To begin this informal and unofficial Marshall Michigan history page, we share a pivotal moment in the history of Marshall that has ties to modern day happenings.
There is a monument in Marshall that people nearby do not know about, and others are not sure of the location of this marker. It relates to Marshall’s early involvement in civil rights, and its pride in the actions of its early settlers.
The following is a written history of the Adam Crosswhite affair, as described by Harold Brooks, Marshall’s renowned historian, mostly based the book “The History of Calhoun County” by Washington Gardner. This account is shared verbatim from “A History of Marshall” by Richard Carver, with permission.
One hundred years ago tomorrow – January 26, 1847—was probably the most eventful day in the history of Marshall. At least the events which occurred here that day were far more reaching in their ultimate effects than have been the event of any other day, locally, in the century which has elapsed since then. It was 100 years ago tomorrow that the celebrated Crosswhite affair—said by historians to have directly hastened the opening of the Civil War—took place here. Marshall has been founded only seventeen years earlier—in 1830 by Sidney Ketchum—but in the meantime had grown to such an extent that it was the best known town in Michigan west of Detroit. The writer does not know the exact population in 1847, but does know that the town had a population of 1,200 in 1837 and one of 4,192 in 1864. The population was probably at least midway between those two figures. The writer has read several accounts of the affair and one of those accounts places the date as January 27, 1847. All others give it as January 26, of the same year.
At any rate the drama of the affair really began on October 17, 1799, when Adam Crosswhite was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky. He was a mulatto, his mother being a slave and his father his first master. At an early age Adam was given by his master to his half sister as a servant. This lady married a man named Ned Stone, a notorious slave dealer, who sold Crosswhite to a man named Troutman for $200. When he was 20 years old the boy was traded off to one Frank Giltner who lived in Carroll County, Kentucky. He stayed with Giltner until he was 45 years old, having married a nergo girl at the age of 22. They had several children. At the age of 45 which would have been in 1844 or 1845, Crosswhite learned of Giltner’s intention to sell a portion of the family, and decided to attempt to flee to the north with his family and escape from the bonds of slavery. With the aid of the famed “Underground Railroad” which was nothing more than the organization of northern white men who helped escaped slaves get from one town to another under the cover of darkness, hiding them during the day. Crosswhite, his wife, and four children reached Marshall and located here, satisfied that their owner could never trace them. They located in a cottage situated on what is now known as the Ferguson farm, where East Mansion Street joins Michigan Avenue. Crosswhite soon became known as a sober, industrious man and paid a portion of the purchase price of his place.
Early in the winter of 1846-47, there came to Marshall a young man who represented himself as a lawyer, seeking a location. He eventually turned out to be Francis Troutman, grandson of one of Adam Crosswhite’s earlier owners. There lived in Marshall at the same time a man named Harvey Dixon, a deputy sheriff, who through bribery or through being a pro-slave thinker, aided Mr. Troutman with his plans to carry Crosswhite and his family back to Kentucky, and turn them over to Giltner. The Crosswhites had five children with them at the time, but one of them had been born in Marshall and was not legal property of Giltner even under the Kentucky laws, because of not having been born in a slave state.
Crosswhite had received some form of underground information that an attempt was going to be made to return him to Kentucky, and there had been plans made by leading Marshall citizens to prevent it when the time came. It was not known for certain that Troutman was connected with the plans for the return. About 4:00 o’clock in the morning – 100 years ago tomorrow – Troutman accompanied by three other Kentuckians name David Giltner, Franklin Ford and John S. Lee and Deputy Sheriff Harvey M. Dixon (some accounts say he was a U.S. Deputy Marshall) went to the Crosswhite home to seize the family under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 and return them to bondage. Crosswhite was on guard, and seeing his would-be captors approaching fired a shot which was supposed to be a signal to the town. Crosswhite refused to open the barricaded door, but the Kentuckians broke it down and started to bring the terrified negro children from their hiding places. They did not want the baby who was born in Marshall, and proposed to leave the child there while taking away its parents, brothers and sisters. Between the resistance offered by Crosswhite, the refusal of his wife to part with her youngest child, and the difficulty in bringing out the other children from their hiding places the men of Marshall began reaching the Crosswhite abode before the abductions had gotten very far.
In connection with the arrival of the townspeople, there is an interesting story. All were not awakened by the single shot fired by Crosswhite and some who did awaken were not aware of its meaning. The other residents of the village were notified by an old negro on a horse, ringing a bell. His name was Moses Patterson, but he was commonly known as “Auction Bell.” It seems that whenever there was to be an auction sale in those days, or a “woodoo” as Moses called it, he was employed to go through the streets on a horse, ringing the bell and shouting out the time and place of the sale. William W. Hobart, a well-known resident of Marshall in later years, who was 14 years old at the time of the Crosswhite incident, later described “Auction Bell” as being over six feet tall and making himself look taller by wearing a stovepipe hat. “Auction Bell” went through the streets of Marshall on the morning in question on his horse, ringing his bell and shouting that “the slave catchers are at the Crosswhites.”
At any rate a crowd estimated at between 200 and 300 persons surrounded the Crosswhite cottage. Troutman made no further effort to remove the family by force, but resorted to oratory. He appealed to the crowd to disperse, cited the Federal Constitution, and brought out that he had no claim to the child born in Michigan. His remarks were met with jeers and also some logical arguments and slavery being a local system and that slave laws did not apply in Michigan. A Marshall negro attempted to enter the house and Troutman drew a gun on him. Troutman, according to one account, demanded to know the names of those who were leading the movement to stop him from taking the Crosswhite family with him. One immediately responded, “Charles T. Gorham and write it in capital letters.” Another replied “Oliver Cromwell Comstock, Jr. and take it in full so my father will not be held responsible for what I do.” Another was Jarvis Hurd.
The Marshall group then took over. Troutman and his cohorts were arrested and taken before Justice Randall Hobart where they were fined for breaking down the door at the Crosswhite home and Troutman was fined for drawing his gun. During this procedure George Ingersoll escorted the Crosswhite Family to the old stone mill which he owned in the southeast part of the village and hid them in the garret until night. A team and wagon was secured and the family sent to Jackson where they were to be at the Jackson railroad depot the following morning. Ingersoll boarded the train at Marshall and made sure the slave catchers were not on the train. At Jackson he signaled the negro family that all was well, and they boarded the train for Detroit. Ingersoll continued on to Detroit and through the “Underground” saw the family safely into Canada and under the British flag.
But that did not end the case. Troutman returned to Kentucky and aroused the entire state against “this northern outrage.” The state voted an appropriation to prosecute the leaders of the affair in Marshall. Action was brought to secure the value of the slaves in the United States District Court at Detroit from the Marshall leaders Chief defendants were Gorham, Comstock and Hurd. The 1847 trial resulted in a disagreement. A second trial was held in 1848 and the Kentuckians won. The Marshall defendants were required to pay costs plus about $1,900, which was decreed to be the value of the slaves.
The case did not even end there. Henry Clay, then the United States Senator from Kentucky, took the case into the Senate and advocated the necessity of a more stringent fugitive slave law. As one account says the “riotous scenes” enacted near the humble Crosswhite cottage received national consideration. The law of 1793 which has stood for over 45 years, was deemed too lenient because of the Marshall affair. The result of Clay’s efforts was the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which has been described as “the most damnable law that ever received the sanction of the American Congress.”
Washington Gardner, Civil War Veteran, and for many years Congressman from this district, later wrote: “The law was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” The people of the north would no longer endure the arrogant demands of the south. The history of the succeeding years was written in blood. The wave of destruction which grew from the ripple caused in Marshall swept over the country.
Living in the Battle Creek about 50 years ago was an old negro bootblack called Ben Crosswhite, reputed to be one of the children of Adam Crosswhite. Knowing what he would answer, folks used to ask him, “what did you have to do with the war?” He would always reply, “I was the cause of the war.”
Read More About the Adam Crosswhite case
John C. Sherwood who grew up in Marshall and is a journalist with the Battle Creek Enquirer did some graduate research at Western Michigan University on the Crosswhite affair. Some of his findings were published in the Michigan History Magazine for March/April of 1989. Excerpts from his article follow:
When a community legend achieves local eminence it can absorb misjudgment, carelessness, and ultimately, historical error. One example in Michigan is the 1847 “Crosswhite Affair” where Marshall residents helped a family of fugitive black slaves avoid capture by their legal owners from Kentucky. Several legal and historical writers have repeated a claim, made first in 1872, that the federal government’s Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and even the Civil War were visible results of this particular incident. This assertion, however, never has been fully substantiated.
Despite Judge McLean’s observation that the Crosswhite case enjoyed “notoriety in Kentucky and in the U.S. Senate,” the Crosswhite affair was not unique among pre-Civil War interstate conflicts. There were a number of northern “slaves rescues” that resembled the Marshall incident. In his published recollections, Levi Coffin, the self-proclaimed “president” of the Underground Railroad, mentioned only the August 1847 raid on the Cass County settlement of fugitive slaves by Kentucky agents, without reference to the earlier Crosswhite confrontation. Nevertheless the Crosswhite legend began to grow.
(According to the Michigan Liberty Press, published in Battle Creek from 1847 to 1849 by Erastus Hussey, “The Crosswhite trial—which began in Marshall and was concluded in Detroit—involved not only Michigan and Kentucky but the entire nation, since it was the basis for considerable political action and was a factor in the defeat of General Lewis Cass, former governor of the territory of Michigan, as candidate for the presidency of the United States.” Hussey was in charge of the “Underground Railroad” in this section. He once estimated that he had transported over fifteen hundred slaves whose worth was $1,500,000.
The Crosswhite Case was also written about in the Michigan Tribune on January 30, 1847.)
In 1872 Gorham wrote a biased account of the Crosswhite incident, which provided Adam Crosswhite’s personal background. It characterized Troutman as loudmouthed, the Kentuckian’s effort to take Crosswhite before a judge as a dodge to set up a kidnapping, the crowd’s threatening nature as disputable, and the trial as a political took of northern sympathizers “willing to prostitute themselves” to favor Southern economic interests. Gorham also became the first author to claim that the outcome of the incident “was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.”
By 1882 the Crosswhite incident had achieved mythical status in Marshall. One woman, a descendant of Marshall’s co-founder George Ketchum, even claimed—in a fictitious “autobiography” of her ancestor—that Ketchum personally invivted Crosswhite in the latter’s cabin to voice concern over Troutman’s intentions and subsequently hid the Crosswhites in this mill. There is not reference to Ketchum in contemporary newspaper or judicial accounts of the case, it was Ingersoll who secreted the family in the garret of his mill before accompanying them to Canada.
A list of members of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Marshall for 1845 contains among others the following: Sidney Ketchum, George Ketchum, Randall Hobart, Adam and Sarah Crosswhite, indicating that Sidney Ketchum could have spoken to Adam Crosswhite. Also William Hobart, son of Randall, in a letter written to a local newspaper, identified the hiding place of Adam Crosswhite and family as the old Ketchum Mill located in the southeast part of Marshall. It was also recorded that Ingersoll leased the mill from Ketchum.
Mr. Sherwood further states:
In 1907, Benjamin Franklin Crosswhite, Adam’s son was working as a porter and elevator man in Battle Creek. In 1847, Benjamin would have been either seven or twenty-five years old, depending on which account in accurate. Regardless, he held a lofty view of his role in the matter. When asked what he had to do with the Civil War, his response was, “I was the cause of the war.”
A closer examination of Marshall’s interpretation of the Crosswhite affair casts doubt upon its alleged importance.
In 1908 William Hobart, son of the Marshall Justice of the Peace who helped detain Troutman’s posse, wrote what may be a more accurate assessment of the incident’s significance: “The Crosswhite case was simply one of the feverish indications of that inevitable conflict between the north and the south which culminated in the election of Lincoln, the great Civil War, the expenditure of oceans of blood and millions of treasure and the freeing of the slaves.”
(P.S.: The author personally likes Ben Crosswhite’s interpretation of the Crosswhite affair. Philosophically Ben Crosswhite whether he realized it or not, was speaking for a whole persecuted race of people and indeed was “the cause of the war.”)
After the war, Adam and Sarah Crosswhite and their children John, Benjamin Franklin, Cyrus, and Lucretia, relocated in Marshall. They settled south of the Michigan Central tracks and west of Marshall Avenue. After the home o f Ben burned during the Hurd Mill fire of 1903 he moved to Battle Creek and became a porter at the Post Tavern. In 1930 an article in the Battle Creek paper stated that Minnie, a granddaughter of Adam, may have taught school in Marshall (she graduated from Marshall High School in 1882) and that Miss Jessie Graham of Marshall was also a descendant (Jessie worked for the Bullard family in the Honolulu House). Adam Crosswhite and his wife, Ben and his wife and a granddaughter are buried in Oakridge Cemetery, Marshall, and descendants of Adam still live in Battle Creek in 1991. In 1990, the Marshall Historical Society erected a monument on the grave of Adam Crosswhite.
Sources: The text above is almost entirely from the book “A History of Marshall” by Richard Carver, used by permission.
The photos are from a variety of sources that also have interesting additional information on this topic: