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Passmore Williamson circa 1858

Passmore Williamson (February 23, 1822 - February 01, 1895)[1] was an abolitionist in Pennsylvania who is best known for a legal episode challenging the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

On July 18, 1855, while working for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, Williamson helped Jane Johnson and her two children (one 5 or 6, the other 11 or 12) escape enslavement from John Hill Wheeler who in 1855 was on a trip with his slaves from Washington, D.C., to Nicaragua as an ambassador. Williamson with a group of freemen forcibly took Wheeler's slaves from his possession and helped them to safety. When Wheeler tried to stop Johnson's escape, a minor scuffle ensued. That was enough to get all the participants charged with riot, forcible abduction, and assault.

Williamson, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and a well-known public figure, was later convicted of contempt of court by Pennsylvania District Court judge John K. Kane and served a sentence between July 27 and November 3, 1855, in Moyamensing Prison. While imprisoned, Williamson became a focus of the press, as northern publications spread the story throughout the country. Friends comfortably furnished his cell, and he received letters and several hundred visitors including both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.


  1. ^ Dickinson College. "House Divided". Retrieved 11 March 2010. 

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