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The Story of the Jerry Rescue in Syracuse


In the history of Syracuse, among the most exciting events is the story of the Jerry Rescue. On October 1st, 1851, it involved the public rescue of a fugitive slave arrested by the federal marshals. The city of Syracuse had abolished slavery and was one of the free states in the north where slaves could seek refuge in the early nineteenth century. The rescue story reveals abolitionists and the citizens’ difficulties deciding whether to obey or work against the government regarding slavery and American values. This paper presents a critical review of the Jerry Rescue that became the epitome of freedom and hope across the Northern States.

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The United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in September 1850, which demanded that all the runaway slaves be returned to their masters in the South. Though they had gained freedom by escaping to free states, the law ordered them to be rearrested. The people of the north were angry with the law and declared not to obey the law but to continue helping more salve escape to free states.

On October 1st,1851, the Liberty Party held the Anti-Slavery Convention in Syracuse in New York (Bryant 447). The city harbored radical abolitionists like Gerrit Smith and Samuel J. May. The Federal marshal arrested William Jerry Henry, a former slave from Missouri working as a barrel maker. Jerry was arrested at his workplace, and the original charges were theft until they reached manacles; and was notified his arrest was under the Slave Law.

Jerry put up substantial resistance after being informed that he was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law but was subdued. The words of his arrest reached the Convention that was held in the nearby church. This was followed by the most significant public outpouring of anger towards the government and slavery in a fight to rescue Jerry that became “The Jerry Rescue.” The church bells began ringing through pre-arranged signals, and all the people were out for the rescue mission. This attracted crowd of Negroes and White Americans at Sabine’s office, where Jerry had been taken, awaiting arraignment by the police.

This first attempt to rescue him was unsuccessful as he had escaped through the iron sheets and was later recaptured and relocated to a larger room. The people of Syracuse gathered this time, ready for an intense rescue mission led by their abolitionists. The crowd rammed the door and broke in, demanding that Jerry be released (Bryant 448). The marshals surrendered and freed him to the public, who hid him for days before assisting him free to Canada through Lake Ontario.

The Jerry Rescue ordeal connects the micro and macro history of slavery in the United States. Through a powerful rendition of how the fugitive slave laws were interrupted by the northern community. The issues of states’ rights, federal power, and the people’s responsibility to the context of unjust laws and slavery are deeply rooted. The northern defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law shows how best to attack the institution of slavery and racism through black and white cooperation. The mission is full of rich historical detail that presents a clear and objective analysis of the wins of a united people in the country against inhumane treatment by the people in power. The hearing of Jerry was abruptly cut short due to the determined actions of the people in Syracuse.

Microhistory was a significant aspect of the nation’s debate over slavery and Fugitive Laws. It encompasses how the United States became free from slavery and the fights citizens of Syracuse endured. This led to the diminishing of slavery and the belief that the US could function without slave labor. The Southerners did not receive this notion well because their slaves had fled to Britain, giving them a significant blow as the slaves who landed in a free state were declared free people. This is the reason they were disturbed by the emancipation from the northern, particularly Syracuse.

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They recaptured slaves from the free states and criminalized any movements and efforts that obstructed the retrieval. This did not work as the people of the north had established the “Personal Liberty Laws” that gave the fugitive rights to habeas corpus and a penalty for unlawful imprisonment (Bryant 449). These efforts helped undermine the orders to return slaves and gave rise to abolitionist movements across the world.


In conclusion, the Jerry Rescue brought the broader national debate about slavery in the 19th century. It is significant to the nation’s history as it highlights the importance of people’s rights. The rescue event highlights how working together as citizens is crucial in defeating and abolishing elements of racism and slavery. Both black and white communities can work together to abolish the modern evils the country faces, either from corrupt leaders or people who lust for public property. Therefore, this story is vital to the microhistory of the US and how slavery ended, forming a complex history that preceded the Civil War.

Work Cited

Bryant, Joan L. “The Jerry Rescue: The Fugitive Slave Law, Northern Rights, and the American Sectional Crisis by Angela F. Murphy (Review).” The Journal of the Civil War Era, vol. 6, no. 3, 2016, pp. 447-449.

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