The Antislavery Movement in some respects put Indiana County on the map, and made it a safe haven for runaway slaves. The first formally organized antislavery society came into existence sometime around 1837. Antislavery supporters included Reverend David Blair, Joseph Campbell, Samuel Henry Thompson, and Dr. Robert Mitchell. Aside from the County society, there were also local antislavery societies including one in Center Township to which membership was open to “any person not being a slaveholder and consenting to the principles of this constitution.”
To be fair, there were some proslavery advocates in Indiana County as well. The most prominent being David Ralston, who even as late as 1862 maintained his view by publishing “A Bible View of Slavery,” in which he defended slavery on a basis of Bible arguments.
Because of the majority in favor of Anti-Slavery, Indiana County became a safe-haven for slaves attempting to flee their owners. Take for example the three young men who made their way to Indiana County from Virginia in April of 1845. They were aided by a small band of anti-slavery leaders who were businessmen from Indiana and Blairsville. They hid and fed the boys for two months.
Hollingsworth was sheltered and employed by James Simpson, to help on his farm. In June, one of the boys, 12-year-old Anthony Hollingsworth, was captured, bound to a horse and taken to the old Indiana House Hotel, which was operated by David Ralston, who had strong proslavery views and was also sheriff of the county. It was at the Hotel that he awaited his return to slavery in Virginia under his master, Garrett Van Metre.
Being a small town, word traveled quickly through Indiana, especially among the anti-slavery activists, and an angry mob surrounded the hotel, threatening to burn the men out to free the young boy.
Dr. Mitchell calmed the crowd, in part by promising them that Hollingsworth would be protected by the law. William Banks, a lawyer, was to present a writ of habeas corpus the following morning.
In the morning, Judge Thomas White, another anti-slavery activist, took to the bench to hear the case. A steady stream of people came through the doors. In front of Judge White sat Anthony Hollingsworth, in the custody of the sheriff, and Van Metre with his friends, on one side. On the other sat William Banks and Dr. Mitchell flanked by their co-antislavery members. Judge White carefully reviewing the case, he granted the petition, ordering Anthony Hollingsworth freed. After this ruling a great roar came over the crowded courtroom.
This was not the first interaction between Van Metre and Mitchell. Mitchell was sued for harboring a fugitive slave named Jared Harris. This case was tried in the United States circuit court at Pittsburgh before Judge Grier. Judge Grier was a strong proslavery man, as could be seen in his charge to the jury. Dr. Mitchell was convicted, and a part of the pine forest, near present day Diamondville, in which the slaves found shelter, was sold at sheriff’s sale to defray the cost of the $10,000 suit.
*Van Metre v. Mitchell, 28 F. Cas. 1036 (Cir. Ct. W.D.PA 1853).