Dr. Nathaniel D. Parren/Parron Fugitive Slave Case, 1851

Christopher Densmore densmore@acsu.buffalo.edu


I'm working on a study of fugitive slave cases in western New York and have one with a Hardy County connection, and I hope someone will be able to provide additional details and/or point me to the proper records.

About January 12 or 13th, 1851, a slave known as "Harrison" about 19 years old escaped from a Dr. Nathaniel D. Parren (or Parron) of Hardy County, possibly with a group of other slaves. Harrison (or Harrison Williams) was living in Busti, Chautauqua County, New York, September 1851, when apparently Dr. Parren learned where he was.

Parren went to the County Court of Hardy County, and on 22nd Sept. 1851, obtained papers showing Harrison was a fugitive. He, accompanied by a neighbor, George S. Neff, went to Buffalo, New York, and obtained a warrant for the capture of Harrison and (apparently) four other fugitive slaves. With law enforcement officials from Buffalo and Chautauqua County, Parren and Neff went to Busti (about 70 miles south west) and captured Harrison at the home of a free black family. This was on or about Sept. 30, However, local abolitionists were alerted and the other fugitives excaped and later went to Canada. They were pursued part way back to Buffalo by armed local residents on Busti who intended to recapture Harrison, but gave up. Harrison was taken to Buffalo and after a hearing to determine his status, was returned to Hardy County under the terms of the 1851 fugitive slave law on or about October 3.

According to local histories, a resident of Busti (either Jabez or James Broadhead) encountered Harrison in Culpepper, Virginia, in 1864. According to this story, Harrison had been sold to Georgia, but by 1864 had been freed and was working for the Federal army.

Also, according to one local history, two of the slaves who weren't captured in Sept. 1851 "a few months after" went to Virginia to get their wives, with the aid of a local Busti man identified as "Elder Burrows" but were recaptured (though Burrows was not).


All of this makes a very interesting story, and I am trying to verify what was reported in the papers and local histories and see what else could be found out. I'm just begining to look for sources in Hardy County.

  1. It does appear that Harrison was one of several fugitives, since according to the Buffalo newspaper accounts, warrants for five fugitives were received in Buffalo. Another account says that there were seven fugitives in Busti. It would be wonderful if there are court documents in Hardy County that would identify the others.

  2. Who are Dr. Parren (or Parron) and George Neff? [There were a couple of additional varient spellings of Dr. Parren's name in the local papers]

  3. Is there a file available of the local newspaper for 1851? [The Liberator (Boston, MA), of Oct. 10, 1851, summarizes a news item from the Hardy Whig about the recapture of nine slaves from Hardy. Possibly the Harrison story is covered and/or the newspaper might give more perspective on escaping slaves. [Another interest is the reaction of Hardy County newspapers to the events in Chautauqua County and Buffalo. The Buffalo newspapers were divided in their reaction to this event. Buffalo was also the home of President Millard Fillmore, the man who signed the 1851 fugitive slave law. I would like to get as many contemporary perspectives on this event as I can.]

  4. I would love to know how Harrison (and others) got from Hardy County, [West] Virginia, to Chautauqua County, New York. [The route is straight north], and how Dr. Parren found out where to locate Harrison and the others.


I have found a couple of additional small pieces of information. A news item in the Albany (NY) Argus for October 3, 1851, dated Buffalo, Oct. 1st, states that Harrison was one of seven slaves to escape from Hardy county, but "two of the party returned about six weeks ago for their wives, and were arrested, and then exposed the whereabouts of their companions."

The other item was from the Liberator (Boston) that reproduces an item from the Hardy (Va) Whig of the 19th [of September, presumably] about "the capture of nine negroes who ran off from that country on the 7th instant. Two were taken on the Virginia side of the Potomac, and the other seven sixteen miles beyond the Pennsylvania line..."

According to the court records in Buffalo, as reported in the Buffalo papers, Neff and Parren brought court records from Hardy County attesting to Harrison being a slave dated Sept. 22nd. That matches pretty much the account in the Argus about two of the slaves being captured "about six weeks ago" (which would have been in mid September) in Virginia. It definately seems worth checking to see if those two had some involvement in the foiled escape attempt of September 7th. Very interesting.


There is a second case, also involving a fugitive from Hardy County going to Chautauqua County. The Jamestown Journal on Sept. 14, 1855, reprinted an item from the Romney (Va) Intelligencer (no date given for the original article) about a Captain J.G. Harness of Hardy County, who came to Buffalo, NY, with a Wellington B. Fisher and D.B. Harness (of Ohio) to attempt to recover a fugitive slave who escaped eight or nine years before and ended up in Jamestown, but was now in jail in Buffalo. Harness is unsuccessful in getting any cooperation from either local lawyers or the US Commissioner and returns without the slave. The Jamestown paper identifies the slave as Harry King, who had been in jail about six months previously in Jamestown (not Buffalo) for assault and battery.

Seems like there may have been a well travelled route for fugitive slaves going from Hardy County to Chautauqua County, New York.

Christopher Densmore, University Archivist
University Archives
University at Buffalo
420 Capen Hall
Box 602200
Buffalo, New York 14260-2200

Voice: 716-645-2916
Fax: 716-645-3714
E-Mail: Densmore@acsu.buffalo.edu


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