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In Memory of Abolitionist David Putnam Jr. (1808-1892)

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David Putnam Jr.

Abolitionists David Putnam Jr.

Marietta, Ohio

David Putnam Jr. was born May 17, 1808, at 519 Fort Street, in Harmar, (now part of Marietta, Ohio). He was the son of David Putnam Sr. and Elizabeth (Perkins) Putnam. David Putnam Sr.,  a 1793 graduate of Yale, was the first instructor at Muskingum Academy. Muskingum Academy was the first institution of higher learning in the U. S. Northwest Territory.

David Putnam Jr. was descended from a prominent New England family. He was the great-grandson of Major General Israel Putnam, the patriot, who reportedly left oxen and plow standing in the field where he had been working, and rushed off to fight the Revolutionary War; he was grandson of Revolutionary War Col. Israel Putnam who settled at Belpre; and a distant cousin of Brigadier General Rufus Putnam, superintendent of the Ohio Company settlemant at Marietta in 1788.

David Putnam Jr. married to Hannah M. Munson on September 26, 1833, and their marriage was blessed with seven children, Peter Radcliff, Martha Munson, Mary Burr, Catherine Douglass, Hannah Hubbard, Rufus Browning and Elizabeth Perkins Putnam. He operated a mercantile business in Harmar, now part of Marietta, Ohio and became a respected retailer.

His home was located at the head o f Maple Street. This house was constructed in 1830 on two acres that extended to the back of the Harmar Congregational Church. The Lydia Hale family were the last occupants of the dwelling. The house was demolished in 1953 to make way for Fort Harmar Drive at the west end of the Washington Street Bridge in Marietta.

David Putnam Jr. acquired his antislavery sentiments from growing up across the Ohio River from Wood County, Virginia, then a part of the "Old Dominion" where slavery was not only legitimate, but was also very profitable. Both the south side (Virginia) and the north side, (Ohio), of the Mid-Ohio River Valley began development around the same time (1780s), with people of opposing political views about slavery, settling directly across the river from each other. In all fairness, it must be noted that the overwhelming majority of the Virginians in "western" Virginia eventually rejected slavery and secession, and in 1863 formed the "free", (loyal to the Union), state of West Virginia.

David was born at just the right moment, in just the right place, with the necessary of amount of family prestige, to lead the Underground Railroad in Marietta. The Underground Railroad and David Putnam Jr. literally grew up together. As a young man, David had become personally aquatinted slavery in Wood County, Virginia, and had seen slaves - "sold down the river" - to plantations in the Deep South. As a teenager he decided to take an active role in the fight to abolish slavery in the United States.

When I use the word fight, I mean it literally. David Putnam was a tall muscular fellow who was equally comfortable settling his disputes either by diplomacy or his with bare knuckles. He would let his opponents choose their own poison, but he would never compromise his anti-slavery principles. In December of 1845, he wrote in a letter to be delivered by one William P. Cutler of Marietta, to one Mr. Guthrie in Columbus, Ohio: " If we cannot catch the kidnappers, the devil will!"; the kidnapers he referred to were bounty hunters in pursuit of fugitive slaves.

In 1847, David Putnam Jr. was sued by Virginia plantation owner George Washington Henderson, for the lose of nine slaves, which Henderson claimed Putnam had influenced to run away. The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Columbus, was dismissed in 1852.

Historic Underground Railroad Law Suit:

Henderson vs. Putnam-

Filed in: U.S. CIRCUIT COURT, District of Ohio

in Columbus, on June 25, 1849.

Attorneys for the Plaintive: Samuel F. Vinton and Noah H. Swayne.

Attorney for Defense: Salmon P. Chase

[G.W. Henderson, Briar Plantation, Wood County, Virginia (Slave Owner) , charged that under provisions of the {1793 U.S. FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW},David Putnam Jr., Harmar (Marietta), Washington County, Ohio, did illegally entice, conceal and otherwise aid (nine) Negro slaves, the legal property of G.W. Henderson, to run away from their owner, and the State of Virginia at various intervals commencing on or about 15 February, 1846, the last instance occurring on or about 11 February, 1847].

The Plaintive filed two Suits for compensation for lost property.

Suit 1: Asked $5,500 for the value of the slaves.

Suit 2: Asked $10,000 compensation for causing a breech of contract (specified in the provisions of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law) and for lost labor, and legal fees.

The case was dismissed on October 12, 1852 because of language in the [1850 FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT].

Ref. from: INSUPERABLE BARRIERS - A Case Study of the Henderson vs. Putnam Fugitive Slave Case, by William B. Summers. [The complete manuscript, with notes and bibliography are in the Archives and Special Collections Room, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College.]

David Putnam was a good man, and had many supporters in Marietta who came to his defense on several occasions when he was besieged by pro-slavery advocates. He lived to see the collapse of the slavocracy a quarter of a century before died on January 7, 1892. He rests in the Harmar Cemetery located below his former dwelling in Marietta.

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Home of Underground Railroad Conductor David Putnam Jr.

In 1969 Luther Penrose of Cincinnati, Ohio, a descendent of David Putnam Jr., recalled stories told to him by his grandmother Hannah Putnam Sleigh, a daughter who grew up in the Putnam’s Home in Harmar. In 1890 this was one of two houses still standing in Marietta that were known to have been used by the Underground Railroad. The David Putnam Jr. Home was demolished during the early 1950s to make right of way for construction of the Washington Street Bridge.

 The other Underground Railroad house was the John Eells home formerly located at 508 Putnam Street, which was demolished in 1964 (present day site of Marietta College Media Center). Unfortunately there are no houses still standing in Marietta that are known to have been by the Underground Railroad.

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