The Wadsworth Hotel played an important role in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Case.
On September 13, 1858, a federal marshal in Oberlin, Ohio arrested a runaway slave named John Price. Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, the federal government was required to assist slaveholders in reclaiming their runaway slaves. The marshal knew that many Oberlin residents were committed to abolitionism. To avoid conflict with local people, he took Price to nearby Wellington. As soon as Oberlin residents heard of the marshal's actions, a group of them went to Wellington. There they joined like-minded residents of the Wellington community and attempted to free Price. The marshal and his deputies took refuge in the Wadsworth Hotel. After peaceful negotiations failed, the mob stormed the hotel and found Price in the attic. The group immediately returned Price to Oberlin, where they hid him in the home of Oberlin College's president. A short time later, they took Price to freedom in Canada.
A federal grand jury indicted thirty-seven of the people who freed Price. Ohio authorities responded by arresting the federal marshal, his deputies, and other men involved in John Price's detention. Following negotiations between state and federal officials, the arresting officers were set free, as were thirty-five of those arrested under the federal charges. Only two of those indicted went to trial. Simeon Bushnell and Charles Langston were found guilty in federal court in April 1859. Bushnell received a sentence of sixty days in jail, while Langston's punishment was set at twenty days.
Bushnell and Langston filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Ohio Supreme Court. They claimed that the federal court did not have the authority to arrest and to try them because the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was unconstitutional. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law by a three to two ruling. This ruling angered members of Ohio's abolitionist community. More than ten thousand people participated in a Cleveland rally to oppose the federal and state courts' decisions. Because of his support for the Fugitive Slave Law, Ohio Chief Justice Joseph Swan failed to win reelection to the court.
By 1902, the Wadsworth Hotel, now known as the American House Hotel, had been demolished. The Herrick Memorial Library was constructed on the site at that time. The library remains in this location today.
- Brandt, Nat. The Town That Started the Civil War. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990.