31. It is interesting to note that Garrison and his young wife lived just around the corner from the Leverett Street jail at 23 Brighton Street when Latimer was arrested (Boston Transcript, 1896).

32. Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of the Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that Latimer was legally in custody of Gray's agent in the following Edict: "It appearing that James B. Gray, the claimant, had petitioned the judge of the Circuit Court of the United States for a certificate, that the said judge had assigned a time for hearing it not yet expired, and though a writ of personal replevin had been used out, that the case was properly pending before the judge of the Circuit Court of the United States, ordered, that the said Latimer be remanded to the custody of said Coolidge, as the agent of said Gray, the claimant. [Signed] Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court."

33. A passage from the Boston Bee records that "a Negro" was involved in the first attempt to pay for Latimer's manumission in the following words: "A few days prior to that appointed by Judge Story, for a hearing upon Mr. Gray's petition for a certificate with power to remove Latimer, a negro, called upon E. G. Austin, Esq., and requested to know for what sum Mr. Gray would sell George. The next day, Mr. Gray, through his Attorney, offered to sell George for $1500, and not less—stating that his original cost was $800, and that a like amount would scarce cover the expenses incurred in prosecuting his claim. The price was deemed too exhorbitant and all negotiation dropped."

34. Other sources repeatedly mentioned that both he and his wife stayed at the homes of "friendly blacks."

35. There is no reference to this birth in the vital statistics for the city of Lynn, Massachusetts (Lynn Vital statistics to 1850). Another source (i.e., Army record) reports that his oldest child, George, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1846 and served as a soldier in the Connecticut Black Regiment during the Civil War.

36. The original petition with samples of the signatures is preserved in the Bowditch papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. There is also an interesting letter from John Quincy Adams commenting on the politics involved in the petition presented to Congress in the Bowditch Papers.

37. Sixty-five thousand is the correct number, rather than the 60,000 mentioned above. (Cf. "The Joint Special Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Massachusetts, to whom was referred the petition of George Latimer and more than sixty-five thousand citizens of Massachusetts . . ." [House No. 41, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, General Court, 1843].)

38. See Bowditch Papers for the original petition and samples of the signees.


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