Cornishman’s “Key” Frees Fugitive Slave

One hundred fifty-five years ago this week, fugitive slave Joshua Glover was captured in Racine, Wisconsin, where he had been living for some time, working at a sawmill.  On the night of March 11, 1854, Glover’s former master and two United States marshals surprised Glover at his home.  Fearful of the strong anti-slavery sentiment in Racine, the captors rushed their prisoner to Milwaukee to await transportation to Missouri.

As news of the capture spread, angry Racinians boarded ship for Milwaukee, and Sherman M. Booth, editor of the Milwaukee Free Democrat, called for a mass meeting at the courthouse square, where St. John’s cathedral was under construction.

A crowd of 5,000 gathered around the Milwaukee courthouse, and the leaders demanded that the jailer hand over the keys.  When the jailer refused, James Angove, a Cornish bricklayer, picked up a six-inch beam from a pile of lumber and said, “Here’s a good enough key.”  Other men seized the beam and battered in the door.  According to Angove’s account, Glover was spirited away in the buggy of John A. Messenger, whose horse was the fastest in the Second Ward.

The Cornishman’s interview appears in a June 10, 1900, Milwaukee Sentinel article describing the Glover rescue as a “spectacular incident of anti-slavery education . . .which brought prominently to the notice of the liberty-loving people of Wisconsin the iniquity of the Fugitive Slave law.”

The Joshua Glover case is featured in the Underground Railroad exhibit at the Racine Heritage Museum.  The tale of Glover’s rescue is also told in Julia Pferdehirt’s Freedom Train North: Stories of the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin. In Finding Freedom: the Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave, authors Ruby West Jackson and William T. McDonald provide a detailed account of Glover’s life.  Wisconsin’s most famous fugitive slave spent the last thirty years of his life as a free man in Canada.

Categories: Racine County, Underground Railroad | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Cornishman’s “Key” Frees Fugitive Slave

  1. What a powerful story. Thanks for this blog and for bringing Wisconsin’s anti-slavery history to life. I have been reading Russell Banks’ Cloudsplitter, about John Brown, and recommend that highly as a different angle of vision on the anti-slavery movement, while we await the arrival of Plank Road Summer!

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