Portersville Posse

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By Betty Hoover DiRisio, LCHS Board Member & Volunteer

In October 1841, the Mercer Luminary reported that six or eight Negro hunters from Virginia came upon four Negroes at a house in Portersville and claimed them as runaway slaves.

They bound them for removal to Virginia the next morning. It was reported that one of the Blacks had a knife and cut the cords from his hand and feet, fleeing through Mercer County, (and current day Lawrence County) for Canada.

Slaves Set Free while Captors Arrested for Kidnapping

Some of the friends of law and justice in Portersville thought it was proper to inquire into the legality of the claims of the Virginians to the remaining Blacks. After an examination before a magistrate, it was determined that the slavers had no authority to arrest them. The Blacks were set free and their captors arrested for kidnapping.

A somewhat different and more detailed account was found in the Pittsburgh Daily American, republished in the New York Tribune, and reproduced here in its entirety.

Re-Captured by Their Rescurers?

Failure of a Speculation—We have just been informed of a circumstance which occurred a few days since, in Butler county, in this State. A reward of $300 had been offered, in Virginia for the apprehension of four Negroes, who, it was ascertained had found their way to Butler county, and two men from Virginia had started, handbills in hand, to apprehend them and pocket the reward. They came upon the objects of their pursuit near Portersville while the Negroes were at supper, and arrested them; tied them and had proceeded about seven miles on the back track with the fugitives, when they were overtaken by a constable and posse, who arrested the white men as kidnappers and brought them back to answer for the offence. The Negroes were released and started on their way to Canada—the kidnappers getting off as well as they could, and glad of whole skins.—Though the arrest of the Negroes happened after night, the constable who retook them is said to have been attended by more than 50 men, whom the circumstances had induced to volunteer in the service. They have very abstract notions in Butler on the subject of slavery.

Excerpt from In Hot Pursuit, The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad in Lawrence County (Copyright 2016). Available for purchase on line. Read more here In Hot Pursuit: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad in Lawrence County, PA

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