The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of John Price is one of the shining examples of people stepping out against the Fugitive Slave Act, even at their own peril. John Price was a fugitive slave, who had settled in Oberlin. Oberlin was a community where most citizens were sympathetic to fugitive slaves, and many were active participants in the Under Ground Rail Road. Oberlin College fostered this sense of what was right with regards to the slave issues. They enrolled female and black students at Oberlin College. John Mercer Langston, Black Oberlin Graduate was elected as township clerk, the first black man elected to office in the United States.
Oberlin was so defiant of the Fugitive Slave law that President Buchanan and others in the government wanted to make an example of them.
John Price had lived in Oberlin for two years after his escape. Anderson Jennings, slave hunter, decided to visit Oberlin with the goal of retaking John and John’s cousin who had escaped with him. He employed a lad, whose father was a slavery sympathizer, to go and entice the fugitives with employment. John couldn’t accept as he was nursing his cousin, but went with the lad to introduce him to someone else. He was captures on the way. The rushed him to the nearby town of Wellington, where they were waiting for the 5:13 train. While in route, John was able to get the attention of a young man walking on the road, Amasa Lyman, student of Oberlin College. Lyman was able to spread the alarm, and hundreds of people from Oberlin were headed to Wellington. Those who could not get a carriage walked and ran the distance of nine miles.
Jennings and his part had holed up in an attic floor of a hotel. Looking down they could see the building was surrounded and they were greatly outnumbered. There were men, both black and white in the crowd. They could not make the train, but the issue was at a stalemate. The crowd clamored for the release of Price, and they refused to release him. The crowd became inpatient when it was rumored that federal troops were on their way to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Near sunset, two small groups decided to effect a rescue. One group approached through the front door. The other group of five or six through the back door. As they converged on the slave catchers, one of the rescuers threatened, “The first man who keeps us from going upstairs I will shoot.” There was a shot fired, but at the last minute the gun was knocked upward and bullet went into the ceiling. During the melee three young men from the college got Price out and effected the rescue. He was taken all the way to Canada for his own safety.
The federal government, in making an example of the case, arrested 25 people from Oberlin and 12 from Wellington in violating the Fugitive Slave Act. Many of them felt it a privilege to have defied what they called an unjust law. While in prison they were visited by 4000 people, paying them honor. This included school children from Oberlin. For Oberlin’s part, they arrested the slave catchers with charges of kidnapping. Although the charges couldn’t stick, they made their point.
The government realized that the arrest of the people had to opposite effect to what they desired. It fostered more anti-slave sentiment rather than quelling it. The men were released after three months.