This collection is of great interest for its papers dealing with the tragic case of John Davis, a slave, made free by Pennsylvania's Gradual Emancipation Act, who was subsequently kidnapped by three men from Virginia and taken to that state. The efforts of the two Abolition Societies on his behalf directly precipitated the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793: "The controversy, over the kidnapping of John Davis, is particularly important because it led to the adoption of the 1793 act dealing with both fugitives from justice and fugitive slaves. The Davis case had important implications for the rendition of fugitive slaves because the three fugitives from justice that Pennsylvania sought were charged with kidnapping a free black. The problem of kidnapping free blacks quickly emerged as a mirror image of the problem of fugitive slaves. Just as southern states demanded the right to retrieve runaway slaves, northern states demanded the right to protect their free black residents from being kidnapped and sold into servitude in the South."1
The papers of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society have long been in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (The present material was recently discovered amongst the collection of the David Redick2 (1750-1805) family papers, which are also available from this firm). Housed in a recent ¼ morocco custom slipcase.
This case precipitated the first interstate conflict over the rendition of fugitives from justice. The history of the adoption of the 1793 law illustrates the importance of slavery to national politics in the 1790s. This history also demonstrates that in this early period southerners were quick to perceive a threat to slavery and just as quick to organize to protect that institution. As material in this collection shows the John Davis case, which began in the period of the ratification debates, was affected by efforts not to upset the "Federal Consensus" on slavery - which was - that the national government could not interfere with slavery in the states and that support for slavery was part of the national compact necessary to keep the union together.
"In 1791 Governor Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania requested the extradition of three Virginians who were accused of kidnapping a black man named John Davis,… more >