76. Sanborn's account of his attempted arrest on April 3, 1860 (transcribed from his Recollections of Seventy Years, Boston: R. G. Badger, 1909).


on the evening of April 3, 1860, after I had been out making calls in the village of Concord, and was sitting quietly in my study on the first floor, after nine o'clock, my door-bell rang.

   Our one servant, Julia Leary, had gone to bed.  My sister Sarah, who was still my housekeeper, was in her chamber, and, without anticipating any harm, I went down into the front hall and answered the bell.  A young man presented himself and handed me a note, which I stepped back to read by the light of the hall lamp.  It said that the bearer was a person deserving charity, and I am satisfied that he was so before he got away from Concord that night.  When I looked up from reading the note, four men had entered my hall, and one of them, Silas Carleton by name (a Boston tipstaff, as I afterward learned), came forward and laid his hand on me, saying, "I arrest you."

   I said, "By what authority?  If you have a warrant read it, for I shall not go with you unless you show your warrant."

   Carleton, or the youth who had begged my charity, then began to read the order of the Senate for my arrest.  But my sister, who had feared, as I did not, what this visit meant, now rushed down the stairs, opened the other door of the hall and began to alarm the neighbors.  Seeing that they were likely to be interrupted in their mission, my five callers then folded up their warrant, slipped a pair of handcuffs on my wrists before I suspected what they were doing, and tried to force me from the house. 

   I was young and strong and resented this indignity.  They had to raise me from the floor and began to carry me (four of them) to the door where my sister stood, raising a constant alarm.  My hands were powerless, but as they approached the door I braced my feet against the posts and delayed them.  I did the same at the posts of the veranda, and it was some minutes before they got me on the gravel walk at the foot of my stone steps.  Meanwhile, the church bells were ringing a fire alarm, and the people were gathering by tens.  At the stone posts of the gateway I checked their progress once more, and again, when the four rascals lifted me to insert me, feet foremost, in their carriage (a covered hack with a driver on the box), I braced myself against the sides of the carriage door and broke them in.  By this time it was revealed to them that my unfettered feet were making all this trouble, and one of the four, named Tarleton, wearing a long black beard, grasped my feet and brought them together, so that I could no longer use them in resistance.  They had got me into their hack as far as my knees, when my sister, darting forward, grasped the long beard of my footman and pulled with so much force that the pain of it compelled him to lose his grasp, and my feet felt the ground again, outside of the carriage.

   Now while all this was going on a great crowd had collected, among them old Colonel Whiting, with his daughter Anne, and his stout cane, with which he began to beat the horses; while Miss Whiting climbed to the box beside the driver, and assured him that she was going as far as he and his horses went.  They began to start at the repeated strokes of the good colonel's cane, and my bearers were left a rod or two behind the hack into which they had not been able to force me.  They saw at once that their kidnapping game was defeated, but they still held me, hatless and in my evening slippers, in the street in front of my house. 

   At that moment, my counsel, J.S. Keyes, appeared by my side, asking me if I petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus.  "By all means," said I, and he hurried off to the house of Judge Hoar, some twenty rods away. 

   The judge, hearing the tumult, and suspecting what it was, went to his library and began filling out the proper blank for the great writ of personal replevin.  In less than ten minutes after my verbal petition the writ was in the hands of the stalwart deputy sheriff, John Moore, who at once made the formal demand on my captors to surrender their prisoner.  Stupidly, as they had acted all along, they refused.

   The sheriff then called on the 150 men and women present to act as his posse comitatus, which some twenty of the men gladly did, and I was forcibly snatched from senatorial custody.  At the same time my Irish neighbors rushed upon them and forced them to take to their broken carriage, and make off toward Lexington, the way they had driven up in the early evening.  They were pursued by twenty or thirty of my townsmen, some of them as far as Lexington, but got away with no very serious bruises.

   I was committed to the custody of Captain George L. Prescott (in the Civil War, Colonel Prescott, killed at Petersburg) and spent the night in his house not far from the Old Manse, armed, for my better defense, with a six-shooter, which Mr. Bull, the inventor of the Concord grape (then chairman of the selectmen), insisted I should take.  I slept peacefully all the rest of that night, from about 11 o'clock, when the fray ended.

   In the morning I was taken to Boston by Sheriff Moore and carried to the old court house, near the present City Hall, where the justices of the Supreme Court were holding a law term.  My counsel, who volunteered for the case, were John A. Andrew, soon afterward Governor; Samuel Sewall, a cousin of Mrs. Alcott, and my college classmate, Robert Treat Paine.  The case was argued by Andrew and Sewall in my behalf, and by C.L. Woodbury, son of the distinguished Justice Levi Woodbury, of New Hampshire, who had been dead for some years, but whose son was the Democratic district attorney.

   The court room was filled with my Concord and Boston friends and in the afternoon Chief Justice Shaw, the most eminent jurist in New England, delivered the decision, setting me free [Sanborn here gives the full opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the case F.B. Sanborn vs. Silas Carleton.]  

   I was then taken by enthusiastic friends to East Cambridge in a carriage (to avoid rearrest in Boston), and from there returned to Concord, where a public meeting was held that evening to protest against the outrage offered to a citizen and to the town.  No further effort was made to arrest me, the time and manner of my seizure having put the public opinion of Massachusetts wholly on my side.


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