Tuesday, September 24, 2013

To Canada To Freedom

The Eliza Anderson
In Washington Territory on September 24th 1860 an African American named Charles Mitchell, hid away on a boat heading to Canada for freedom.

Charles Mitchell was a 14 year old African American slave.  He had been born in Maryland to a white man and a mother who was a slave.  At some point he had become the property of James Tilton, and was brought to Washington Territory when Tilton became the Washington Territorial surveyor.  Even though Washington territory was in theory free soil, the Dred Scott Decision had made the United States unable to ban slavery in its territories.

In trying to make his escape to Canada Mitchell took work on the ship the Eliza Anderson as a steward.  He had hid away on board in the pantry, but was discovered before the ships arrival in Victoria.  Washington’s territorial governor; Henry M McGill was on board, and he had Mitchel placed in confinement.

When the Eliza Anderson arrived in Victoria word got out that Mitchell was being held on the ship, and prevented from seeking his freedom.  A Victoria lawyer, Henry Crease took up the case and had a writ of habeas corpus was drawn up demanding the boy be released to Canadian authorities.  Neither the ship’s captain John Fleming nor Governor McGill were willing to give Mitchell over to the Canadians, but he was removed from vessel and given over to the town’s black community.

James Tilton filed protest with the Canadian government, but nothing came from it as the Canadian’s considered Mitchel a free man.  Tilton’s appeals for the return of his property, to Washington, DC also went unanswered.  The local Washington Territory newspaper showed the attitudes of the time, when the “Olympia Pioneer and Democrat”  wrote “As with most mulattoes, he (Mitchell) lacks stability, and has not the faithfulness and gratitude which distinguishes the pure African, and was remarkable in his mother's people for the several generations they have been held in Maryland.”

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