Welcome to South Bend: The South Bend Fugitive Slave Case

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References and credits:

Photos of the Powells, the Powells’ lawyer, and John Norris are used with permission by The Old Time Moan.

The main source of this story is the document whose cover appears in the title and within the comic. It was written soon after the trial by Edwin Crocker, a South Bend lawyer and abolitionist who represented the Powells in this case. He was later among those sued by John Norris.

Crocker’s account was published by the St. Joseph County Register (Archibald Beal, publisher) and is held in the Michiana Memory Digital Collection at the St. Joseph County Public Library. It was published in 1873, almost twenty-five years after the events, and offers the following updates on the main players in the drama:

“[Edwin] Crocker, writer of the foregoing pages, after occupying a seat on the Supreme Court bench of California, resides at Sacramento.”

Regarding the attorney for Norris who jumped on the table and told Norris to shoot anyone who tried to interfere: “J. A. Liston, finding it inconvenient to reside in South Bend, took up his abode in Indianapolis, and is there still.”

And my favorite update: “John Norris is a wrecked specimen of patriarchism in Kentucky – poor but respectable as the world goes there.”

“Slavery is abolished,” the postscript concludes, and much credit is given to “the noble, self-sacrificing men of South Bend, whose idyll is written in these pages, and whose names will be honored in poem and story when the record of slavery and its wrongs shall have assumed the character of a legend.”

The image of the Powells’ “friends from Cass County” is actually a photo of the NAACP taken a hundred years later (1950) in Dallas and published in The Crisis, the magazine published by the NAACP.

Other pre-1922 public domain images were found in the collections of the Library of Congress and New York Public Library, including the 1852 Indiana map and Harriet Beecher Stowe illustration. Stowe, it turns out, wrote two books about dogs.


Kelcey Parker Ervick likes to tell offbeat histories, preferably about women and preferably with drawings. She is the author of three award-winning books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, about a not very bitter Czech fairy tale writer, and Liliane's Balcony, in which Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater may be haunted. Her comics and graphic essays have appeared in The Believer, Quarterly West, Passages North, and Nashville Review. She is the co-editor, with Tom Hart, of the forthcoming Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature. Follow her daily-ish art habit on Instagram. More from this author →