On 31 May 1858, on the James River, the schooner Keziah, out of Wilmington, Delaware, was overtaken by Petersburg officials who arrested the captain, William Baylis, and his mate, and took away the five runaway slaves hidden below on the Keziah. So many people crowded into to the Petersburg Court House for the trial of Baylis that it had to be postponed twice. Despite the services of two of the city’s most outstanding lawyers, Baylis was found guilty and sent to the penitentiary. Baylis was an important figure in the Underground Railroad, well known to such leaders as William Still and Thomas Garrett, and his arrest and conviction, which made news across the nation, provides a rare glimpse into the operations of the Underground Railroad in eastern Virginia. For the citizens of Petersburg, too, the Keziah affair made the court house, as the Petersburg Daily Express exclaimed, “the theatre of the most intensely exciting event that has ever transpired within [the city’s] limits.”
Visitor Information: Currently open to public.
Location: 1 Courthouse Avenue, Petersburg, 23803
National Park Unit: No
Ownership: City of Petersburg
Location Type: Site