Richmond (VA) Dispatch, "Underground Operations," April 29, 1854

    Source citation
    "Underground Operations," Richmond (VA) Dispatch, April 29, 1854, p. 2: 3-4.
    Newspaper: Publication
    Richmond Daily Dispatch
    Newspaper: Headline
    Local Matters
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    Newspaper: Column
    Date Certainty
    Sayo Ayodele, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    "UNDERGROUND OPERATIONS." - An important examination was held before the Mayor, yesterday, the result of which has gone very far to establish the guilt of a white man named WASHBURN ASHBY, charged with advising and aiding five negroes to escape from their masters to a free State, on the 16th of this month. The slaves are: Joshua, owned by Dr. Carter; William, owned by William Graenor; Robert, owned by George W. Gilliam; Sam Branch, owned by Mr. Winston; and Alexander, owned by Mrs. N. Metterd. Fortunately, the plan of operations was discovered in time to frustrate it, and lead to the suspicion of the accused as being the agent of the "Underground Railroad," by which this species of felony has been so extensively perpetrated on the people of Virginia and the South.

    That our readers may fully understand the case as presented in court, we append the substance of the evidence of each witness during the examination.

    William Boze, Watchman, deposed. - On Sunday evening, the 16th inst., my partner and myself, who were in the disperse watch, with the watchmen on duty in Ward No. 1, received directions from Capt. Wilkinson to go to a certain point in Rocketst, and watch the action of several negroes, who were expected to make their escape on a vessel, wait until they were safely on board, then capture and cage them. To carry out these orders, my partner, Mr. Browning, and myself, arraigned with the two men in Ward 1 to meet them, after lighting the lamps on the hill side within one hundred yards of the designated wharf, about 9 o'clock. The night being a very dark one, the rain falling rapidly at the time, my partner and myself passed down Main street and to the appointed spot, without meeting  the watchmen who were to join us. After awaiting a short time, and supposing that the two men were close at hand, I gave a low, shrill whistle, to attract their attention, which was immediately answered, as I supposed, by the watchmen.- On advancing in the direction from which the answer came, I discovered two men, who proved to be negroes. Being nearest to the one in front, I took hold of him, and asked where he was going. He answered to "New Kent." I instantly handed him over to Mr. Browning, and caught the other, who had a bundle under his arm.- We then tied these two, and started towards to the cage, but had only gone about one hundred yards, when we met three others, who also said they were going to New Kent. We arrested these three, but having no cord to tie them with, walked on until reaching Mr. Tyler's buildings, when I called at a grocery and asked for a rope, but could get none. Shortly after this, two of the five got away and run. The remaining three we took to the cage. Each of them had two or three coats, pants and shirts. On searching the pockets of Joshua, at the cage, Mr. McGruder, the housekeeper discovered a letter, a receipt and $10 in money. We then went back and found a bundle of clothing. Joshua, Dr. Carter's man, and Alexander, Mrs. Matterd's servant, were the first two we arrested. Robert, Mr. G. W. Gilliam's man, was first of the last three taken by us.

    A. Wilkinson, (Capt. of Watch deposed - On the morning of Saturday, the 15th, I received information which led me to believe that certain negroes intended making their escape to a free State the next night, on a vessel, to sail from Rocketts, and the following evening I directed four of the Watchmen to take a position on the hill side near the wharf at which the negroes were to embark, and to remain perfectly quiet until they saw them get on board the vessel and secure the slaves and Captain. Not being on duty that night, I did not see the negroes or the men until the following morning.

    G.S. Truhart, (Lieut. of Watch) deposed - I was on duty the night of the 16th inst., and was at the watchhouse when Boze and Browning brought in  the three negroes. I saw McGruder search them, and take from the person of Joshua the letter and receipt mentioned by Boze, and now before the Mayor.

    John C. Sinton, (Clerk of Talbot's foundry) deposed - I have never seen Ashby write, but have seen writing purporting to be his, which he acknowledged as his own. I have paid his week's wages on his written order, to the foreman of the shop. (Here the Mayor exhibited the receipt found on the person of one of the negroes which reads thus:)

    "Received of Fleming Jackson the just and full sum of sixty dollars, which sum is to be repaid on the 16th April, 1854, if called for.


    [Beneath the signature is a private mark, in the shape of a triangle.]

    Mr. SINTON, resumed - I would not like to swear positively to the hand writing, but believe it to be that of Ashby's.

    The Mayor next exhibited the following letter to Mr. Sinton, which he examined carefully, and stated that in many particulars it was very much like all the writing of Ashby that he had ever seen. It was very much like a note which he held in his hand from Ashby, and he believed they were both written by the same hand.

    This letter reads thus:

    "NEW YORK, April 5th, 1854.

    "Dear Friend: I received yours dated 3d inst., I am glad to hear from you and I give this to you as assurance that I am ready to meet with your request, and I shall expect a telegraphic dispatch from you on Saturday between the hours of 1 and 2 o'clock. (Here is inserted a hieroglyphic sign.) You will let me know if all things are ready. This is a special trip, and I will take 3 or 4 for $75, and you need not look for me without you git $60 in your hands, before you give me notice the second time, and that must be by the 10th or 11th of this month. So make your arrangements and not fool me as you did or allowed your friend to do, summer before last. I will be shore to do my part right and nice.

    From your friend,


    (more hieroglyphics.)

    The receipt already given above from Ashby to "Fleming Jackson," a slave, was written on a handsome envelope, directed to Wm. S. Vanghan, the history of which will readily be understood from the subjoined evidence:

    Simon A Vanghan, deposed.- (Enveloped with the receipt upon it, shown to witness by the Mayor.) During the progress of the late Leigh Street Baptist Church Fair, I paid the ladies a visit and while in this fair room, as is customary at such places, a letter was furnished me from the "Fair post-office," enclosed in this envelope, the direction on which is wrong. I put the communication and envelope in my pocket, and in the course of a day or two, threw the envelope in my fire place, where there was no fire. Fleming Jackson, to whom the receipt was given, works with me, had access to my room, and must have taken the envelope from the fire place and had the receipt for the $60 written on it afterwards.

    George W. Gilliam, deposed - Robert did belong to me but I have sold him. I did not give him permission to go to Rocketts or New Kent on the night of the 16th inst.

    Wm. Graenor, deposed - Joshua belongs to Dr. Carter and was hired to me. He had no permission to go to Rocketts on the night of the 16th inst. On the 15th, a pass was given to him to go to Charlotte county, by the request of his master, to see his wife. William belongs to me. He had no authority to go to Rocketts on the night of the 16th. They are both in the Cary street jail.

    Wm. Walsh, deposed.- Alexander belongs to my mother-in-law, Mrs. Nancy Metterd, of Henrico county.

    Philip Rham, (Proprietor of the Eagle Foundry.) deposed.- I have known the prisoner for five or six years as a workman in Talbott's foundry. Have known Sam Branch, slave to Mr. Winston, for twelve or fifteen year. Saw Ashby in my foundry the week before Easter. As I passed through, he was standing near the place at which Sam Branch was at work. Frequently seen him in my shop. Sam had been at work for me five or six weeks. On the 17th, learned that Sam was in jail, and that Mr. Winston intended to sell him. [Mr. R then furnished the Mayor with the names of two or three witnesses, who were immediately sent for.]

    Benjamin Bragg, foreman in the Messrs. Talbott's Blacksmith shop,) deposed.- On the morning of the 18th inst., Mr. Talbott called in the Smithshop and asked me what was the matter with Ashby. I told him I did not know-he had not been at work that morning. Mr. T said he saw him going up 17th street, and that he had got himself in a pretty scrape. Then told me about the capture of the negroes by the Watchmen, and the suspicions against A., and requested me to notice what was going on. On Tuesday, the 18th, Ashby set in to work as usual. I had seen a notice of the affair in the "Dispatch" that morning, but said nothing to A. about it until 5 o'clock that afternoon, when I mentioned the circumstance of the attempt to run off negroes. He seemed excited, and asked who they were. Told him what I had read. A quit work, went off, got the "Dispatch" and asked me to point out the article to him. A. then remarked that they would not do anything with a man for finding a receipt in possession of a negro, as a negro's evidence would not convict a white man. (Mr. R. then detailed a variety of suspicious circumstances that transpired in conversation from that time until A's arrest, and the general uneasiness manifested by A.) I saw Ashby and Robert in conversation a day or two before Easter. Others in the shop remarked A.'s excitement.

    Henry Gordon, deposed - I work at Talbott's and am a "striker" for Ashby. Know nothing of the affair.

    Reuben T. Seale, (Watchman,) deposed.- On the night of the 16th, I arrested William, Mr. Graenor's man, on the corner of Main and 12th streets. He had under his arm a pair of shoes, one shirt, and one vest, and wore two coats and two pairs of pants. His feet and legs were very muddy. On searching him at the cage, he had four pocket books and one purse containing in all [illegible] in money.

    Frederick W. [illegible], ([illegible] for P Rabin) deposed. - Short time before Easter, saw Ashby in the shop in close conversation with Sam Branch.

    Joseph Hulcher, deposed. - I work in Rabin's foundry. Know Ashby well, - worked with him at Talbott's. The week before Eater, Ashby came to Rabin's and asked me for Sam Branch. I showed him where he worked, and he went to him and had conversation.

    Benjamin Evans, deposed. - I work at Talbott's and know the prisoner. Have seen him in conversation with Gilliam's Robert several times since Christmas. Robert sometimes brought work from his master's factory to the shop. Never saw Ashby in conversation with any other negro. I was in a few feet of Robert and Ashby when they were talking, but did not hear what passed within them.

    Arthur Tulane, deposed.- Work at Talbott's. Have seen Ashby conversing with Bob several times within a few weeks past. Within the past week, Ashby has appeared anxious or excited, and has not talked as freely with me as was his usual custom before then.

    The Commonwealth here closed her testimony, and the prisoner having no defence to make, the Mayor remanded him to prison to undergo an examination at a called Court of Magistrates to be held of Friday, the 5th of May.  

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