Last updated: September 14, 2017
John Price was a runaway slave who was arrested by a federal marshal on September 13, 1858 in Oberlin, Ohio under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act. Because of Oberlin's reputation as an abolitionist stronghold, Price was removed to nearby Wellington to await transfer to Columbus, Ohio and then Kentucky. However, anti-slavery activists in Oberlin and Wellington learned of Price's arrest and rushed to the hotel where Price was being held to demand his release. Negotiations failed and the crowd then stormed the hotel, removed Price by force and conducted him to freedom in Canada. A federal grand jury brought indictments against 37 of the men who freed Price, including 12 who were free blacks. State officials then arrested the federal marshal, his deputies, and several other men involved in John Price's detention. After lengthy negotiations, state officials agreed to release the marshal and his men in exchange for 35 of the men 37 men facing federal indictment. The two remaining men were convicted of assisting in the escape of a fugitive slave but received light sentences. They then appealed their conviction of the grounds that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional. The appeal failed and the convicted men served their sentences. The Price affair became a national sensation and like the Dred Scott decision, helped propel the nation toward Civil War. Two participants in the rescue - Lewis Sheridan Leary and John A. Copeland - along with Oberlin resident Shields Green went on to join John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Leary was killed during the attack. Copeland and Green were captured, tried, convicted of treason and executed on December 16, 1859.