Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Hugh Hazlett (b. 1831 - d. ?)
MSA SC 5496-3387
Accomplice to slave flight, Dorchester County, Maryland, 1858


    Born in Ireland around 1831, Dorchester County lawyer Hugh Hazlett was twenty-seven years old when he was caught in an attempt to assist seven slaves run away. These were: John Green, owned by Samuel Hooper, Mary Light and Charles Anthony Light, owned by Reuben E. Phillips; Esther Cornish, Solomon Cornish and Thomas Ridout, owned by Ann M. Dixon; and William Henry Cornish, the slave of Jane Cator. They set off for freedom on Saturday, July 24, 1858, but were apprehended a few days later in Caroline County.1 Cator and her step-father Phillips had lost several slaves to flight the previous October, and were likely much more vigilant because of it. Daffney and Aaron Cornish had successfully made off with six of their children on that occasion, depleting Phillips' unpaid labor force by more than half.2 It is unclear whether these owners had personally offered reward money, or helped supply the man power to recapture their bondsmen. 

    According to Thomas Garrett, the group had been betrayed "by a colored man named Jesse Perry ... [who] had several white men secreted to take them as soon as they got in his house."3 Garrett was writing to William Still, a fellow abolitionist who operated out of Philadelphia. This correspondance suggests that they were alerted about the misfortune by local contacts, perhaps fellow underground agents who had planned to help the freedom seekers. Concerned local whites had clearly received word of the escape, as several citizens including John Walls, Titus West, William Wicks, Henry Johnson, and Edward C. Johnson were involved in the fugitives' capture. These men received a reward of one thousand dollars for the slaves alone, and there was believed to be a large reward for the arrest of Hugh Hazlett as well.4 Dorchester County deputy sheriff William H. Grace transferred the prisoners back to Cambridge on a steamer, where they were faced with an enraged mob. The Easton Gazette reported that when Hazlett and the group of slaves were taken back to Cambridge, "A large crowd was ready to receive them, and had it not been that the citizens of Dorchester have a love for law and order, they might have used the White man with rough hands."

    This event was reflective of the prevailing anti-abolitionist sentiment which had solidified among most Eastern Shore whites. The number of escapes during recent years had aroused this violent fervor among many locals, who were desperate to punish any suspected accomplice. Samuel Green had been sentenced to the penitentiary for his involvement in 1857, while Arthur W. Leverton had literally been driven out of the Eastern Shore for similar infractions.6 Considering the alternative, Hazlett may have felt lucky to even make it back to Cambridge alive. Likely suspecting a severe punishment, he successfully escaped from jail in early October but was captured a few hours later by Samuel E. Collins, who was paid $500 by the county for his act.7

    Hugh Hazlett was once again jailed in Cambridge, awaiting his trial date. The guilty verdict was handed down in the Circuit Court on November 12, convicting Hazlett on seven indictments for enticing, persuading, assisting, and harboring slaves. He was sentenced on the first indictment to serve a sentence until May 1867, and six years each for each of the other indictments. In total, he was to be held at the Maryland Penitentiary for forty-four years, six months, and nine days.8 This was by far the most severe sentence applied to a convicted accomplice on the Shore. Hazlett had chosen a bad time to participate in such risky business. Dorchester County in particular had been experiencing an explosion of slave escapes in the latter half of the 1850's, due in no small part to Harriet Tubman's influence in the region. Furthermore, Hazlett was an outsider who had been caught in the act, so it is no surprise that the court essentially made an example of him. His case may have also been the last straw for Eastern Shore slaveholders, who held a convention that same month, intended to solve the problem of free blacks and other abolitionists in their midst.9 

    Fortunately for Hazlett, the Maryland Constitutional Convention six years later would drastically change the circumstances of his imprisonment. A slim majority of delegates voted to end slavery in the state as of November 1864. That, along with the impending victory of Union forces over the Confederacy, would effectively nullify the "crime" of assisting enslaved people to escape.10 Hazlett was "Recommended to the clemency of the Governor by the Director of said Penitentiary for good conduct and the offence of which he was convicted being one which under the present Constitution of the State can no longer be committed...and the punishment he has already endured, being deemed a sufficient expiation."11 Governor A.W. Bradford directed notice of application for his pardon on Nov 21, 1864. Hazlett was a free man again by December 19, after having served only six years out of his 44 year sentence. He apparently remained in the Baltimore area rather than return to Dorchester County. Hugh Hazlett is recorded living in Timonium in 1880, working as an iron mill laborer, despite his former occupation as a lawyer.12 

Footnotes -

1. DORCHESTER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT(Court Papers) MSA T2317, State vs. Hugh Hazlett, Criminal Trial Nos. 4 -10, November Term 1858. 

2. Kate Clifford Larson. Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2004, p. 145.

3. Still, William. The Underground Railroad:  A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, etc.  (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872), p. 476.

4. “The capture of the gang of Negroes…”, August 10, 1858, Easton Star Collection MSA SC 3596 [OCLC 9637128] , Film No.: M 11317. 

5. "Excitement at Cambridge, MD" Baltimore Sun. 5 August 1858.

6. Larson, pp. 149-152. 

7. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 588, page 110 - Session Laws, 1860, Chapter 69.

    "Escape and Capture of a Prisoner in Cambridge" Baltimore Sun. 8 October 1858. 

8. DORCHESTER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT(Court Papers) MSA T2317, State vs. Hugh Hazlett, Criminal Trial Nos. 4 -10, November Term 1858.

9. "Convention of Slaveholders." Baltimore Sun, 6 November 1858. 

10. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 102, "Proceedings and Debates of the 1864 Constitutional Convention".

11. SECRETARY OF STATE (Pardon Record) MSA S1108, Hugh Hazlett, p 426, Dates: 1845-1865, Accession No.: 7931, [MSA No.: S 1108-2.

12. 1880 United States Federal Census, Baltimore County, District 9 (Timonium), p. 1. 

Researched and Written by David Armenti, 2012.

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