Two Great Fugitive Slave Stories from Buxton – Wm. King, 24 of 28

Rev. King and Dick Sims crossed the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls.
Rev. King and Dick Sims crossed the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls.

Tom Gordon, once owned by the Governor of Kentucky, had escaped and was working as a blacksmith in Ripley, Ohio for many years before a posse of men came to town looking for him. “One of the party, to make sure where Tom was, went with his horse to the shop and found Tom working alone. He told Tom there was something wrong with his horse’s foot and he wanted Tom to examine it. Tom looked at the foot and looked at the man and saw at once there was something wrong. He knew the man to be one of his old neighbours so he said to the stranger he would go and get an instrument to scrape and examine the foot and went out into an adjoining part of the shop, out of the man’s sight to get it; there was a horse standing outside, saddled, which belonged to an Abolitionist, and one of the Directors of the Underground rail road, whom Tom informed of his danger that this man was one of a gang come to kidnap him and take him back to slavery. The Director told him to take his horse and fly to the next station… Tom put on his coat, put a loaded pistol in his pocket, mounted the horse and made off toward Canada leaving the Kentuckian with his horse in the shop. In a few minutes after Tom was gone the man went out to see what was keeping him, he learned that Tom had mounted a fleet horse and was gone. The Kentuckian mounted his horse and gave chase and in a short time came up with Tom, when within pistol shot he called for Tom to halt. Tom paid no attention, the Kentuckian fired, and grazed his coat, Tom reigned up his horse and returned the shot and shattered the thumb on the right hand of his pursuer.” (98) Tom arrived in Buxton a few days later, and began to attend school where he was found to be a quick learner. “About six weeks after Tom came to me (King) I received a letter from Kentucky enquiring if Tom was in the settlement. I answered the letter and said he was and was going to school.” But the story doesn’t end there. “About three months later I received another letter informing me that the man who had furnished the horse was fined one thousand dollars for aiding Tom to escape. The man who had paid the fine got Tom’s free papers, so Tom was now free to go back.” (98) And he did – so that he could work to repay the fine! “Two years later I met Tom and he informed me that he was making his trade and going to school and hoped to have the whole fine paid in another year.” (Carol’s note – Doesn’t that say a lot about the man Tom Gordon was! )

The second story provided elements for Emma Field, Book Three. It’s the story of Dick Sims, a saw mill hand who paid the Mate of a ship to stow him away with a load of pine heading to Boston. Once at their destination the Mate refused to let Sims go ashore and instead planned to return him to his master in Savannah (where he would no doubt, receive a reward). Abolitionists in the city got wind of this and King, who had been visiting Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s cabin fame, joined with them at the trial of the stow-away. Dick Sims was set free and whisked out of the city. Rev. King was asked if he would see that Sims got to Canada. At Albany, he met up with Sims who had seen Rev. King in the courtroom. Sims took charge of Rev. King’s portmanteau and adopted the role of servant. But these were the days of the telegraph, so a message was sent through to the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls that the Sheriff was to arrest and hold any man aboard the train from Boston that may match the description of Dick Sims. That’s when Rev. King and Sims switched trains so that they first went to Buffalo. “So I took the train with Dick and on arriving at Niagara Falls, Dick took my Portmanteau and we both walked over the suspension bridge. When half way across I showed Dick the line to the Canada side I told him he was now free and all the power in the United States could not take him back, over that line which separated between freedom and slavery. The poor fellow was frantic with joy to think that he was now free from his Master.

Quotes from Autobiography of William King, National Library and Archives of Canada.

When have you or someone you have known outsmarted the authorities (parental or otherwise)?


Tell about a time when you suddenly knew there was no going back.

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