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Near Border War

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The Garner Case:

       The question: Was Peter Garner, Crayton Lorraine and Mordicai Thomas in Virginia when they were assisting the slaves to escape? It was against the law in Virginia to help slaves run away, but not against the law in Ohio.

        “In 1845 Virginia extended to the low-water mark on the north bank of the Ohio River where it had existed in 1793.  (Important today because the river has been extensively dammed for navigation, and this has moved the present low water mark significantly north of where it was in 1793.

 

      

The following account of the Garner case was published in June, 1868, in the Marietta Register Newspaper:

       In 1845 six slaves of John H. Harwood of Washington’s Bottom, Virginia, just below Blennerhassett Island, escaped into Ohio. At the river bank a party of Ohio men, unarmed, met them to assist, but some Virginians having obtained knowledge of the purpose of the Negroes were there in advance concealed in the bushes, and fully armed. As the baggage was being taken from the boat, the Virginians rushed on them and secured five of the Negroes and captured Peter M. Garner, Crayton J. Lorraine and Mordecai Thomas, white citizens of Ohio.

       The Virginians claimed that these men, who had never set foot on Virginia soil, were felons, and amenable to the laws of that State for an alleged offence not known to the laws of Ohio. They were forcibly carried over into Virginia on the night of July 9, 1845, and lodged in jail in Parkersburg. No one in Virginia could be found to bail them, though Nahum Ward, A. T. Nye and William P. Cutler of Washington County, Ohio offered to indemnify any Virginias who would become their bondsmen. Communications with their friends in Ohio was denied the prisioners, and Marietta, Ohio lawyers employed to defend them were rejected. Subsequently, the wives of the prisoners were permitted to visit them under guard.

       “August 17th, 1845 a public meeting was held in the court-house in Marietta "for considering the liberation of the Ohio citizens being held in Parkersburg, Wood County, Virginia jail and for the vindication Ohio’s Citizens Rights. September 2d, the prisoners, each collared by two men, were taken from the jail to the court-house in Parkersburg and there pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge of ‘enticing and assisting six Negroes to escape from slavery in Wood County, Virginia. Bail was again refused and no Virginia freeholder offered; subsequently the prisoners remained in jail. The jury found a special verdict of guilty turning on ‘jurisdiction’ in the case, to be tried by a higher court.

       “The question of jurisdiction or boundary between the two States was argued before the Court of Appeals at Richmond, December 10-13, and the court divided equally on the question of  whether the prisioners were inside the State of Virginia border at the low-water mark of the Ohio River. The Virginias claimed the men had been captured below the low water mark, but the prisioners claime they had been capture just above low water mark. At a special term of the Court of Appeals, held in Parkersburg, Garner, Lorraine and Thomas were eleased on bail in the sum of one hundred dollars each on their own recognizance, and were set at liberty January 10, 1846, having been held in jail for six months. Hon. Samuel F. Vinton, of Gallipolis, argued the case for the prisoners before the Superior Court of Virginia.

        Peter M. Garner died at Columbus, O., June 14, 1868, in his sixty-first year; Mordecai Thomas moved to Belmont County, Ohio and Crayton J. Lorraine moved to Illinois. This case was regarded with the deepest interest, and was of far more than local importance. Sixteen years later many of the actors in this affair were still living when the State of Virginia turned into a Civil War battle-ground where the abolishment of slavery accomplished.”

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