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A Fugitive from Persecution

From A History of Hamilton County, Indiana

At Spottsylvania, Va., prior to the war of 1812, lived a wealthy and influential citizen, George BOXLEY. He was a man of strong character, and, when he believed himself to be right, he was immovable. By honest toil, he had acquired his wealth, and, at the time of which we write, was the proprietor of a saw-mill, grist-mill and "carding-gin" or woolen-mill, all three being operated under one roof, in a building situated on the bank of one of the streams of Spottsylvania County. Like many persons of means in those days, he possessed a number of slaves, but became impressed with the injustice of the institution and liberated them.

During the war of 1812, he was tendered an honorable and responsible position by the Government of the United States, which he filled with credit, receiving as a token a handsome silver-hilted sword from the Government. He was held in the highest esteem by his neighbors. His conviction of right, however, prompted him to commit a deed that turned him into a felon in the eyes of his countrymen. It was an act in the interest of humanity, yet one which was a flagrant violation of one of the most rigidly enforced laws of that day, and the penalty was death.

His crime was this: One night in the winter of 1814, two negroes stole up to his house, knowing his sympathy for the fugitive slave. They were endeavoring to make their escape from a cruel master, and Mr. BOXLEY's sympathies were at once enlisted in their behalf. He concealed them at his mill, and, as soon as circumstances permitted, he conveyed them to Greenbrier County, and started them on their road to liberty. By this act, he compromised his own liberty; some one had heard of his deed, and he was arrested and cast into the county jail, where he was bound down with chains. A court convicted him of the felony with which he was charged, and the sentence of death was passed upon him.

Shortly before the day set for his execution, his wife and children were admitted to the jail to take an eternal farewell of the loved husband and father, but the watchful guards little thought that the gentle, tearful woman who came as a mourner, was to be the power through whom their condemned fellow-citizen should be restored to life and liberty; yet such was the case. In the agony of her soul, she had determined to brave the terrors of the law, in one last desperate effort to release her husband. On this last occasion, she came with a fine spring-saw concealed in the hem of her skirt, and delivered it to her husband during the visit.

That night he sawed his shackles apart, and escaped from the jail through an aperture previously made in the wall during his confinement, and which had been carefully concealed during the day time. He reached the prison yard safely, and looking up saw the guards pacing the walls. At this, he felt a chill of fear, but pushed bravely on, knowing that death awaited him in either event, and his discovery by the guards would only hasten the inevitable. He reached the wall, and scaled it safely, dropping quietly on the outside of the prison bounds and breathed the air again, a free man.

Traveling by night and by obscure routes, he reached Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he changed his name to BURKE, and engaged in the vocation of school-teaching. During his sojourn here he wrote two pamphlets which were largely circulated--one in opposition to the banking system of that day, and one in opposition to the institution of slavery. During this time, he contrived to inform his wife that he was still living, but, believing that locality to be too near his former home for her to join him with safety, he determined to go to Missouri, where he was shortly afterward joined by his family.

Subsequently, he removed to Fayette County, Ohio, where he hoped that he was safe from his persecutors; but his hope was suddenly dispelled.

Two men, named respectively Jury and Walls, passed through the vicinity of his Ohio home with a drove of horses for Virginia, and recognized him. Upon their arrival in that State, they saw an advertisement offering a large reward for the capture and return of the fugitive, and, arming themselves with a copy of this paper, they started for Ohio, thinking to enrich themselves by returning him to the authorities.

As they neared his house, they saw him in the field, and approaching him one of them took him roughly by the shoulder, exclaiming, "You are my prisoner," and presenting the advertisement in lieu of a warrant. They overpowered him, and dragged him from the field and into the woods; but his sons, Thomas and Addison, knew where to go for assistance, and lost no time in giving the alarm.

Two friends, John HOWE and Jona MARCHANT, armed with guns, started in pursuit of the kidnappers, and, after a chase of about two miles, overtook them. An exciting scene ensued, and, in view of the danger that menaced them, the drovers concluded to surrender their prisoner. Mr. BOXLEY remained at home that night, but, knowing that his whereabouts could not long be kept secret, he fled the next day, again going to Missouri.

After a few months, he received a message from his friends in Ohio, persuading him to return, and pledging themselves to stand by him and protect him. He did as they suggested, and lived quietly in Fayette County for several years. He lived in dread, however, and determined to seek greater security in one of the new settlements of Indiana.

He started West, reaching Strawtown, and then decided to go farther, to the settlement on the Wabash, in Tippecanoe County. His route led him past the land upon which he subsequently settled, and which he marked at the time, intending to return to it, if not satisfied with the location on the Wabash. The latter proved to be the case, and in the fall of 1828, he came to reside on the land where he passed the remainder of his life.

When George BOXLEY's family joined him in Indiana, and he took up the life of a pioneer, feeling secure from any further pursuit. He was never again molested, and passed to a peaceful old age and death. On a portion of his farm he erected a little log cabin, in which he conducted a daily school for the instruction of his own children, and as new settlers came to his neighborhood at a later date, he offered to their children the benefit of his fine attainments, free of charge.

Editor's notes:
This narrative came from Hamilton County, Indiana History and Genealogy Research Guide and Links which in turn abstracted the story of George Boxley and many others from A History of Hamilton County, Indiana, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, to Which are Appended Maps of its Several Townships. Chicago : Kingman Brothers, 1880.

A strikingly dissimilar account may be read in Ruth Coder Fitzgerald's A Different Story, pp. 65-66, which references an article from the March 2, 1815 issue of the Virginia Herald.