Slavery's Borderland: Freedom and Bondage along the Ohio River

By Matthew Salafia | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Slaveholding Liberators

In 1801 Thomas Worthington traveled to the national capital, accompanied by his lawyer and his black servant, to press for the removal of territorial governor Arthur St. Clair. Worthington was a prominent leader in Ohioans’ push for statehood, and he hoped his connections with national political leaders from Kentucky and Virginia would help further his cause. Worthington’s work as a surveyor in Ohio had brought him in contact with men such as John Breckenridge, a powerful political leader from Kentucky; William Giles from Virginia; Albert Gallatin, secretary of the Treasury; and even the president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. As he made his case for the corruption of St. Clair and the necessity of statehood, Worthington appealed to these men as a gentleman. It was not a coincidence that many of Worthington’s acquaintances were slaveholders. Slaveholding was the mark of the southern gentleman, and despite his residence in Ohio, Worthington styled himself a Virginia gentleman. He established a Virginia-style estate in Ohio powered by bound black labor and traveled with a personal body servant. Although rebuffed by Jefferson initially, Worthington was ultimately successful in his effort, and the president signed the enabling act in April 1802.1

* * *

Following Worthington’s success, the campaign for the Ohio Constitutional Convention became a deeply partisan battle. The debates defined clear divides between the candidates, and few divides were clearer to Americans than the separation between slavery and freedom. Republican correspondence committees interrogated the candidates about their positions on slavery. In print, Worthington and his allies created an image of freedom for

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