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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: July 2015

9 - “Recital of the Wrong and Outrage”


ANSON DAYTON HELD A GRUDGE against the African-Americans of Oberlin, which made him the perfect cog for Matthew Johnson's rumbling machinery of justice. Dayton had moved to Oberlin sometime in 1854 or 1855, attracted by the building boom in the rapidly growing town. He was a capable mason, and he initially went into business with his brother-in-law, Benjamin Pierce. Their firm, Pierce & Dayton, found plenty of work in Lorain County, laying the foundations for homes and stores. Dayton eventually found that labor too strenuous, however, and insufficiently remunerative to support his growing family. He therefore changed professions, reading law in the office of an Elyria attorney, which allowed him to become one of the first lawyers to establish an office in Oberlin. Dayton's skills as an attorney, however, proved deficient, even in a locale without much competition. In a characteristic demonstration of charity – although one that was soon regretted and ultimately rued – the village fathers installed Dayton as the township clerk, a position in which he was responsible for collecting fees and dispensing funds to paupers and the “transient poor,” the latter being a euphemism for fugitive slaves.

Unlike the Oberlin colonists, nearly all of whom followed Finney's First Church Congregationalism, Dayton was an Episcopalian who had no commitment to the abstemiousness of the Oberlin Covenant or the anti-slavery principles of the Lane compact. He was one of the founders of the Christ Church Episcopal Parish, which was established in late 1855 to counteract the “wild ultraisms” and “politico-religious teaching” that otherwise dominated town life. The objectionable “politico-religious teaching,” of course, was abolitionism. The Episcopal Church spanned the Free and Slave states, with many important congregations in Virginia and throughout the South. The denomination therefore condoned, or even tacitly supported, slavery, with most leaders either silent on the subject or strongly in favor of enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act.

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The 'Colored Hero' of Harper's Ferry
  • Online ISBN: 9781139872072
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