The Princeton Fugitive Slave: The Trials of James Collins Johnson

Fordham Univ. Sept. 2019. 272p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780823285341. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780823285358. HIST
As an undergraduate at Princeton in 1979, Inniss (Southern Methodist Univ. Dedman Sch. of Law, Dallas) heard an oral history that nearly 40 years later has culminated in this groundbreaking work of scholarship examining the relationship between the institutions of higher education and slavery. Inniss brings to the forefront the previously lost history, legal case study of James Collins Johnson. After escaping slavery in 1839, Johnson was employed by Princeton, where, in 1843, he was recognized by a student and subsequently arrested and subjected to a trial for extradition under the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. Drawing from an extensive variety of source material comprising nearly 900 notes, Inniss skillfully sets the context for Johnson’s escape from slavery, arrival on campus, and conditions of his trial. Thanks to benefactors, Johnson is granted his freedom and becomes a beloved, if often derided, member of the campus community as a university employee and then a favored street vendor. Upon Johnson’s death in 1902, graduates of Princeton raised funds to erect his headstone reading, “The Student’s Friend.”
VERDICT Inniss presents a riveting legal review of a high-profile fugitive slave case. Whereas Johnson’s story had previously been localized, this study is a welcome addition to all research, legal, and public libraries as an invaluable addition to this emergent field of studies.
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