Udney H. Hyde
Udney Hyde was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Mechanicsburg, Ohio.
Little is known of Hyde's life before the 1850s. He was born in Vermont in 1808. He eventually moved to Mechanicsburg and was active in the Underground Railroad. He also was well-known for his use of foul language. Over the course of his life, he supposedly assisted 513 fugitive slaves in attaining their freedom. The largest number of slaves that he ever assisted at one time was eleven men, eleven women, and two children. In 1857, he purchased a farm outside of Mechanicsburg, where he continued his anti-slavery activities.
Hyde is best remembered for assisting Addison White. In 1856, White ran away to Ohio along the Underground Railroad. He eventually made his way to Mechanicsburg, Ohio, in Champaign County. Here, he sought refuge in Hyde's home. White remained in the Hyde home for eight months, purportedly helping Hyde recover from a broken ankle. White's owner, Daniel White, and some federal marshals eventually located the fugitive slave at Hyde's home. The marshals attempted to capture Addison White, who had barricaded himself in the loft of a log cabin with a gun. White was able to drive the marshals away, but they soon returned. Mechanicsburg townspeople had also arrived on the scene and surrounded the barn. Armed with pitchforks and other weapons, they refused to let the marshals take the fugitive slave, who, the mob falsely said, had fled to Canada. The marshals did arrest several people for aiding White in his escape.
The sheriff of Clark County attempted to arrest the federal marshals for illegally detaining the men. The marshals refused to release the captives and proceeded to severely beat the sheriff and the posse. Eventually, a mob of Ohioans detained the marshals and jailed them in Springfield, Ohio on the charge of assault with intent to kill, due to the altercation with the Clark County sheriff. Eventually, Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase negotiated the release of the federal prisoners as well as of the marshals, with all charges being dropped against both groups.
Daniel White was determined to reclaim his property. He brought suit in a court of law, demanding the return of the fugitive slave. Fearful that the court might return Addison White to his owner, Mechanicsburg residents raised 950 dollars to purchase the slave's freedom. Daniel White agreed to the sale.
While White's case was being adjudicated, Udney Hyde remained a fugitive. Authorities wanted to arrest him for assisting a runaway slave, a violation of both state and federal law. Hyde was never captured, although his son, Russell Hyde, was arrested for helping White. Russell Hyde escaped punishment. Following the White event, Udney Hyde returned home, continuing to assist runaway slaves. He eventually settled in Goshen in Champaign County. Hyde died in 1883.
Udney Hyde represents the growing tensions over slavery between Northerners and Southerners during the early nineteenth century. While many Northern states had provisions outlawing slavery, runaway slaves did not necessarily gain their freedom upon arriving in a free state. Federal law permitted slaveowners to reclaim their runaway slaves. Some slaves managed to escape their owners on their own, while others, like White, sometimes received assistance from sympathetic Northerners, such as Hyde.
- Prince, Benjamin F. "The Rescue Case of 1857." Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly 16 (January 1907): 292-309.