(Weekly Edition) Tuesday, February 3, 1863
Col. Utley and Judge Robertson:
"Last fall, a dwarfed mulatto boy, whose African decent was perceptible only in the kinks of his hair,
took refuge within the lines of Col. Utley's regiment, the 22nd Wisconsin, then as now in Kentucky.
He was the slave of Judge Robertson, and had been hired by his master to an Irishman, who had not seen
him at the time of acquiring a claim upon his services, and who expected of him a man's work. Being
disappointed in the physical ability of the slave, the Irishman had beaten him, threatened to kill him
if he could not get back the worth of his money. The boy fled to the woods and subsided awhile on nuts,
but was finally driven within the lines of the 22nd by a snowstorm. His owner hearing of his
whereabouts applied for him to Col. Utley. The slave declining to go on his own accord, Col. Utley, in
obedience to the act of Congress prohibiting officers of the Army from returning fugitive slaves, would
not deliver him against his will. The Judge then tried the bullying game, but in vain. Since then he
has been making ranting speeches against the abolition Colonel, as he styles Col. Utley.
Not content with that, he has procured the indictment of the Colonel by a Grand Jury, on a charge of
kidnapping a slave, the penalties for which, by the Statutes of Kentucky, are very severe. Col. Utley
relies to the speeches in a letter to the Lexington Observer, bidding the "conservative" Kentucky Judge
defiance. At the latest accounts the "boy" was still in camp, and or so was he Colonel of the 22nd. It
is probable they will remain there for some time to come, as it is quite likely that Wisconsin pluck
will be for Kentucky Chivalry.
Adam the African American Slave in Kentucky
Colonel William F. Utley, 22nd Wisconsin Infantry
1. Chief Justice George Robertson the slave owner from Kentucky and signatory of the Missouri
Compromise. He also was the lawyer for Mary Todd Lincoln's father's estate when he died.
2. George Robertson was a cruel man who rented his boy Adam (who was a human being) to a very cruel
"During the entire war there hung in the post office at Racine a heavy collar of rough heavy prongs
about eight inches tall projecting upward therefrom. This was sent us by Col. William L. Utley, a
Racine man, who was the Colonel of the Wisconsin Regiments which were at the quartered somewhere in
Kentucky. It seems a Negro had come into the camp (ADAM) of the regiment wearing this collar which his
master (Justice George Robertson of Kentucky) had ordered welded around his neck "to teach him not to
run away," and that Colonel Utley had ordered it taken off and the Negro given employment in the camp.
As this was after Lincoln's preliminary emancipation---whose terms excepted the State of Kentucky---this
was a risky thing for Colonel Utley to do. And so, when some days after, the Negro's owner, one Judge
Robertson, who, was as I remember, was a justice of some higher Kentucky state court, drove up in a
coach and four demanded his slave of Colonel Utley, it behooved the Colonel to circumspect in his reply.
"Paris is worth a mass," said Henry the Fourth when reproached with apostatizing to retain his thrown;
and the loyalty of the Border States---always a ticklish thing in the diplomacy of those days-was worth
one poor slave! But the Wisconsin Colonel was equal to the delimena. He received the Judge with
dignity and deference. " I am almost sure that your runaway slave is here at this moment in my camp, he
said." "You are at liberty to go and come as you desire through the camp, and will be amply protected,
and if you find your slave you can make him any inducement or offer you please to return with you, and
no opposition will be offered you by any of my men to his accompanying you. But of course," added
Colonel Utley, "I have know right to order my men to perform anything but their military duties, and
there is only one provost marshal to a thousand men and he may not be in camp at present to restrain any
undue activity of my men outside of their strictly military duties." At least Colonel Utley is credited
with words to this effect upon that occasion. Whether it was because Judge Robertson himself of
Falstaffian proportions, or because he perceived an absence of cordiality in the bearing of a thousand
soldiers among whom his search was to be conducted, His honor appears to have agreed with Sir John that
the better part of valor is discretion and to have ordered his coachman to drive him thence sans his
proprietary Negro! This did not prevent him, however, from instituting a civil suit in the Kentucky
Supreme Court against Colonel Utley for (reparations) personally for the value of the slave, which suit,
Colonel Utley did not defend, went to judgment, and a transcript or exemplified copy of such judgment
being filed in the office of the clerk of the circuit court RACINE County, Racine Circuit Court against
Colonel Utley in his home county. I suppose this judgment is still on record in the clerkıs office of
Racine County. But I am sure it is superfluous to add that no sheriff of that county or any other ever
received an execution against Colonel Utley-or, if he did, ever levied thereunder upon any assets of
Colonel Utley or of Colonel Utley's estate."
"The dwarf Negro fugitive (Adam), about whom much of this controversy raged, came to Wisconsin and
located at Waukesha, where it is reported, he was living until quite recently, engaged as a drayman."
Drayman-a man who drives a dray; dray-something drawn, a low built cart with detachable sides, for
carrying heavy loads. To carry or haul on a dray; to drive a dray...
Judge George Robertson to Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862
Dispute over his property Adam the slave: "In my late Telegram to you I did allude to either my boy
Adam, or to Utley, or in his case. Deriving your information, as you must have done, from some other
source you have been misinformed and, consequently, have altogether misconceived the motive of the
dispatch, when you say, in your letter the 26th ult., "I now understand the (my) trouble is with Utley"
&c. and also "If were to be personally wounded, I think I would not shew it"I had put Col. Utley in the
position which I preferred and I neither intended nor desired to seek any foreign intervention in that,
my own case. According to the law of Kentucky that Col has been guilty of a Felony punishable by
confinement (for not turning over Adam) in the Penitentiary where Fairbank has already served nearly 12
years for a similar offence. Col Utley has, at the instance of the public prosecutor, been indicted and
the Grand Jury returned "a true bill" unamimously."
"AS TO MY BOY Adam I have not yet decided what I will do." I never was proslavery-in principle or in
feeling. Living in a slave state I have been necessitated to own a few slaves who are happier with me
than they could be if free and of a degraded caste."
Colonel William Utley to Governor Alexander Randall (Wisconsin)
November 17, 1862
"I am in a devil of a scrape, and appeal to you for assistance. I have to a very limited extent carried
out the laws of Congress and the Proclamation of the President. All of Kentucky is a blaze. I am ahead
yet, but they have taken a new dodge on me, they have got me indicted at Lexington under the Laws of
Kentucky. The warrant is in the hands of the sheriff of this county (Jessamin Co.) he finds the same
difficulty that the rats did in getting the bell on the cat, it would be a good thing to have done, but
a bad thing, to do. They find it so in arresting me. They can never do it while there is a man left in
the 22nd Regiment."
Colonel Utley to Abraham Lincoln
November 17, 1862
Writing about the fact his reward for serving his State and Country:
"As compensation for these sacrifices, hardships and exposures, for which Kentucky receives the
benefits, I now find myself indicted for man-stealing, by a Kentucky court, and hunted by her officers
as a felon for her penitentiary."
President Lincoln to Hon. Judge George Robertson
November 26, 1862
"A few days since I had a dispatch from you which I did not answer. If I were to wounded personally, I
think I would not shew it. But it is the life of the nation."
"I now understand the trouble is with Col. Utley; that he has five slaves in his camp, four of whom
belong to the rebels and belonging to you. If this be true convey yours to Col. Utley, so that he can
make him free, and I will pay you any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars."
November 20, 1862: letter: Lincoln to Robertson
"Your dispatch of yesterday is just received. I believe you are acquainted with the American colonies
(if this he said) and to able remember a speech of Patrick Henry in which he represents a certain
character in the revolutionary times, as, totally disregarding all given times country, hoarsely
howling, beef, beef! Beef!!
Do you not know that I may as well summon out this blank directly as to make say over this obvious
papers which blank blank to return fugitive slaves."
August 15, 1855
Lincoln to Robertson
Excerpt: " I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal
failure of Henry clay, and other good and great men, in 1849, to effect any thing in favor of gradual
emancipation in Kentucky, together with a thousand other signs, extinguishes that hop utterly. On the
question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of
King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that "all men are created equal" a self evident
truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become
greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim "a self evident lie" The fourth of July has not quite
dwindled away; it is still great day for burning fire-crackers!!!
"Our political problem now is "Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently-forever-half slave,
and half free?" The problem is too mighty for me. My God in his mercy, superintend the solution. Your
much obliged friend and humble servant."
As published in "The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1879), p. 613-614
COL. WILLIAM L. UTLEY is a native of Monson, Mass., where he was born, July 10, 1814;
when 4 years of age, his parents removed to Ohio, which was then an almost unbroken wilderness;
when he was 21 years of age, feeling the necessity for better educational opportunities,
he went to New York State, where he struggled hard, with little means, to gain the end he
had in view; he lived a nomadic sort of life, and, in 1844, he found himself in Racine
set up as a portrait painter and musician; in 1848 he became politically roused, and
united with the Free Soil or Republican movement, and, upon that issue, was elected the
first Marshal Racine ever had; in 1850, was elected to the Legislature, and re-elected in
1851; in 1852, he was appointed Adjutant General of the State, and, in 1860, was elected
to the State Senate; in 1861, he was again, appointed Adjutant General of the State, and,
though there was hardly a soldier in the State when he entered upon his duties, within
six months he placed 30,000 men in the field, and was complimented for his brave and
energetic action, in a private letter from President Lincoln; upon the accession of
Gov. Harvey, he again entered the Senate, and soon after his return home, at the close
of the session, he received a colonel's commission, with orders to raise a regiment in
ten days; at the expiration of that time, he reported at Madison with men enough for
two regiments, one of which, the 22d. was assigned to him, and with them he went to
the front; he was at one time confined for several months in Libby Prison, and, withal,
had a most stirring military experience; in July, 1864, he was obliged to resign his
commission, on account of impaired health; after being, in a measure, restored, he,
in company with his son, purchased the Racine Journal, which he conducted for nine
years; in 1869, he was appointed Postmaster, and was re-appointed in 1873;
he has given special attention to the raising of blooded horses, for nearly thirty years,
and has raised many which have become celebrated; Col. Utley has been twice married: first,
on July 11, 18--, to Louisa Wing, who died April 10, 1864; they had three children,
only one of whom, a son, is living; he again married, on the 22d of February, 1866,
Miss Sarah J. Wooster, by whom he has one son.
As published in the "Racine County Militant", p. 106:
The following letter of Samuel D. Hastings, treasurer of the
state during the war, fairly expresses the sentiment of the people
of Wisconsin for Colonel Utley:
Excerpts from the "Racine County Militant", pages 97-106:
Colonel Utley and the Runaway Slaves
During the Fall of 1862, there was much controversy in the border states over the status
of the slave and the slaveholder in their relations with the army and its operation there.
In Kentucky, the difference between a Union man and a Rebel was often determined by the
character of the army in closest proximity to a given point; if it was a Rebel force, a
loyal man could not be found; if a Federal army was near, anybody could qualify as a Union
man even though he kept slaves. The state tried to be neutral but made poor work of it.
Under these circumstances, the Federal commanders, as a rule, found it convenient to
return any negroes held in their lines, on demand of their masters and in accordance
with state law.
There was one brave, tender-hearted, right-minded officer from Racine, however,
who took a course in the matter which although in direct conflict with the wishes of
his superior officers, met a prompt and enthusiastic response of approval and applause
from all over the loyal North, and particularly from his home state
Colonel William L. Utley, of the Twenty-second regiment, persistently refused to deliver to
their alleged owners any fugitive slaves seeking refuge in his line, in which position
he was earnestly supported by his men. The following
account of the difficulty has been made up from letters to the
Racine papers by Chaplain C. D. Pillsbury; articles in The Milwaukee
Sentinel from its correspondent in the field, "B. S. H."; and from Colonel Utley's own
written version of the controversy. These men saw and heard the things about which
they wrote. This sketch was submitted also, to Captain
Francis R. Mead and John C. Lunn, of Company A, of the
Twenty-second, and they endorsed it as being a substantially
correct account of the experience of their regiment and its colonel
with the slave power in Kentucky.
About November 4, 1862, in the midst of a snow storm, a dwarf African American boy came into Colonel
Utley's camp. He said that he had been living on waInuts and acorns in the woods for more
than a week, and had sought refuge in other regiments but was told they were not
allowed to keep him. The boys of Company A took pity on him, gave him clothes and
shoes- for he was nearly naked- and "fed him up." About
ten days later, there drove into camp one morning in a fine carriage with
a coachman, the Chief Justice of the state of
Kentucky, Robertson, who demanded of Colonel Utley that
he deliver to him his runaway boy. The colonel
said that if the boy was within his lines, and was willing to go
with him, he would not object, but he refused to deliver him
The boy was found and brought before his master and the colonel, both of whom
questioned him closely. In his replies
he accused fhe Judge of cruelty and injustice and declined to
go with him. Judge Robertson then assumed a magisterial air,
informing his hearers that he. was "some pumpkins" in Kentucky; "was the only man
living who had voted in Congress
for the Missouri Compromise; he had written and spoken eloquently in favor of
emancipation." He said that he "didn't
like slavery, but that if the Union army was going to trample
the rights of Kentucky citizens under its feet, there wouldn't
be a Union man left in the state, and the Union could never
"Sir," roared the colonel, "do you think you will take that boy?"
The shout that went up from a thousand soldiers, told him plainly that it would not be safe to
attempt it, and he did not, but drove out of camp in high dudgeon.
In about two hours, Colonel Utley was ordered to report forthwith to General Coburn, brigade
commander, who advised him that in the interest of peace and harmony he had better obey the
order of General Gilmore, and return
the fugitives; that notwithstanding the proclamation of the president, (*see below)
he regarded the status of slavery in Kentucky the same, and entitled to the same rights and
privileges "as though no army was there."
Colonel Utley, though an inferior officer, begged to differ with him; he "regarded the
status of the army the same in Kentucky, and entitled to the same rights and privileges
as though no slavery existed here." Continuing he said: Kentucky has resorted to
all means to seduce the officers of the Union Army, and all that handsome women, fine
carriages, sumptuous dinners, win, and great men could do, has been done to lay me under
obligations to their policey, but my honor as a gentleman and a soldier has so far
deterred by from yielding. I stand alone. Every other officer has yielded, and I am
reminded of a speech of Charles Sumner, who said that slavery reminded him of the
fabled mountain in Arabia whose magnetic attraction was so great that it drew the bolts out of
every ship that passed, so that they fell to pieces; so it is here.
Slavery in Kentucky has, by her wily machinations, drawn the bolts out of
every true man, they have gone to pieces. But I want you, General, and Judge
Robinson (who stood near) to understand that God Almighty put heads on both ends of the
bolts that hold me together, which slavery can never draw out so long as soul and body
hang together"; and he did not deliver the boy to Judge Robinson, nor did
his superior officers attempt to force his acquiescense in their view of the matter.
While the fracas was at its height, one of the African Americans was
decoyed out of the lines, into a cornfield, where he was delivered over to his owner,
by a soldier of the regiment named Luce, who, it is said, turned traitor to his comrades
He never repented the depicable trick, although life was made miserable for him
during the balance of his stay with the regiment. If the boy had been smart
enough to have stayed within the regimental lines, he would have been safe, for that,
under the proclamation of the President, was United
States territory, and not under state law.
Testing their mettle
When the brigade to which the Twenty-second was attached was about to leave Louisville,
that regiment was ordered, in punishment for the obstinacy of its commander and
men, to remain behind to receive alone the wrath of the citizens of the town for holding
and attempting to carry away slaves. The brigade, minus the Twenty-second, as they
marched through town on their departure, still carried in
their ranks, some few colored men, but the soldiers were assaulted with stones,
clubs, and revolvers, and actually intimidated into releasing all of them.
The next day when the Twenty-second was to leave, Colonel Utley
was informed that he would never get away with any African Americans.
When ready to march, he ordered his regiment
to load their guns and fix bayonets, and then advised the citizens
of Louisville that if they intended any such hostile demonstrations against him as
was shown the other regiments of the
brigade the day previous, that they had better clear the city of
women and children, for "as sure as there was a God in
Heaven, he would shoot down every man who interfered with
him, and lay their town in ashes. Not a hand was raised
against theim as they marched out, although one slave owner
did allow his valor to get the better of his discretion, and ran
inside the regimental lines to lay hold of his boy, but
found himself at once, "up against" about a dozen bayonet
points, some of which got through his hide to the seat of his
intelligence, and prompted a precipitate retreat.
Captain Mead says that Judge Robertson's boy, and another about his size, were
quartered with his company, and marched at its head through the city of Louisville, to the
steamer landing. He, Captain Mead, was officer of the day at Louisville, and placed
the boys between two big guards at the head of the column, and although there
were officers at the gang plank with civil processes for their arrest, and although
threats were made that they would never be taken away, they
were marched onto the boat and locked in a stateroom by
Captain Mead, who ordered that no civil officer should be allowed on the steamer.
No attempt was made to take the boys off.
Chaplain C. D. Pillsbury's view of the matter was given in a letter to
The Advocate of February 11, '63, as follows:
"There can be no doubt, from circumstances, that the
Twenty-second was left to march through Louisville alone, that
she might settle the question with Kentuckians in her own
way. It is a significant fact that orders were issued to every
other regiment, by General Granger, to take no colored persons
on the boats who had not free papers. In referring to this order,
Colonel Utley said to General Baird, Ours have no free papers, but
they have declared their intentions."
An attempt was made to prevent the 'Commercial' from leaving with
contrabands on board, and the Captain, a Kentuckian, declared that he
should be responsible for all African Americans who left in the boats."
The Colonel told him that he
was commanding that boat, and ordered him to steam up.
"Then came the sheriff of Jefferson county to serve writs
on Colonel Utley, for three African Americans, Abraham, George and
John, valued at $800 each. He received them with dignity, and though
informed that all action would be withdrawn if they were given up, he
gave the necessary order, and the boat, with all on board, including
contrabands, moved quietly down the river, as though nothing had happened.
There was evidence that those citizens of Louisville capable of appreciating
courage and self-respect, had a better opinion of the Twenty-second
regiment than of those that submitted to their bullying tactics, and
surrendered their principles with the colored whom they released.
After Colonel Utley and the Twenty-second regiment left the state,
the controversy was continued for weeks in the newspapers, on the
platform, and by correspondence, and although in the end, the verdict
of the courts was adverse to our fiery colonel, and a judgment of $1000
was ordered paid, and was paid by him, the facts of the case, and its
merits, were so well aired., that every right-minded, straight-thinking man,
in the North, at least, was back of Colonel Utley in his courageous
stand for principle, and for humanity.
Matt. H. Carpenter of Milwaukee, was attorney for Colonel Utley, in the
trial of the case, but he was obliged to pay the $1000 judgment,
although the government later reimbursed him fully.
Some years later it was reported in Racine that Judge
Robertson was dead, and Colonel Utley, in his paper, The Journal, gave
him the benefit of an extended obituary notice, which could hardly
be called a eulogy. On learning a few days later that the report of the
Judge's death was incorrect, the Colonel
had the pleasure of transmitting a copy of the paper containing his
funeral notice to Judge Robertson in Kentucky. How it was received the
colonel never knew, or much cared.
Both sides in this controversy appealed to the President
and the matter was discussed at two cabinet meetings. Mr.
Lincoln said to Colonel Utley's representative, The Sentinel
correspondent: "this is a devilish vexed question at this time.
Both sides wish to draw from me an opinion, and although I
despise duplicity, perhaps more than any other living man, yet
for the sake of harmony in this hour of our nation's greatest
trial, I would like to slide along through this crisis without
committing myself to either side." And he took no part in
The dwarf African American fugitive, about whom, much of the
controversy raged, came to Wisconsin, and located at Waukesha,
where it is reported, he was living until quite recently, engaged
as a drayman.
On Nov. 26, 1862, the local papers printed an open letter
to Colonel Utley, signed by 49 prominent citizens of Racine,
expressing approval, satisfaction, and pride in his action in
refusing to surrender the runaway slave at the demand of the
Kentucky state authorities.
Chaplain Pillsbury's reports of the affair seemed particularly to
nettle Judge Robertson, and he took occasion to make a public
address at Lexington, Ky., in which he accused the chaplain
of many unfair and untrue statements. The local papers had been
furnished a full report of the address, and printed some abstracts
from it, in reply to which Rev. Pillsbury made full and satisfactory
refutation of the charges.
*Proclamation of the President, dated September 22, 1862, declaring his
intention of freeing all slaves in states or parts of states which
are in rebellion against the United States Government on January 1,
1863; and calling attention, among others, to section 9 of an Act of
Congress entitled "An act to make an additional article of war." approved
March 13, 1862, which reads - "And be it further enacted, that all
slaves or persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against
the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid
or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge
within the lines of the army, and all slaves captured from such
persons or deserted by them, and coming under the control of the government
of the United States, and all slaves of such persons found on or being
within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterward occupied by the
forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war and shall
be forever free of their servitude and not again held as slaves."
Some terminology has been changed or omitted from
the originally published version
so as not to offend. For the originally published version,
a copy of the book from a public library.