Keyes, ms. autobiography

77. John Shepard Keyes.
Manuscript autobiography, 1821-1866, showing description of April 3, 1860 attempted arrest of Frank Sanborn.
John Shepard Keyes Papers, CFPL Vault Collection.


Sanborn had I never doubted full knowledge of his [John Brown's] plans, and Concord subscriptions had helped his cause without however knowing its purpose, so that when Mason of Virginia began in the U.S. Senate the investigation Sanborn was summoned to testify.  He was afraid and unwilling to trust himself in Washington and refused to attend.  He consulted with me, and I had a correspondence with Mason on the subject endeavoring to induce the Comtee to take his deposition here.  I think that was one object I had in going to Washington myself but do not recall any interview with Mason.  At length the U.S. Marshal made the attempt to take Sanborn and carry him off as a witness.  I was sitting quietly in my house of a moonlight evening when Grace Mitchell one of Sanborn's scholars came wildly rushing in with the news that they were carrying him off.  I ran to his house next to the high school house to find him handcuffed with the 3 Depy. Marshals holding him, and an excited crowd of 30 men & women Sanborn terribly excited and waving frantically his manacles and calling for help and rescue.  I enquired of the officers who recognized me their purpose and authority which they gave and then telling the crowd to detain them till I got back, rushed off to Judge Hoar's house where I found him quietly working in his Library to which the cries and shouts of the scene almost penetrated.  I applied to him for a writ of Habeas Corpus for Sanborn and as soon as he understood the matter he granted it, I writing the petition while he filled out the writ.  Armed with this I hastened back to find the crowd swelled to a mob of hundreds, in which some Democrats had mingled trying to take the part of the officers, and getting roughly handled for so doing.  Shouting for my old Deputy Capt. Moore, the crowd gave way he came forward served the writ by taking Sanborn from the wagon and releasing him from the officers and the handcuffs.  They who were thoroughly alarmed for their safety, gladly drove off after hearing the writ saluted with a parting volley of stones & groans and when the Town Clerk had shoved the collector Col. Holbrook into the gutter as the fit place for his pro slavery remarks, the women helped Sanborn to his house, the men walked off and when I got through a short consultation with him, and turned homeward Concord streets were quiet and the excitement over save that Rufus Hosmer had fallen dead of heart disease as the tumult had been going on there.  My coolness and legal instinct alone prevented a dreadful row.  Carleton & Freeman & Coolidge the officers were armed, and but for my prompt interference would have made sad work and a terrible result, instead of the quiet surrender I brought about by means of the writ.  It was the best instance of presence of mind I can recall in my whole experience!

I woke the next morning to find the newspapers full of the encountre [sic] and myself famous for my interposition.  In the excited state of feeling over slavery and the John Brown invasion, it was almost a declaration of war.  I appeared before the Supreme Court   J.A. Andrew as senior counsel for Sanborn while the Marshal with the U.S. District Atty. was on the other side I suggested the point when the warrant was produced under which the officers were acting, that as it was addressed only to the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate, he could not deputize his authority to a bailiff for want of any such direction in the warrant and therefore the service [?] by such bailiff was utterly void and nugatory, and cited the decision of our Supreme Court to that effect in the case of a writ directed to a sheriff and served by a constable.  Charley Woodbury the Dist. Atty., replied.  Andrew after consultation sustained the point and discharged Sanborn.  The crowd cheered.  Sanborn was the hero of the hour, and though for a month he had been hiding in Concord garrets he must make the most of his notoriety I came home at night to find Concord stirred to its depths, with reporters and emissaries of all kinds, and more foolish stories in circulation of attacks, and captures, than could be imagined.  The papers here and in N.Y. & Washington were filled with it.  Congress got excited, Mason threatened and it seemed as if war might actually begin.  Sanborn was carefully guarded [Patrols] were sent out mounted to watch and give the alarm.  Altogether it was another 19th of April  


John Shepard Keyes's manuscript autobiography has been transcribed in full; the transcript is accessible on the Concord Free Public Library Special Collections pages, at   



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