Baltimore sued Northern Central Railway for selling ticket to runaway slave: Part 1
The laws of Maryland prohibited aiding or assisting a runaway slave in any manner. The Federal Fugitive Slave law reinforced these regulations, and being caught helping a fugitive became a serious offense which could lead to prison and/or fines. The majority of the escapees headed north on foot, often hiding in the daytime and traveling at night. Often, their first destination after leaving the Baltimore region was York County, Pennsylvania. Bounty hunters at times prowled the border area around the Mason-Dixon Line searching for the runaways, which could be turned into the authorities for a cash reward.
One escaped slave, a Marylander named Solomon Digges, decided to ride through York County in comfort on the train. After crossing the border, he calmly walked up to an agent in Hanover, Pennsylvania, on the morning of May 28, 1855, and purchased a ticket to ride the Northern Central Railway to York. The ticket agent (Joseph Leib) and the NCRW found themselves in considerable legal trouble for selling the ticket after they had been notified that Digges was an escaped slave.
Here is the first part of the story of the legal wrangling beginning in July 1855 between the city of Baltimore (on behalf of the slave owner, Elias Scholl) and the Northern Central, which also tried to wriggle out of the settlement by blaming the Hanover Branch Railroad for selling the ticket. It exemplifies the tensions along the border states, with slavery being legal in Maryland and illegal in Pennsylvania. The court documents provide a fascinating glimpse into the conflicting fundamental beliefs of free states vs. slave states, which lay at the core of the Civil War.
States rights, the Constitution, federal versus state law, passing the buck — all are present in this drama which began in Hanover with Joseph Leib’s decision to sell a ticket to a black man, despite the counsel of onlookers (admittedly strangers) who claimed the purchaser was a runaway slave. The lower court found that the NCRW and Leib were in the wrong and it fined the railroad more than $800.
Solomon Digges, by the way, escaped into freedom.
The Northern Central Company Vs. Mary Ann Scholl, Adm’x of Elms Scholl.
[The verdict of the lower court]
A ticket-agent of the Northern Central Railway Company, a Maryland corporation, sold a ticket, in Pennsylvania, to a negro, after notice that he was a runaway slave, entitling him to pass over a portion of its road in that State, whereby his escape from service was facilitated.
Held: 1st. That this was a tort for which the master of the slave, a citizen of Maryland, may recover the value of the slave, in a Maryland court, against the railway company.
2nd. It makes no difference that the act was committed without the limits of Maryland, and in the State of Pennsylvania, by whose laws slavery is not recognized.
3rd. Nor is the jurisdiction of such a tort vested, by the Act of Congress of 1850, ch. 60, exclusively in the District court of the United States for Pennsylvania; the 7th section of that Act allowing the recovery of damages in certain cases, does not touch the question of the value of the escaped slave.
4th. Nor is it essential to the plaintiff’s recovery, that he should prove that the loss of the slave was attributable wholly to his being transported on the defendant’s road, from one place to another, in Pennsylvania; if the defendant aided him in his escape, it matters not who assisted in it.
A personal tort, committed against a citizen of Maryland, in another State, may be redressed by action against the wrong-doer, in the courts of Maryland, whenever he comes within its limits. In all actions for injuries, ex-delicto to the person, or to personal property, the venue is, in general, transitory, and may be laid in any county, though committed out of the jurisdiction of the court or out of the State.
The right of property of the citizens of Maryland in their negro slaves, is recognized by the Constitution of the United States, which is the supreme law of the country.
Whilst it is competent to Pennsylvania, or any other Slate, to prohibit negro slavery within its borders, yet, it is beyond its power to authorize its inhabitants, or others, to assist in despoiling the citizens of Maryland of their property in slaves. A State may, if it pleases, forbid its courts to grant redress for such a wrong, but it cannot oust the jurisdiction of the courts of the State of the injured party; whenever the wrong-doer comes within its limits, he is liable to be made answerable for his tortious acts.
Though slavery be not established by the laws of Pennsylvania, it is recognized, and its protection guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, and a railway company in that State has no more right, knowingly, to assist in the escape of a runaway slave than a wagoner on the high r ad.
By an agreement between the defendant and another railroad company [the Hanover Branch Railroad], the defendant was to appoint an agent, whose duty it was to receive and collect freight, to sell all passengers tickets, and to receive the revenues accruing from the joint operations of the two companies.
Held: That by this agreement there is no partition of the agency as to the sales of through tickets over both roads; the defendant is responsible for the manner in which this agent discharges his duty in the sale of such tickets.
[The original complaint from the slave owner through the Baltimore Superior Court]
Appeal from the Superior Court for Baltimore City.
This action was brought on the 11th of July 1855, by the appellee’s intestate, against the appellant, to recover the value of a slave for life, named Solomon Digges, belonging to the plaintiff, and alleged to have been lost to him by being transported in the cars over the railway of the defendant.
Exception. The pleadings and evidence are sufficiently stated in the opinion of this court.
After all the evidence had been offered on both sides, the plaintiff asked the following instruction to the jury:
That if the jury shall find, from the evidence in the cause, that the defendant by arrangement with the Hanover Branch Railroad Company, had the authority to appoint an agent for the sale of passenger tickets, from Hanover to Baltimore, York, Harrisburgh and Columbia, and that the defendant in pursuance of such arrangement, and by virtue of such authority, had, prior to May 1855, appointed the witness, Leib, such agent, and that Leib, during May 1855, acted as such agent, and sold tickets for the passage of persons holding them from Hanover to said point, or points, named in said tickets respectively, and that on the morning of the 28th of May 1855, Leib, as such agent, sold and delivered to the negro man, Solomon Digges, spoken of by the witnesses Epply and Barrick, a ticket to pass on the said Hanover Branch Railroad to the place called the Junction, and thence in the cars of the defendant to York, and that in virtue of said ticket, the said negro man did travel over the said railroad from Hanover to the Junction, and thence on the railroad of the defendant from the Junction to York; and shall further find, from the evidence, that said slave was a valuable slave, and that he became and was wholly lost to the intestate of the plaintiff, and is wholly lost to his estate and to the plaintiff; and shall further find that the said agent, before the cars started, was notified that the said negro man was a slave and had run away from his master in Frederick county, and that said agent, notwithstanding said notice did not forbid or prohibit the said negro man from keeping in the cars with said ticket, and did not take any steps, nor make any effort to prevent the said negro man from going on in said cars, or to get back said ticket, or to prevent the escape of said negro, then the conduct of said agent was wrongful and negligent, and the defendant is responsible to the plaintiff for such damages, if any, as the jury may find, from the evidence, the plaintiff’s intestate sustained by reason of such conduct.
The defendant then asked the following instructions:
1st. That the defendant is a common carrier of passengers, and bound to carry in its cars all persons entitled to be so carried, upon tendering the defendant the fare prescribed by law, and complying with such reasonable regulations as the defendant may prescribe, and that it is responsible in damages for a refusal to carry any such persons on those terms.
2nd. That by the true construction of the contract between the defendant and the Hanover Branch Railroad Company, offered in evidence by the plaintiff, the agent mentioned in the third article thereof, though to be appointed by the defendant, was, as to sales of through tickets made by him, the agent of the Hanover company, so far as said tickets authorized a passage over the road and in the cars of said Hanover company, and under the division made by the fifth article of the fare received by him at Hanover for through passenger tickets, the portion thereof payable to the defendant was for the transportation of passengers by the defendant over its own road, and not for the transportation over the road of the said Hanover company; and if the jury shall find, from the evidence, that Mr. Leib was appointed by the defendant as agent, under the said third article and accepted said appointment, and while acting as such agent, sold to Solomon Digges, the slave of the plaintiff’s intestate, (if they shall find him to have been the slave of the said intestate,) at Hanover, under said agreement, a through ticket from Hanover to York, and that by virtue thereof he was entitled to a passage in the cars of the said Hanover company, and propelled by its motive power upon the said Hanover company’s said road, from Hanover to the junction of the said Hanover company’s road, with the road of the defendant, and thence in the cars of the defendant, and propelled by its motive power and over its railway to York; and that the defendant and the said Hanover company are not one but different companies, and own and use, and did then own and use, separate roads, cars and motive power, then that the defendant is not liable for the sale of said through ticket so far as it respected the transportation of the said slave on the said Hanover company’s road, or for the transportation of said slave upon the said last mentioned road.
3rd. If the jury shall find that the defendant was formed, and constituted a corporation in 1854, under the Act of Assembly of Pennsylvania of 1854, No. 531, (which has been offered in evidence by consent,) and the Act of Assembly of Maryland of 1854, ch. 250, upon the terms and conditions contained in the written agreement for that purpose offered in evidence by consent, and entered into by the Baltimore & Susquehanna Rail Road Company, and the other parties thereto, and that a full record and report thereof was certified by the president of said company, and transmitted to the Governors of Maryland and Pennsylvania; and if they shall further find, from the evidence, that Solomon Digges was the slave of the plaintiff’s intestate, and that the said slave bought a passage ticket for transportation by the defendant on its cars upon its railway, as stated by the plaintiff’s witnesses, then the plaintiff is not entitled to recover in this action under the Act of 1838, ch. 375, provided, the jury shall find from the evidence that the said sale of the said ticket was made in Pennsylvania, and that the part of the defendant’s railway upon which the said slave so procured a ticket for transportation, and was transported, was within the State of Pennsylvania.
4th. If the jury shall find from the evidence, that Solomon Digges was the slave of the plaintiff’s intestate, and that the said slave bought a passage ticket for transportation, and was transported, in the defendant’s cars upon its railway, and that the defendant, and the person selling said ticket on the defendant’s behalf, to said slave, received no other notice or information that the said Solomon Digges was a fugitive, except what was communicated to said agent by the plaintiff’s witness, Epply; and if they shall further find from the evidence that slavery did not exist in Pennsylvania at the time of such sale and transportation, except as to fugitive slaves, and that said Solomon Digges was a fugitive slave and had escaped from his master in Maryland, at the time of such sale and transportation, and that said sale and transportation took place in Pennsylvania, and that the said Epply was not authorized by the master of the said slave to seize and arrest said slave, and was not assisting the master or any agent or attorney of said master, and that said sale and transportation were made openly and in good faith, and not to prevent the discovery and arrest of said slave, then, that the sale of said ticket, and the transportation of the slave, under the circumstances above mentioned, was not, nor was either of them, a violation of the rights of the plaintiffs intestate, as to such fugitive slave, secured to him by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the plaintiff is not entitled to recover.
5th. If the jury shall find from the evidence that Solomon Digges was a slave of the plaintiff’s intestate, and had actually escaped out of the State of Maryland, before he purchased a passage ticket at Hanover, or was cor veyed in the defendant’s cars upon its railway, as testified to by the plaintiff’s witnesses; and if they shall further find from the evidence that the said slave was taken on said cats in Pennsylvania, and carried on the defendant’s railway, from one point to another, in that State, and that he left said cars and railway, in that State, then, that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover the-value of said slave, unless they shall also find from the evidence that the loss of said slave was attributable wholly to his being so transported from one place to another, in Pennsylvania, and that but for said transportation he would not have been lost to the plaintiff.
6th. If the jury shall find from the evidence that Solomon Digges was the slave of the plaintiff’s intestate, and that he escaped, from his master, into Pennsylvania, and bought a passage ticket in Pennsylvania, and was transported upon the defendant’s railway in Pennsylvania; and if they shall further find from the evidence, that, at the time of said sale and transportation, there was no fact within the knowledge of the defendant, or its agent, to warrant the presumption that said Solomon Digges was a slave, but his color, and that, by the laws of Pennsylvania, in force at the time, every person of color was presumed to be free, that then the plaintiff is not entitled to recover.
7th. If the jury shall find, from the evidence, that Solomon Digges was the slave of the plaintiff’s intestate, and escaped into Pennsylvania, and, after such escape, bought a passage ticket there and was transported in the defendant’s car upon its railway in that State, as testified to by the plaintiff’s witnesses; and if they shall further find from the evidence that the defendant received, anterior to said purchase or transportation, no notice, and had no knowledge that the purchaser of said ticket, and the person so transported, was a fugitive slave, except what was given by the plaintiff’s witness, Epply, to the ticket agent at Hanover as testified to by him; and if they shall further find, from the evidence, that the said ticket agent at Hanover, had no authority from the defendant to sell passage tickets over any part of its road to any person whom he might reasonably suspect to be a fugitive slave, and that said ticket agent, knowing, or having reasonable grounds for suspecting, that said Solomon was a fugitive slave, sold him a passage ticket, by virtue of which he was transported, as stated by the witnesses, upon the defendant’s railway in Pennsylvania, with intent, knowingly and willfully, to aid said slave in his escape from his master, and that said slave was thereby lost to his master, then that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover.
8th. In estimating the value to be allowed to the plaintiff for his slave, if the jury shall find for the plaintiff, the jury must take into consideration the fact, that at the time when said slave purchased a ticket for transportation, and was transported in the defendant’s cars, he was a fugitive in a free State, and allow the value of said slave accordingly.
9th. That this court has no jurisdiction of the tort alleged to have been committed by the defendant, as the same is detailed in the plaintiff’s evidence, and that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover, if the jury find from the evidence that slavery does not exist in Pennsylvania, except as to fugitive slaves, because the jurisdiction of said tort is vested, by the Act of Congress, of 1850, ch. 60, exclusively in the District Court of the United States for Pennsylvania, within whose jurisdiction the said alleged tort was committed.
The court (Lee, J.) rejected the plaintiff’s prayer, granted the first, third, sixth, seventh, eighth, and rejected the second, fourth, fifth and ninth, prayers of the defendant, and the defendant excepted to the refusal to grant its prayers which were rejected. The verdict was in favor of the plaintiff for $813.40, damages and costs, and from the judgment thereon the defendant appealed.
[The Superior Court ruled in favor of Baltimore and the slave owner. The Northern Central Railway then appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which heard the arguments in June 1860. We will cover the appeal in the next installment.]
Source: Oliver Miller, ed., Maryland Reports, Containing Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Appeals of Maryland (Annapolis, Md.: Robert F. Bonsall, printer, 1861), Volume XVI, June 1860. pp. 331-349