The cast of characters in the kidnapping and redemption of Cornelius Sinclair runs from the most vicious -- the kidnappers and traders -- to the greedy and violent, such as Sinclair's purchaser in Tuscaloosa (more about that man in a few days), to those who seem to abide the rule of law, like Justice John Gayle and the jurors, to the virtuous -- those who rescued Sinclair from James Paul and then filed a suit in his behalf. Last week I sketched the story of Sinclair's kidnapping, transportation to Tuscaloosa, and then redemption and now I'm going to start focusing on various parts of the story. Today I'm going to be talking about the virtuous, two Methodist ministers who were central to Sinclair's rescue.
I want to start with Joshua Boucher, who was at the center of the rescue efforts. Boucher was from far southwestern Virginia (Lee County), by way of Tennessee, and recently arrived in Tuscaloosa when Sinclair was sold there in October 1825. The next April, Boucher and another minister, Robert Kennon, took Sinclair from his "owner," James Paul. It seems they filed a suit on his behalf and then one of their parishioners posted a $1000 bond in case they lost the suit and as part of this they took (or had the court's permission to take, this is unclear) Sinclair from Paul. That set in motion several other lawsuits -- Paul sued those two for enticing away his slave (Sinclair) and they reciprocated by filing a defamation action against Paul for saying that they had stolen several slaves from him.
Boucher had a real antipathy towards slavery, it seems. He wrote to the mayor of Philadelphia in January 1827, that he was ready to move to Ohio and that he was staying in this land of slavery only so long as necessary to secure Sinclair's freedom. In fact, Boucher did move to Ohio shortly after Sinclair was freed. Boucher's fellow minister, Robert Kennon, a Methodist minister who was born in North Carolina and then came to Alabama in the 1820s, also participated in the effort to free Sinclair. Here's one of the many things I love about Sinclair's story -- there are pieces of it everywhere, it seems. In Philadelphia archives, in the abolitionist press, in Tuscaloosa, in a courthouse in Mississippi, and -- get this -- in the Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa, where there is a marble plaque that commemorates Kennon's years of service to the church. (Judson Crump's picture of the plaque is the illustration for this post.)
Those are the key people on the ground in Tuscaloosa (along with an unnamed lawyer and one other mysterious person whom Boucher wrote about briefly) who worked to free Sinclair. But obviously it took more than well-intentioned individuals to set him free; I want to focus a little more on the judge and jurors soon and also the person on the other side of this case, James Paul -- about whom there are some really astonishing stories. I want to focus some on what this case suggests about the southern legal system and what content -- perhaps very limited -- there was to the rule of law.
The second image is of a Methodist Church near Selma, which was built as I recall in the 1850s. The Tuscaloosa Methodist Church where Boucher and Kenon ministered was rebuilt in the early twentieth century, so I didn't use the current Tuscaloosa Methodist Church. Still, I wanted to have an antebellum church -- and this is what's available in my stock.