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Higher Law: The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858

Discover an amazing story of abolitionism in Ohio and how it impacted the nation.

A Higher Law: The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858


Sunday, July 14, at 1 PM

The Oberlin–Wellington Rescue of 1858 was a key event in the history of abolitionism, in which a group of 37 Ohio men were charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This is the first time that a “higher law” defense was used in a federal court case.

John Price, a Black man who had been enslaved on a farm in Mason County, Ky., fled to Oberlin, Ohio, in 1856. He lived there for two years before he was kidnapped by two Kentucky slave catchers. They took him to Wellington, Ohio, where they expected to catch the next train and return him to slavery in Kentucky.

Abolitionists from Oberlin and Wellington intervened in the kidnapping at a local hotel and fought for his release. They eventually secured him away from the bounty hunters and escorted him to his freedom in Canada.

The rescuers were indicted and imprisoned for violating the Fugitive Slave Act. At their trial, they were freed through legal technicalities, but the repercussions of their acts would reverberate throughout the South, leading up to the Civil War.

A HIGHER LAW was produced by filmmakers Christina Paolucci and Scott Spears of Production Partners Media in Columbus, Ohio.


Premiered on PBS Western Reserve in 2024.

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Ohio Humanities
Ohio History Connection
Oberlin Heritage Center