Samuel Green (freedman)
Samuel Green (c. 1802 – February 28, 1877) was an African-American slave, freedman, and minister of religion, who was jailed in 1857 for possessing a copy of the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
He was born in East New Market, Maryland, to an enslaved mother. His father may have been enslaved. The identity of both parents remains unknown. He labored for his enslaver, Henry Nichols, until Nichols's death in 1832. A provision in Nichols's will enabled Green to buy his freedom. Samuel then worked as a farmer and as a minister or exhorter in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dorchester County, Maryland. He was able to buy the freedom of his wife Catherine (Kitty) in 1842 from her enslaver, Ezekiel Richardson. Sam and Kitty's two children, Sam Jr. (born 1829) and Susan (born 1832), were subsequently sold by Richardson to Dr. James Muse in 1847, taking them out of Sam and Kitty's household.
Reverend Samuel Green's reputation grew in stature in both the African American and white community of Dorchester County. In 1852, he served as a delegate to the Convention of the Free Colored People of Maryland in Baltimore, where he resisted efforts to encourage emigration to Africa. In October 1855 he attended the National Convention of the Colored People of the United States, held at Franklin Hall in Philadelphia, as a delegate from Maryland. He mingled with many prominent Northern black abolitionists during the convention, including Frederick Douglass, Jacob Gibbs, Stephen Myers, William Cooper Nell, Charles Lennox Remond, John Rock, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary.
In August 1854, Sam Green’s son, Sam Jr., a skilled blacksmith, ran away from Dr. Muse after learning that he might be sold. Using instructions probably given to him by Harriet Tubman, he found his way to the office of William Still, Philadelphia’s most notorious Underground Railroad stationmaster, who forwarded him to the home of Charles Bustill, another prominent African American Underground Railroad agent in Philadelphia. From there, he was sent along swiftly to Chipaway, Ontario, Canada, just across the U.S. border near Niagara Falls, where he joined other Eastern Shore runaways living relatively free lives. Sam Green Sr. is known to have helped Harriet Tubman and other runaway slaves from the region, and no doubt these connections helped Sam Jr. successfully reach freedom.
Once settled in Chipaway, Sam, Jr. wrote to his parents, telling them news of his successful journey to freedom, which included “plenty of friends, plenty to eat, and to drink.” He told his father to tell Peter Jackson and Joe Bailey, both locally enslaved men, to come to Canada as soon as they could. Jackson soon fled North with Tubman and her brothers in December 1854; Bailey would wait another two years before the right time presented itself. Tragically, Sam Jr.’s sister Sarah was unable to flee; as the mother of two young children, Sarah may have been unwilling or unable to run away with her brother. Muse, angry over the escape of Sam Jr. and suspicious that Sarah might run off as well, sold her to a Missouri family, cruelly separating her from her family forever.
By mid-March 1857, rumors were circulating that the Rev. Green had played a role in the escape of the Dover Eight, a group of eight runways who had successfully eluded capture in a dramatic flight from Dorchester County.
When the Dorchester County sheriff searched Green's house, he found the letters from Samuel Jr. naming Jackson and Bailey, two slaves who had escaped to Canada with Harriet Tubman. Raising further suspicions, Green had recently returned from a trip to Canada to visit with his fugitive son. Authorities also discovered a Canadian map, various railroad schedules, and a copy of one volume of the two volumes set of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 best seller, Uncle Tom's Cabin in Green's home.
Green was arrested on April 4, 1857 and charged with "knowingly having in his possession a certain abolition pamphlet called 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' of an inflammatory character and calculated to create discontent amongst the colored population of this State" and "knowingly having in his possession certain abolition papers and pictorial representation of an inflammatory character calculated to create discontent amongst the colored population of this State."
He was acquitted on the second charge, but convicted on the first, and on 14 May 1857 he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
The case caused a great deal of concern, with abolitionists calling for Green to be released and slaveholders calling for him to remain in jail. John Dixon Long wrote in 1857:
Dorchester County is almost exclusively a Methodist County. If the members of the M. E. Church of Dorchester had been liberty-loving, slavery-hating Methodists, no judge or jury would have dared to consign their brother in Christ to ten years' incarceration in a State prison, separated from wife and children, for having a book in his possession which might have been found on the shelves of the very Judge that pronounced the sentence. To the best of my recollection, I never saw a jury at any County Court on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that was not partially composed of members of the M. E. Church. The Judge who pronounced the sentence was, when I was a boy, a member of the New-school Presbyterian Church in Snow Hill, Md.; and, I presume, he is still a member of that church. He ought to have resigned his seat rather than have pronounced such a sentence. The Methodists of Maryland could have poor Green pardoned in six months, should they desire it. May the prayers of all the good go up to the Throne of Grace for this oppressed brother! I blush for my native State when I think of her bloody code of laws--a code that would disgrace a savage tribe. I blush for the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, and the Baptists of Maryland, who, united, could wipe off from the statute book the black laws that tarnish her fair fame. Maryland denies the humanity of one hundred thousand slaves, and oppresses seventy-five thousand free negroes. May the Omnipotent speed the hour when American slavery shall be blasted by the thunders of His power, amidst the shoutings and hallelujahs of a redeemed race!
The governor of Maryland, Thomas Holliday Hicks, sided with the slaveholders. Green, because he was literate, worked in the warden's office doing paperwork. The cost of the trial, however, forced Kitty and Sam to sell their property in Dorchester County. Kitty then moved to Baltimore to be closer to Sam, supporting herself by taking in laundry. Hicks's successor Augustus Bradford freed Green in 1862, on condition that he leave Maryland. Green and his wife toured Philadelphia, New York, and New England, before emigrating to Canada. Their daughter Susan remained in slavery in Missouri.
Sam and Kitty returned to Maryland after the American Civil War, settling in Dorchester County to resume their pre-trial lives. He was a very active member of the Delaware Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, working on committees for education and religious instruction. He later became involved in the Centenary Biblical Institute in Baltimore, which trained young men for the ministry and in time became known as Morgan State University. He and Kitty moved to Baltimore around 1874, presumably to devote more time to the Institute. Sam Green died there on February 28, 1877.
- Long, John Dixon; Pictures of Slavery in Church and State, Philadelphia, 1857.