Wisconsin’s “Branded” Abolitionist: A Slave Stealer or Slave Saviour?


The Branded Hand of Captain Jonathan Walker sixth-plate by Southworth and Hawes, 1845. The inscription on the back of the case reads: “This Daguerreotype was taken by Southworth Aug. 1845 it is a copy of Captain Jonathan Walker’s hand as branded by the U.S. Marshall of the Dist. of Florida for having helped 7 men to obtain ‘Life Liberty, and Happiness.’ SS Slave Saviour Northern Dist. SS Slave Stealer Southern Dist.” Source: Mass. Historical Society.

Although Brett Favre will not be eligible for the NFL Hall of Fame until 2016, Wisconsin can cheer on another former resident who is stepping into a different type of Hall of Fame this weekend. Here is an interesting news article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a Wisconsin Abolitionist, famous for his branded hand, who will be inducted into the National Abolitionist Hall of Fame.  Yes, there is a Hall of Fame dedicated to Abolitionists.

I had not heard of Jonathon Walker and his connection to Wisconsin previous to this article. His failed attempt to jettison slaves to freedom and subsequent branding is a fascinating story. So is how the North and South had their own meanings for his “S.S.” brand.

Walker is entering into this Hall with a very noteworthy class. It took a few moments to realize that I have visited two of his fellow inductees historical sites. Elijah Lovejoy’s murder is said to have spurred John Brown (NAHOF Class of 2007) to focus his life to the abolition of slavery. Thirteen years ago, I stopped in Alton, Illinois during my first Civil War Adventure and I remember standing along the Mississippi River recalling the scene in Ken Burns’ Civil War.

This past summer, our group of MUHS Civil War Adventurers spent an emotional afternoon at the John Rankin Home set on a bluff above the Ohio River. This home inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe (not in the Hall yet) to write her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

What are names of other prominent Wisconsin Abolitionists for the Hall to consider?

wisc abolitionists

Anti-Slave Catchers’ Mass Convention, 1854. Source: WI Historical Society.


21 thoughts on “Wisconsin’s “Branded” Abolitionist: A Slave Stealer or Slave Saviour?

  1. Sherman Booth is another Wisconsin Abolitionist that should be considered for the hall of fame. He was one of the leading voices of abolitionism in Wisconsin and was the editor for the Wisconsin Freeman. He was arrested in 1854 for helping the runaway slave Joshua Glover escape.

  2. Edward Daniels should also be considered. He was a Wisconsin abolitionist who helped free Joshua Glover and Sherman Booth from federal custody in Milwaukee, and was also involved in the Bleeding Kansas events. He organized the First Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry regiment in 1861 and served as its leading commander for 3 years.

  3. William White was a major advocate for abolition nationwide. He was a Harvard lawyer and was chairman of the State Central Committee for the Wisconsin Republican party and provided moral leadership for the party. He lived in Wisconsin for 3 years before dying.

  4. Oscar H. LaGrange was an abolitionist that should be considered. He was born in New York, but moved to Ripon, Wisconsin when he was eight years old. He would then study at Brockway College, now Ripon, and would help one of his teachers, Edward Daniels, free Sherman Booth from prison in Milwaukee. Besides helping Booth, LaGrange also was an abolitionist that participated in Bleeding Kansas. Once the war started, he became a Major in the First Wisconsin Cavalry during the war, and reaches as high of rank as Brigadier General.

  5. Joseph Goodrich is also another notable abolitionist in Wisconsin who should be inducted into the Abolitionist Hall of Fame. He ran a stagecoach inn in Milton, Wisconsin. He built a tunnel between the log cabin (to the rear of the Inn) and the Inn. This tunnel harbored “freedom seekers” in the cellar of the Inn by using the tunnel as an exit and entrance to the cellar. Also, Goodrich and his family helped conduct the freedom seekers to other places. Most freedom seekers were journeying toward the Great Lakes on their ultimate destination in Canada.


  6. As Blake just said, I personally think that Sherman Booth would be a good addition to the Hall of Fame. He was a third editor of a very antislavery movement being American Freeman (located in Waukesha). Booth rescued the slave, Joshua Glover, and received national attention for that. Even though he helped Glover escape to Canada, he was arrested (federal charges on the FSA). “The drawn-out legal and political battles over Glover led to the WI. Supreme Court to nullify the FSA on the basis of states’ rights in 1855”.

  7. James B. Pond was an abolitionist that worked with his father in the underground railroad in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He would ride to “Bleeding Kansas” with John Brown in 1856. He also helped organize Company C of the Third Wisconsin Calvary. He would earn the Congressional Medal of honor for his heroism in the battle of Baxter Springs, Kansas in 1863.

  8. Oscar H. LaGrange was a student at Brockway College (which is now Ripon College) in 1860 when he participated with Professor Edward Daniels in freeing Sherman Booth from federal custody in Milwaukee. LaGrange started out as a Major in the First Wisconsin Cavalry and eventually worked his way up to the rank of Brigadier General.

  9. Col. Halbert E. Paine of the 4th Regiment of Wisconsin should be considered. He refused to follow an order from General Thomas Williams stating that escaped slaves must be turned back over to their masters. He was known to be a staunch abolitionist.

  10. I believe that Hans C. Heg should be considered. Heg was the Commissioner at the State prison at Waupun in 1860. He was condemned by the states democratic press after allowing Sherman Booth to stay in his prison for two days after he was freed from federal custody in Milwaukee.

  11. I believe that William Henry Brisbane should be considered. Brisbane started off as a slaveholder himself but when he moved to Wisconsin (the town of Arena), he freed his own slaves and became an abolitionist & anti-slavery activist while serving in the 2nd Wisconsin Calvary during the Civil War.

  12. I think Carl Shurtz should be considered. Carl Schurz was a passionate abolitionist. He immigrated during the Civil War because he felt the conflict was between those who were for slavery, and those who were against slavery. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Lieutenant Governor.During Lincoln’s campaign for President in 1860 one of the leading national spokesmen for the Republican party.

  13. Sometimes, society can only prove its advancement through little steps. Other times, one needs to take a big leap to make any progress. Such is the case with African-American suffrage, a touchy issue even by the Civil War’s end in 1965. Leave it to Ezekiel Gillespie (no relation to Dizzie), an African American who made an attempt to vote in Milwaukee. Issues over majority-voting prohibited the black vote, even though the 1849 Referendum showed that many were for black suffrage. With the aid of famed abolitionist Sherman Booth, Ezekiel bought the case of Gillespie V. Palmer to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The court vote overwhelmingly in favor of Ezekiel, ensuing a Civil Rights victory. Just a few years years earlier, no black man had the right to vote. But by 1865, the decision was unanimous in favor of African Americans. Due to his unprecedented case, I believe Ezekiel Gillespie deserves to be recognized as an abolitionist for his effort in breaking down anti-suffrage laws.

  14. Montgomery Blair was a politician and a lawyer from Maryland. He even turned his back on his prominent slave holding family. He grew up as a Democrat but became a Republican in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Montgomery eventually went on to serve Lincoln as Postmaster General of his cabinet.

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