The Runaway Slave in Dayton

A simple blurb in the paper was all it took to change one man’s life, and to start a huge political debate in Dayton.

FIFTY DOLLARS REWARD. A reward of $50 will be paid for the arrest and return of BLACK BEN, five feet, six inches in height; weight about 145; color, very dark. Hold said fugitive and notify his legal owner J. C. Atkinson, Richmond, KY.
Before the article, Ben had been earning money through odd jobs around Dayton, working in homes and stores, getting work where he could. Nobody questioned his presence in 1832 Dayton, as it was known around town that Dr. Hibbard Jewett of Jefferson Street had opened his barn as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Ben worked in freedom for two years before the article was printed.

After the article, however, Ben walked with a target on his back. As he walked to work one morning, he was stopped by a police officer. Ben admitted to being the runaway slave mentioned in the document, and was promptly arrested.

Once Dr. Jewett heard of this, he reached out to some friends who offered to pool together money to pay for Ben’s freedom. When approached with the offer, Atkinson refused, stating he wanted his “property.” Under the Fugitive Slave Law, Atkinson was legally entitled to take Ben back to Kentucky.

Residents of Dayton were furious. Ben had made a life for himself here, holding several jobs and even getting married before his capture. He was marched through town on a horse, accompanied by head hunters and Atkinson. As they made their way into Cincinnati, they stopped at a hotel for the night. While everyone was asleep, Ben took his chance for freedom once again. He smashed through the window with his feet and jumped head first through the opening. Pandemonium ensued as people rushed out of their rooms to see what the sound was. People on the street rushed to his side, hoping to offer some first aid or tend to him. But Ben died, sacrificing his life before his freedom.      
After this tragedy, Dayton became a hotbed of political debate. People chose sides, and defended them passionately. Fights broke out in the street, politicians came to further their agendas in Dayton, and Dr. Jewett was compelled to leave, as his house was nearly destroyed by an angry mob after a slavery sympathizer made a speech in town.

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