Slaveholders Strike Back, Part 2 (or a clergyman’s petition)

In the last post, Civil War Emancipation dealt with resistance by Maryland slaveholders in Spring 1862 to the undermining of the peculiar institution in the state by the presence of Union troops and emancipation in the District of Columbia in April 1862. After making this post, I came across in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, dated June 11, 1862, an article that captures well the mindset of Maryland slaveholders at that moment. It is fairly short, so it is excerpted in full.


The following Slaveholder’s petition is from a Presbyterian minister of Maryland. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee of the House, which has instructed Mr. Wilson of Iowa to report back with a recommendation that it lie upon the table.

To the honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled:

Gentlemen: I, the subscriber, a resident of the State of Maryland, and loyal citizen of the United States, now suffering the loss of my property by the recent act of Congress making the District of Columbia free soil and an outlet for all the slave property of Maryland.

My slave George Giles having availed himself of the protection thus afforded, and escaped from the service he was by law and justice bound to render, do hereby, as my right and with all due respect, petition your honorable body either to return to service the said colored man, George Giles, or pay me the sum of one thousand dollars, the lowest estimated value of the services of said colored servant for the period he was bound to service.                                                                      Thos. Hope

Harford Co., Md., May 15, 1862

This petition, 150 years later, seems shocking, especially coming from a man of the cloth. However, at the time in Maryland, most white persons would have considered it proper even commendable for a slaveholder to make a claim for human property he believed the federal government had unjustly deprived him of. Of course, lost in this petition is the good news that George Giles was finally free. After a lifetime of being robbed of himself, his personal property of self had been restored to him. But obviously his owner did not see it that way, and he and other slaveholders in Union-controlled territory would continue to resist the loss of their human property.


About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at
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