Adam Crosswhite, Slave Escape with Entire Family

 This article was published in the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, 2009, University Press of Kentucky.

 

Crosswhite, Adam (b. October 17, 1799, Bourbon Co., Ky.; d. January 23, 1878, Marshall, Mich.). Adam Crosswhite was a fair-skinned mulatto slave from Bourbon Co. His father was a white slave owner named Powers, who was a half-brother of Miss Ann Crosswhite. Ownership shifted to Miss Crosswhite prior to her marriage to Ned Stone. In turn, Stone sold Adam Crosswhite for $200, and in 1819 Adam was traded to Francis Giltner, a planter in Bourbon Co. There, Adam married Sarah in a slave ceremony and raised four children. Before 1830, Francis Giltner moved the entire family and his slaves to Hunters Bottom in Carroll Co., Ky. along the Ohio River.

In August 1843, Adam learned that Francis Giltner planned to sell part of his family. Crosswhite sought help from the Underground Railroad organization in Madison, Ind. As runaway slaves, and after having two narrow escapes using the newly organized safe routes through Ind., the Crosswhites—Adam, Sarah, Benjamin, Johnson, and two girls. Another child was born in Michigan. The Crosswhites managed to escape to Marshall, a city in south central Mich. There, Adam maintained a low profile. He worked, built a cabin, and became accepted in the village.

In response to the increased number of runaway slaves through the 1840s, slave owners in the north central river counties and the Bluegrass of Ky. sought to recover their financial investments. In 1846, a coalition of slave owners met in Covington, Ky., and hired a spy to ferret out runaway slaves in southern Mich. In late fall 1846, this spy, who called himself Carpenter, arrived in Marshall and in Cass Co. Masquerading as an abolitionist from Worcester, Mass., he visited the homes of free people of color. The information he gathered led to two major raids by Kentuckians, the earliest at Marshall in Calhoun Co., and the second in Cass Co.

In December 1846, acting on sources gathered by the spy, a young attorney in Lexington, Ky., Francis Troutman, grandson of a former owner and nephew of Francis Giltner, came to Calhoun Co., Mich., posing as a schoolteacher seeking a place to settle. He hired local Deputy Sheriff Harvey Dixon to pose as a census taker to scout the Crosswhite family. On January 20, 1847, Troutman reappeared at Marshall with three other Kentuckians—William Franklin Ford, David Giltner, and James S. Lee—- and, accompanied by Deputy Sheriff Dixon, went to the Crosswhite cabin. There they attempted to capture Adam, but he and his son Johnson fled through a cornfield; Crosswhite accompanied Deputy Sheriff Dixon to secure counsel, and Troutman stayed in the Crosswhite cabin with drawn pistol as several neighbors attempted to enter the house, one of whom, a Mr. Hackett, was assaulted by Troutman.

When Dixon returned, he charged Troutman with assault and battery on Hackett and with trespassing and housebreaking. Troutman paid $100 in fines the next day in the local court before Judge Randall Hobart. Meanwhile, the townspeople hid the Crosswhite family in the attic of George Ingersoll’s mill. Isaac Jacobs, the hostler at the Marshall House, hired a team and covered wagon and,on the night of January 27, Ingersoll and Asa B. Cook drove the Crosswhite family to Jackson where they boarded a train to Detroit. George De Baptiste, the former Underground Railroad leader at Madison, Ind., met the Crosswhites in Detroit and took them into Canada.

The Kentuckians were furious, and several slave owner meetings were held. Citizens of Trimble and Carroll counties, led by Moses Hoagland of Hunters Bottom, met at Kings Tavern on February 10 and drew up three resolutions demanding that the Ky. legislature call upon its U.S. senators and congressmen to pass federal legislation giving slave owners redress and imprisoning and fining those who enticed, harbored, or aided runaway slaves.

By June 1847, Mich. newspapers along the southern tier were equally outraged that Ky. posses were seizing fugitives in a free state whose citizens detested slavery. In August 1847, a large Ky. raid led by Boone Co. (Ky.) slave owners George W. Brazier and Benjamin Stevens was repulsed from Cass Co. after attempting to recapture several former slaves.

The legislative wheels were set in motion. Joseph Underwood’s report and resolutions from the Ky. legislature were sent to the U.S. Senate on December 20, 1847 and, in May 1848, Senator Andrew P. Butler of S.C. printed his report favoring strong federal sanctions against those aiding runaway slaves; 10,000 copies were distributed. Momentum built for passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act that made it mandatory for U.S.  marshals to seize runaway slaves, for representatives of the slave owner to identify the runaways, and for severe fines to be levied on all those aiding and harboring fugitive slaves. Henry Clay, a personal friend of Francis Giltner, proposed a clause mandating restitution of property to southerners reclaiming runaway slaves.

Attorney Francis Troutman returned to Mich. in May 1848 to gather evidence and press charges against those who aided the Crosswhite family. On June 1, 1848, in Detroit, Justice McLane of the federal bench heard Giltner vs. Gorham et al. McLane charged the jury with ignoring their attitude toward slavery and deciding the case based only on the plaintiffs right to the services of the fugitives, and therefore, the right to obtain financial redress. The first trial jury hung and was discharged on June 12. A second trial was held and the jury awarded Giltner $1,926 in damages and heavy court costs, for a total of about $4,500. Zachariah Chandler, a leading antislavery Whig in Detroit, paid the greater part of the fine. Juryman Philo Dibble, a resident of Marshall, was publicly chastised from the pulpit by his Presbyterian minister for his participation in the verdict.

Northern reaction to passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was swift. By 1854, Ind. Mich., and Ohio had formed significant Republican parties that were obtaining antislavery majorities in their state legislative bodies, sending anti-slave congressmen and senators to Washington, and, by 1860, giving Abraham Lincoln the presidential candidacy.

The Crosswhite family returned to Marshall, Mich., after the Civil War; in 1878, Adam Crosswhite died and was buried in the Oakridge Cemetery in that city. In 1923, Michigan erected a bronze marker set in a stone boulder near the old Crosswhite cabin. The marker commemorates the runaway slave from Carroll Co., Ky., and the role of the people of Marshall in repulsing the Ky. posse.

Battle Creek Enquirer, July 14, 1907, January 28, 1929, July 3, 1930, April 1960.

Battle Creek, Michigan, Journal, 1927.

Battle Creek, Michigan, Tribune, January 20, 1847.

Crosswhite File, Calhoun Co., Mich., Public Library.

The Enquirer and Evening News of Battle Creek, Michigan, February 18, 1923, February 11, 1945, February 17, 1974.

Giltner vs. Gorham et al; Case No. 5,453, Circuit Court D, Michigan [114 McLean 402: 6 West Law J, 491].

Fuller, George N. ed. Michigan: A Centennial History of the State and Its People. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co, 1939.

Gara, Larry. The Liberty Line, University of Kentucky Press. 1961.

Gardner, History of Calhoun County, Michigan, 1913.

History of Calhoun County, Michigan, L. H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia, 1877.

Journal of the (Ky.) House of Representatives, (February 13, 1847): 338–41.

Michigan History, 53, no. 2 (1969): 131–43.

20th Congress, First Session [Senate] Ref. Com. No. 143.

The Weekly Commonwealth, Frankfort, Ky., February 23, 1847.

Diane Perrine Coon