Runaway Slaves in Norwalk
by Dave Barton
In early November 1842, bounty hunters captured twelve runaway slaves in nearby Fitchville Township and brought them to Norwalk. The sheriff wouldn’t allow the slaves’ captors to keep them in the county jail, so they took them to the Gauff House and held them there for a week before transporting them back to Kentucky.
The Gauff House was a hostelry across the street from the Norwalk Academy, and had wide verandas on the ground and second floor. The slaves stayed on the upper floor, and Henry occasionally saw them on the veranda as he passed by.
Hallet and Clarissa Gallup lived just west of where the slaves were held. Caleb Gallup, their son, threw apples up to the slaves when they came out onto the front veranda of the house for exercise.
Just before the slaves left, Caleb was throwing apples to them when one of them tossed something into the grass near where he stood. Because guards and other people were nearby, Caleb didn’t react, but took note of where it landed. Later, he told his father, who that night went to the house and found a bowie knife in the grass.
After the slaves went back to their owners, some citizens formed a committee to raise money to buy their freedom. Henry Buckingham and Hallet Gallup were leading members. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much interest, and the idea was dropped.
Henry Buckingham was outraged by what he had seen. Afterwards he said, “Such a thing can never be done again in Norwalk.” He was finally convinced that gradual emancipation was too slow and that something more decisive was necessary to solve the problem. But his ability to be a part of that solution was about to end. 
Not long after the runaway slaves left Norwalk for the south, Henry was the victim of an accident that finally took him out of public life, something the financial and emotional blows he had received couldn’t do. A horse kicked him in the head, knocking him unconscious. He never fully recovered. The man who had been such an important part of the town’s life was helpless. 
A short time long after the Henry’s accident, the Benedict family received bad news. On Friday, June 16, 1843, Platt and Sally’s oldest son David died in Danbury. Now Jonas and Clarissa were the only surviving Benedict children, and young Dave Benedict was the only grandson left to carry on the family name. Then there was another death. Dave and Fanny Benedict’s sister Mary died at the age of eight, bringing more grief to the family. 
Henry Buckingham lingered for two years after his accident with the horse. On Wednesday morning, April 2, 1845, his grandson Henry noticed something was wrong with him. He told his father, who went to the old man’s bed and found his mind wandering. Soon Henry was unconscious, and at eight o’clock the next morning he passed away peacefully. The man who had been the conscience of the village was gone. 
 From “The Ohio Fugitive Slave Law,” by G.T. Stewart, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society; July 1888, pp. 75-77.
 From “Obituary of Henry Buckingham,” by Levina Lindsley Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society; July 1888; p. 161
 Story of the tragedies that befell the Benedict family in the late 1830s and early 1840s are from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 6-7 & 17-18 & “Obituaries – Benedict,” The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume XIV; The Firelands Historical Society; December 1902, pp. 920-921.
 “Biographies and Memoirs – Henry Buckingham,” by his grandson, Henry Buckingham, The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume V; The Firelands Historical Society; July 1888, p. 125.
This post was first published on this blog in 2009.
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