An African American protests the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850

A primary source by Henry Weeden

Henry Weeden to Watson Freeman, December 4, 1850 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)This 1850 letter written by Henry Weeden is a statement against slavery by a free African American. Weeden was one of Boston’s leading abolitionists. In the 1840s, he had been an activist for the integration of Boston’s schools.[1]

Henry Weeden was also a tailor with a shop at 10 Franklin Avenue in Boston. On December 4, 1850, Weeden’s shop received an overcoat in need of repair from Watson Freeman (1797–1868), a US Marshal in Massachusetts appointed by President Franklin Pierce. One of Freeman’s jobs as a marshal was upholding the Fugitive Slave Law, passed in September 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850.

Upon receiving Freeman’s overcoat, Weeden wrote this strongly worded letter to Freeman refusing his business and returning the coat. Weeden wrote that he did “crave the patronage of no Being that would volunteer his services to arrest a Fugitive Slave” and had “take[n] this method of returning [the coat] without complying with Your request.” Weeden closed his letter by responding to a declaration Freeman had once made of his “readiness to hang any number of negroes remarkably cheap.”[2]

A dedicated abolitionist who would not overlook his commitment to equality in order to make a profit, Weeden wrote, “With me[,] Money afterwards.”

A full transcript is available.


Boston Dec 4. 1850

Mr Watson Freeman

Your Coat came to me this morning for repairs. I take this method of returning it. without complying with Your request. With me Principle first. Money afterwards.

Though a poor man I crave the patronage of no Being that would volunteer his services to arrest a Fugitive Slave or that would hang 100 Niggers for 25 cents each

Henry Weeden
10 Franklin Avenue

[1] William C. Nell, Henry Weeden, Thomas Cummings, and James J. Jiles, “New-England Freedom Association,” The Liberator, December 12, 1845.

[2] “Slave-Hunters in Boston,” The Liberator, November 1, 1850.


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