From Ohio History Central
George Washington McQuerry was an escaped slave from Kentucky, who sought his freedom in Ohio.
Little is known of McQuerry's life while he was a slave. He was probably born in 1821 and lived in Kentucky with his owner, Henry Miller. In 1849, he ran away to Ohio with four other slaves. Slave catchers recaptured one of the slaves, but McQuerry and the other three safely reached Ohio. McQuerry settled in Troy, Ohio, where he married a free black woman and fathered three children.
McQuerry's owner offered a one hundred dollar reward for McQuerry's capture. A man named John Russel notified Henry Miller of McQuerry's location, and Miller's son, Jacob Miller, recaptured the fugitive slave. Jacob Miller placed McQuerry under the watch of a federal marshal in Dayton, Ohio. Local citizens petitioned legal authorities for McQuerry's release, but the court refused to act. The federal marshal then hired armed guards to transport McQuerry to Kentucky. In Cincinnati, Ohio, a mob of African-American citizens unsuccessfully attempted to stop the marshal, as Cincinnati police quelled the near riot. Fortunately for McQuerry, the mob's actions gave a local newspaper editor, Peter H. Clark, time to seek an injunction from Judge John McLean, who agreed to review the case.
McLean held a hearing regarding McQuerry's status as a slave. McQuerry's lawyers, John Jollifee and James Birney, contended that McQuerry was free because he resided in a free state. Witnesses for Miller testified to the fact that McQuerry had runaway from his owner. McLean determined that McQuerry was a slave and ordered his return to his owner. Miller offered to sell McQuerry for 1500 dollars, but the abolitionists were unable to raise the funds. McQuerry remained a slave.
McQuerry illustrates the difficulties that African Americans faced in the United States of America in 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.
- Siebert, Wibur H. The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom. New York: Russell & Russell, 1898.
- Middleton, Stephen. "The Fugitive Slave Crisis in Cincinnati, 1850-1860: Resistance, Enforcement, and Black Refugees." Journal of Negro History 72 (Winter-Spring 1987): 20-32.