ANSON DAYTON HAD NOT MANAGED TO CATCH ANY SLAVES, but his efforts had certainly succeeded in putting the entire town of Oberlin on edge. Tensions only mounted when several rowdy strangers showed up on the front porch of Wack's tavern in late August, laughing loudly and speaking in the immediately recognizable accent of rural Kentucky. Even children realized that the roughlooking men were out of place in Oberlin. Ten-year-old William Cochran learned what they were up to when he accompanied his uncle, a farmer named Stephen Cole, on a visit to the forge of Augustus Chambers, an African-American blacksmith.
Between the hissing of the fire and the crash of the hammer, William at first had to strain to hear the conversation between Chambers and his uncle. Soon, however, the blacksmith raised his voice, almost to an excited shout. “How long are you going to let these man stealers lie around Oberlin? I don't call them slave-catchers; there are mighty few slaves around here. I call them man-stealers – devilish thieves!” In fact, there were nearly always slaves in the area, hiding in the forest and swampland that stretched between Oberlin and Elyria. Chambers was in touch with the fugitives, whom he would often bring to Cole's farm for a brief respite before they continued onward to Canada. Now, however, Cole was concerned that Chambers was in danger, and he suggested that the blacksmith himself “go into hiding for a few days.”
“No, Sir!” the black man thundered, “I stay right here. And if any of those men darkens my door, he is a dead man.” Chambers showed the astonished boy and his uncle an array of weapons that he held at the ready – a hammer, a sharpened poker, a “double-barrel shotgun loaded with buck,” several knives, and “a pistol hung on the siding near his bed.”
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