Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant – A Comprehensive Review by Gene Kizer, Jr., Part Twelve, Chapter Seven: The Other Underground Railroad

A Comprehensive Review of
How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery
by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank
of The Hartford Courant
Part Twelve
Chapter Seven: The Other Underground Railroad
by Gene Kizer, Jr.

At the end of this article beneath the notes I have cited is "Actual Citation from Book," Complicity's notes from Chapter Seven. The picture come from page 138.

NORTHERN KIDNAPPING GANGS were "organized gangs who, like outlaws from the Old West, became legends in their own time."1 Their prey were free blacks in the North whom they would kidnap in various ways and sell into slavery in slave states.

One of the most notorious gangs was led by a woman, Patty Cannon, "said to be so strong she could jerk a 300-pound sack of grain to her shoulders, or a grown man off his feet." Her chief accomplice was her son-in-law identified as "'the celebrated Joseph Johnson, negro trader.'"2

They operated "from the Delmarva Peninsula of Maryland and Delaware, both [Union] slaves states, to free Pennsylvania where the Philadelphia waterfront was one of their favorite hunting grounds."3

Kidnappers, like slave ship captains, murdered their victims when they thought they needed to. In April, 1829, "the skeletons of one adult and three children were discovered on a farm that Patty Cannon had occupied. One of the children, thought to be about seven years old, had a crushed skull."4 Cannon had clubbed "the child to death in an effort to get rid of incriminating evidence" according to the testimony of a former gang member.5

In New York, in 1835, kidnappings "led to the creation of the first important black self-defense association." It was led by David Ruggles who later provided "the most famous fugitive slave in American history, Frederick Douglass" shelter.6

The Fugitive Slave Act, which was part of the Compromise of 1850, "gave new federal protections to slave catchers and, by extension, better cover to kidnappers posing as slave catchers." As a result, many free blacks in the North left for Canada.

Another gang, the vigilante "'Gap Gang'" in Lancaster, Pennsylvania "terrorized free blacks for years" and participated in an 1851 gun battle known as the Christiana Riot that left a slave owner and three blacks dead.7

The opposition to the Gap Gang was led by William Parker, an escaped slave, who had lived in Pennsylvania for a decade and "had begun to fight back against the Gap Gang." In his memoir, he wrote:

Kidnapping was so common . . . that we were kept in constant fear. We would hear of slaveholders or kidnappers every two or three weeks; sometimes a party of white men would break into a house and take a man away, no one knew where; again a whole family might be carried off. There was no power to protect them, nor prevent it.8

Parker thought most whites in the area were "'negro-haters' who didn't much care who the Gap Gang seized."9

In Cincinnati in January 1856:

[A] Kentucky slave owner and federal agents cornered a group of fugitives, including a mother named Margaret Garner who had vowed never to let her children return to slavery. As the agents broke into their hiding place, Garner cut her young daughter's throat and was trying to kill two of her boys.10

A "federal magistrate ruled that Garner and her surviving children should be returned to their owner" who sold them South. Tragically:

On the journey, literally down the river into slavery, Garner's youngest child died along with two dozen other people in a boat accident. Garner eventually was sold in New Orleans.11

More common methods of kidnapping were to lure victims "under the guise of law. Kidnappers might accuse their victims of petty crimes or enlist accomplices to testify, falsely, that they were escaped slaves." Blacks "accused of being runaways had almost no legal recourse."12

Blacks in Philadelphia in 1799:

felt sufficiently threatened by kidnappings that they submitted a petition to Congress equating them with the African slave trade. Callous men, it said, 'are employed in kidnappings those of our Brethren that are free' and 'these poor, helpless victims like droves of cattle are seized, fettered and hurried into places provided for this horrid traffic, such as dark cellars and garrets, as is notorious at Northurst, Chester-town, Eastown and divers other places.13

Patty Cannon, mentioned earlier, "became locally famous as 'the fascinating hostess' at the tavern owned by her daughter's second husband, Joe Johnson." A Cannon biographer wrote that "'Patty Cannon was fond of music, dancing and sensual pleasures'" and was "'As strong as a man, she was witty, black-eyed and the reputed brains and accomplice of a notorious kidnapping ring.'"14

Her husband, Jesse Cannon, "was rumored to have been sentenced to have his ears nailed to a pillory, and upon release to have his earlobes cut off."15

In 1826, Joseph Watson, mayor of Philadelphia:

received letters from two plantation owners in Rocky Springs, Mississippi. A man named Ebenezer Johnson had shown up there weeks earlier trying to sell several youths. One of the plantation owners, John Hamilton, told the mayor he'd become suspicious of Johnson after sixteen-year-old Samuel Scomp secretly told him he'd been kidnapped from Philadelphia. As proof, Scomp removed his shirt to show Hamilton the scars from beatings he said he'd suffered on his journey south.16

Hamilton got a magistrate "who demanded to see Johnson's ownership papers" which consisted of a bill of sale from his brother Joe. Both Johnsons were part of the Cannon gang.17

The Mississippians, "more suspicious than ever"

let Ebenezer leave, supposedly to get better proof of ownership. But Hamilton kept the young slaves and, while Johnson was gone, he and a neighbor questioned them more closely. They took a sworn statement from Scomp and included it in their letter to Mayor Watson, urging him to publish the details and start an investigation. Watson did both, and later took his own deposition from Scomp.18

Scomp said he was never a slave but an apprentice in New Jersey who ran away to Philadelphia to find work.

A "mulatto man" named Smith offered him a quarter to "help unload watermelons."

Scomp was led to a sloop where two other men tied his hands. One said Scomp was an escaped slave. The other was Joseph Johnson, a member of the Cannon gang and Smith's accomplice in this scheme.19

Smith brought in four more captives that day, and that night, the sloop sailed. A woman was added and the now-six captives ended up at Patty Cannon's house then on another ship for Alabama then headed 600 miles to Mississippi.

Along the way a small boy died from frostbite and beatings.

Hamilton could easily have kept all the captives but he was a wealthy planter who "disapproved of illegal slave dealings."

Mayor Watson, in Philadelphia, "obtained indictments against the Johnson brothers and two accomplices" but back in Mississippi, Ebenezer Johnson sued Hamilton for the return of his supposed property.

Ultimately, Scomp and "another of the originally kidnapped boys" got back to Philadelphia.

In December, 1826, Mayor Watson "received another letter from Mississippi, this one from Natchez, sent by former governor David Holmes and a friend. It said new slaves in the neighborhood were claiming to have been kidnapped from Philadelphia by Joseph and Ebenezer Johnson. Enclosed was a statement from  one of the victims, a boy named Peter Hook."20

Hook's story mirrored Scomp's.

Hook said "he was born in Philadelphia and in June 1825 had been lured aboard Joe Johnson's boat by a black man. He'd soon found himself chained in the hold with four other boys" and later "they were chained to the floor of an attic." Two girls were captives "elsewhere in the attic."

They were in the attic for six months.

Hook said he was sold in the Natchez area with three other boys "for $450 apiece."

Watson "got more arrest warrants" but by 1828, "only 10 of the three dozen kidnap victims eventually identified had been returned."21

The black man who had lured Scomp and Hook onto Johnson's boat was John Purnell. He was convicted of "two counts of kidnapping," fined $4,000 and "sentenced to 42 years in jail." Another black man died waiting on his trial.

The Johnson brothers escaped with their kidnapping loot to start their own plantations.

Patty Cannon stayed in the area but the skeletons of some of her victims were discovered on her former farm.

She was indicted with Joe and Ebenezer but only Patty was jailed. She died "amid rumors that she'd poisoned herself." One account said she had admitted to "killing 11 people with her own hands, and to poisoning her husband."

In 1841, in a book The Narrative and Confessions of Lucretia P. Cannon, the "first murder was of an infant girl killed in April 1822. In its formal language, the indictment noted, 'Patty Cannon with both her hands about the neck of the said infant . . . did choke and strangle, of which said choking and strangling the said female child . . . then and there instantly died.'"22

Cannon "was buried in a pauper's grave," her body exhumed later and "her skull studied by phrenologists." Her skull was later "passed on to the public library in Dover, Delaware."23

Other kidnapping gangs continued to operate such as George V. Alberti's that was "more cunning."

Alberti was eventually convicted of fraud because he tried to deliver a victim "to an apparently honest slave owner" who said the victim was not who Alberti said he was.

That didn't end his career but later he was convicted in another case and the judge said at his sentencing:

'Think for a moment how great the magnitude of stealing an infant, born in a free state, and binding it in the galling chains of slavery for a little money . . .  This case is without parallel in atrocity, and is the most aggravated, legally, of any of its kind that has been presented to an American court of justice.'24

He was fined $1,000 and sentence to ten years hard labor but later the Democrat governor of Pennsylvania, William Bigler, pardoned him.

Alberti "said that he'd captured more than 100 blacks" in his kidnapping career.


Next Week:
A Comprehensive Review of
How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery
by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank
of The Hartford Courant
Part Thirteen
Chapter Eight: Hated Heroes
Part One


(Click Here to go to last week's blog article:

Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant - A Comprehensive Review by Gene Kizer, Jr., Part Eleven, Chapter Six: New York's Slave Pirates, Part Two)

(Scroll down for:
Complicity, Actual Citation from Book)

1 Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (New York: Ballantine Books, Copyright 2005 by The Hartford Courant Company), 139.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 139-140.

6 Ibid.

7 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 141-142.

8 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 142.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 142-43.

13 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 143.

14 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 145.

15 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 146.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 147.

19 Ibid.

20 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 148.

21 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 149.

22 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 151.

23 Ibid.

24 Farrow, Lang, Frank, Complicity, 152.


Actual Citation from Book

Chap Seven NOTES 1 5-5-22 153K
Chap Seven NOTES 2 5-5-22 39K
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  1. Pingback: Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant - A Comprehensive Review by Gene Kizer, Jr., Part Thirteen, Chapter Eight: Hated Heroes, Part One - "Everyo

  2. The Abbeville Institute hosts speakers on Southern history. The talk ‘Reconstruction and Yankee Segregation’ by Phil Leigh shows how so many Northerners despised blacks and wanted to keep them out of the US territories and confined to the South. Some including Lincoln wanted them returned to Africa.

    There were so many laws preventing Blacks from living freely in most Northern States. If a Black stayed a few days in Massachusetts, he would be publicly flogged. Lincoln’s Illinois and several other Northern States would not allow Blacks to work in the State.

    Here is the link to Mr. Leigh’s presentation.

    • Charla,

      Thanks so much for your comment! Agree completely about Phil Leigh. I have several of his books including his most recent, The Dreadful Frauds.

      The Abbeville Institute is an outstanding organization. Their blog is second to none.

      I’ll make sure the link to Phil’s presentation is live in your comment.

      All the best to you!


  3. I thought I had read a fair amount of history from this time peroid but I am completely blindsided by what I have read in this installment of your review. This is absoutly the first time that I have heard of free blacks being kidnapped and sold into slavery. My question is have you verified all of the info in this book, I certainly think you would have because I know you are a genuine historian but I have to ask ? Your review of this book has been very interesting and hope you keep up the good work.

    • David,

      Yes, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery, is definitely a credible, excellent book.

      I was surprised when I found out about it in 2005, that it was written by three journalist with the Hartford Courant, all New Englanders.

      Apparently, they are the only three honest journalists in the country. I’m joking but there are very few in the news media that tell the truth about Northern history or American history for that matter.

      Think about the FRAUD New York Times and the 1619 Project whose primary theme is that the American Revolution was fought because the Brits were about to abolish slavery.

      What a joke with NO proof whatsoever, not a single letter, statement, document, nothing. It is a political invention to get reparations for slavery, according to its author, Nikole Hannah-Jones. She has admitted that many times.

      I include the citation (endnotes) for each chapter of Complicity, verbatim, at the end of each of my blog installments, so you can verify the authors’ sources, etc.

      Complicity is an outstanding book and I would encourage everybody to buy it.

      Thanks for writing!


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