A disgraceful riot took place in our usually quiet borough, on Wednesday of last week, (after our paper had been put to press,) by an attempt on the part of our colored population to rescue several slaves who had been arrested by their owners as fugitives from labor. The slaves belonged to James H. Kennedy and Mr. Hollingsworth, of Hagerstown, Maryland, who were here in person to recover their property. There were three slaves—one man and a woman and little girl—who had been arrested in the fore-part of the day, and taken before Justice Smith, where proof was made of the fact of their being the slaves of the gentlemen above named, and of their escape from Maryland, and a certificate given by the Justices to the owners to that effect. At the request of the owners the Justice committed them to the jail of the county. In the afternoon a writ of habeas corpus was sued out, directed to the Sheriff, to know by what authority he held them in his custody. The hearing took place before Judge Hepburn, at 4 o’clock P.M. The Sheriff made return to the habeas corpus that he held them by virtue of a commitment from Justice Smith.
Upon the hearing his Honor decided that the Sheriff had no legal authority from the Justice to hold them, under the act of Congress relating to fugitives from labor, but that a certificate having been given by the Justice of their being the slaves of Messrs. Kennedy and Hollingsworth, they were properly in the custody of the owners. Proof of ownership was given before the Judge, but he thought it irrelevant, as the only question for him to determine was whether they were properly in the custody of the Sheriff. He declined also going into the question of the powers and duties of the local magistracy, under a recent act of the Legislature, or whether that act was in conflict with the act of Congress relating to the recovery of fugitives from labor.
During the hearing, a large crowd of infuriated negroes, men and women, and a small sprinkling of Abolitionists (we are sorry to say,) gathered in and about the Courthouse, who evinced by their violent conduct a disposition to rescue the fugitives by force. After the decision was made, that the slaves were in the custody of the owners, the negroes rushed up the aisles of the Court room while the Judge was yet upon the bench, and attempted to drag the slaves to the door. They were resisted by the owners and the Sheriff and his Deputies, and the citizens present, and after a severe scuffle, in which blows were given and received, the blacks were frustrated. A second attempt, however, was made to rescue the slaves as they were brought down from the Court room to the carriage in waiting to take them off, which resulted in a serious riot. The attack was commenced at the door of the carriage, where, before the slaves were got into the vehicle, a general rush was made on the owners and constables who had them in charge, by the negro men and women, and a frightful melee ensued in the street, in which for some minutes paving stones were hurled in showers, and clubs and arms used with painful effect. The result was that the woman and little girl were rescued, and soon made their escape, while the man was secured and sent on his way to Maryland.
One of the negroes, while the investigation was going on, attempted to fire the Court house, by placing fire among some combustible materials under the stairs leading to the Court room. His idea was, no doubt, to raise an alarm of fire, and that in the confusion they could the better carry into effect their plans. He is still at large, having eluded the vigilance of the officers.
We deeply regret to say that by these disgraceful proceedings Mr. Kennedy, one of the owners, was very seriously injured, having been felled to the earth by repeated blows from stones and clubs. He received, we understand, a severe stab in the back of the neck from a dirk knife. The cap of his knee was also knocked off, which is considered the worst of his injuries. A boy named John Black was also so seriously wounded in the head by a stone, that his life was at first considered in danger. His scull is much fractured. He is now doing well, however, and strong hopes are entertained for his entire recovery. Many others received blows and knocks, but were not badly injured. The only wonder is that more persons were not wounded, considering the numbers of missiles of various descriptions flying through the air.
The rescue of the slaves was bold and daring, and although there were manifest symptoms of its being attempted, it did not appear to be seriously apprehended by either the slave owners or the citizens. It was thought that the blacks would threaten and ----, but would make no determined effort. In this, however, the conservators of the peace were mistaken, or a sufficient force would have been procured to have avoided the danger. The blacks were evidently encouraged then to violate the law and spread terror and alarm among our citizens, by a few fanatics among us, who jump to their conclusions by leaping over the constitution of the United States, and the act of Congress made in conformity therewith, and the decisions of our highest judicial tribunals.
A great number of persons have been prosecuted for a riot. Some twenty blacks are now confined in jail to await their trial, and at our next court of quarterly sessions the questions of “who struck Billy Patterson,” and “who threw that --- ----” will have to be satisfactorily answered.