Happy Birthday to the Man Who Would Not Pardon Samuel Green

220px-Thomas_Holliday_Hicks_-_photo_portrait_standingSeptember 2nd — I checked to look for birthdays of historic figures and found that September 2nd was the birthday of Maryland Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks (1798-1865).  He was born in East New Market, the same Dorchester County, Maryland, community and area where the Rev. Samuel Green was born into slavery in 1802.  Green’s owner, Henry Nichols, died in 1832, bequeathing Green his freedom five years later.

The mid-1850s found a substantial increase in flights to freedom from the region via the underground railroad, including that of Green’s son and namesake.  The elder Samuel and his wife Kitty traveled to visit their son in Canada.  The home of Rev. Green, who was under suspicion for aiding slaves to flee, was searched and items were reportedly located including Samuel, Jr.’s letters, a map and other SamuelGreenitems, as well as a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Rev. Green was arrested in April of 1857. The state’s attorney Charles F. Goldsborough found the evidence not to be sufficient, but Green would go on to be tried for possession of the book, deemed inflammatory and “insurrectionary in intent.”  Green’s possession of the book was ruled a felony and he was sentenced to the minimum of ten years at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore.

Despite the petitioning of over 100 Methodist ministers, Hicks refused to grant a pardon.  As described on the Maryland Archives website, “Hicks, a firm believer in the right of citizens to own slaves, had a strong distaste for abolitionists, and declared that Green would remain in jail as long as he was in office. … However, his successor, Augustus W. Bradford, granted Green a conditional pardon in March 1862, stating that he had to leave the State within sixty days.”  He and Kitty eventually returned to Dorchester County and at some point moved to Baltimore and joined the Orchard Street Methodist Episcopal Church.  Rev. Green died in 1877 and was buried in Baltimore.

Hicks served as Governor between 1858 and 1862, and as a U.S. Senator from 1862 until his death in 1865.  As described by the Maryland Archives, Hicks opposed abolitionists and supported slave owners. He denounced “[t]he attacks of fanatical and misguided persons against property in slaves” and added that slave owners had a right under the “Constitution to recover their property.”  Hicks’ grave is in Cambridge, Maryland.

Strange how concerted efforts can produce opposing results.  Green was imprisoned under suspicion of being an active abolitionist; but following his release in 1862, he became an outspoken abolitionist throughout the north.  And the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 may have hastened the flights of freedom along the underground railroad from Dorchester County and surrounding area despite the increased dangers.

Currently, Sharon L. Davies is completing a history of the Rev. Samuel Green.  Davies is the Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity at the Ohio State University.  She has presented workshops at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Conference held in Cambridge, Maryland.  And if you want a riveting read, I strongly recommend her 2010 book, Rising Sun, A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America, a fascinating account of a 1921 murder trial in Birmingham, Alabama.

— Linda Duyer

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