An unpublished, 6-page, raging manifesto against slavery and slave holders by a Conductor for the Underground Railroad who had been tarred, feathered, and exiled from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. James L. Bowers.
An unpublished, 6-page, raging manifesto against slavery and slave holders by a Conductor for the Underground Railroad who had been tarred, feathered, and exiled from Maryland’s Eastern Shore

An unpublished, 6-page, raging manifesto against slavery and slave holders by a Conductor for the Underground Railroad who had been tarred, feathered, and exiled from Maryland’s Eastern Shore

East Camden, New Jersey: 1859. Unbound. This 6-page, pin-bound manuscript measures approximately 7.5” x 9.5”. It is in nice shape with some edgewear that affects a very small amount of text. Very good. Item #009364

James L. Bowers, a Quaker farmer from Kent County, Maryland, was a Conductor for the Underground Railroad. In June of 1858, the Kent News exposed him and a free African-American laundress as assisting escaped slaves flee to the North. Shortly thereafter, a group of indignant slave holders lured Bowers from his home, place a noose around his neck, and dragged him into the woods followed by his screaming wife. He was stripped naked, tarred, feathered and only released after he swore to leave the state within 24 hours. When the mob finished with Bowers, they began searching for his accomplice and found her hiding in the cabin of a freedman, who they whipped severely. The laundress was stripped to the waist and ravished, tarred, and feathered. Incensed by the mob’s acts, local non-slave holders attacked suspected of the assaults while local police officers let the factions fight it out. The Bower supporters won the day, and in response, the slave holders (including a Maryland Senator, Congressman, and judge), fearing for their safety, began to organize, culminating with a meeting where they promised immediate “summary punishment in the future to all such offenders and their active sympathizers and abettors.” (For more information, see “Lynch Law in Maryland,” The Liberator, 1858-07-09; “The Late Meeting of Maryland Slave Holders,” New York Herald, 23 July 1858; “Bowers, James L.” in Snodgrass, The Underground Railroad: An Encyclopedia; “The Key to Kent County History” at the website of The Historical Society of Kent County, Maryland; and Fields’s Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground; Maryland in the Nineteenth Century. This manifesto (which it appears Bower’s believed the Kent News would publish) is in response to that meeting and is filled rage against slavery and slave holders, so much so that parts are nearly incoherent: “So far as Kent Co. is concerned the call has been made at the instance of a mob . . . headed by E F Chambers the largest slave owner in Kent Co. for the last eight years there has been a spirit of deliberate . . . persecution . . . At last in inflicting a violent punishment on the undersigned. . .. Now the call is a particular one from slave holders to do what, to make slaves of Free Nigers. . .. The question who are those men . . .. Chozen by Judge Chambers an unpopular aristocrat of unsound Judgment a knave Tyrant in state and church who uttered as base a budget of lies . . . against me . . . when I was deprived of defence. . .. they are in attempt making a dead effort to purge themselves of their Former indiscreat acts and attach blame to . . . Free Nigres, poor white men [and] Those who are opposed to slavery and particuly those who are honest enough to say so. . .. The Honorable Judge &c, &c, was once a soldier he says in the late War. Admit it he was the first to run. . .. Let him answer . . . the Judge & Dick Hynson & others concocted that epistle somewhat to relieve as much as may be that disguised drunken Tar and Feather Mobite blood hounds from the eminent danger they were in on. . .. A free Country this when a few dishonest law breakers will horse whip a faithfull good colored man to the amt of two to three hundred . . . and Tar & Feather and ravish a yellow woman. . ..” Bower’s continues his screed with proposals he would like to see the Eastern Shore slave holders adopt: “My view for future action would be first to modify the general management of slaves and treat them like a human being should be treated . . . without being molested . . . do not be in the habit of charging [them] with being onnery & rogues when they have the example set before them, and when any . . . are legally free. Form a slave holder abolition society and see that [slaves] have their legal rights . . . remember the North star and the U.G. Railroad and every 5 miles [provide] a stopping place [with] refreshmet. . .. Would it not be better that a few slave holders should sell off and remove to a more congenial clime where the risk will not be so great and leave the laboring classes & poor white men to manage their own affairs and those of the Free Negroes as they seem to greatly annoy the slave holders and their aristocratic appointments and life time offices would be more congenial to their wishes and less danger if any from escapes of their Servants or Slaves. . .. Allow slave holders three of four slaves as kitchen property . . . others who may have but from one to four thousand must fork up to the last hundred." Also, he identifies many slaves and free blacks who had mysteriously disappeared, making barely veiled accusations of murder against named slave holders: “Where is Stephen Dening boy Ben. - Where is the boy that Parker took from T Toulson to Baltimore. - How and what becom of Pery Prices free John . . . - What has become of J Canells free man . . . - Where is the free girl that I Hear redeemed from slavery . . . - What has become of Porter’s Aron & woman and others young - What has be come of J Vickers man living at Vanots who some say he was Murdered . . .” And in closing, Bowers invokes the memory of Patrick Henry, “Never. . .. If this is Treason make the best of it you can. . .. Yours &c The Tared & Feathered Exile James L Bowers.” Bowers and his family returned to the Eastern Shore following the Civil War, and it almost goes without saying that this manifesto was never published in the Ken News. Exceptionally important and rare. As of 2019, there is nothing similar for sale in the trade. Rare Book Hub shows no auction results for anything similar, although it does record the sale of several letters (usually post-war) from Conductors. OCLC shows no institutions have anything similar, however two libraries hold collections from abolitionists active in the Underground Railroad.

Price: $7,500.00

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