When the Law Come Knocking: Ashtabula County and the 1839 Fugitive Slave Act

In the fall of 1839, Mrs. Catherine Hubbard answered a knock at the door to find a U.S. marshal holding a subpoena for her husband William. The summons was not unexpected. Only months earlier, a Wheeling newspaper had informed its subscribers that if they were missing any slaves, they should check the cellar of Deacon Hubbard in Ashtabula. The news was carried by several more papers throughout the South. Now Hubbard and several other Ashtabula County abolitionists who were known to have aided the freedom seekers would be facing a federal judge.
Slavery imbued much of American life in the antebellum period, even in the law. Many states, following the lead of the federal government, passed their own fugitive slave acts. Ohio was no different. From 1839 until 1843, the State of Ohio had a fugitive slave act on the books. It was under this law that Hubbard and his associates were sued.
This year’s pilgrimage will explore the route the freedom seekers took through Ashtabula County in their escape from enslavement. In the process, we will look at the lives of those Ashtabula County persons involved in the case, both the antislavery and the proslavery sides. The pilgrimage will be held Saturday, October 7th. Those wishing to participate may meet at the Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum, corner of Lake Ave. and Walnut Blvd., at 10 a.m. For more information, please call the Hubbard House at (440) 964-8168 or Andy at the Harbor-Topky Library at (440) 964-9645.