"Where did you come from, Uncle Mingo?"
asked the little boy.
"From Africa," answered the old colored man.
"They brought me over here when I was no bigger
than you are now, and I've been a slave ever since."
"How did they do that?"
"A lot of us children were playing together on the
shore when some white men jumped out of the
bushes, and caught us, and dragged us off to a ship.
We tried our best to get away. I held on to the thorn
bushes until my hands were bleeding as if I had cut
them with a knife. But the men pulled me away.
None of us ever saw our fathers and mothers any
more. I've been a slave all these long years."
Isaac T. Hopper was only nine years old when he
talked With' Uncle Mingo. But he was old enough
to say to himself that if he ever had opportunity to
help a Negro who was in trouble, he would do so.
All his life he remembered this promise. He be-
came known as the sure friend of the colored people.
During the first half of the last century many colored
men and women were living in Philadelphia who
had escaped from slavery in the Southern States.
They were in constant danger of being recognized by
their former owners and carried back to slavery.
There were frequent cases, too, where free Negroes
were kidnaped and taken away to be sold. For forty
years, Isaac Hopper was never sure of a night's rest.
Again and again he was roused by some terrified
Negro. Perhaps the cry would be, "The slave-catchers
have found my husband and they have him in prison
until they can prove he is a slave and take him
away." Or perhaps he would be called to help a free
man prove that he had always been free or had
bought his right to freedom.
Isaac Hopper was, only about sixteen years of age
in 1787 when he helped the first of these unfortu-
nates. A slave from Bermuda had been hired out by
his master to work on a ship going to New York. But
as soon as he reached port, the slave, named Joe,
slipped away and walked to Philadelphia for safety.
Unfortunately, on his first day in Philadelphia he
ran into a friend of his master. The friend had no
idea that Joe was trying to escape, but merely thought
he had been left behind, and kindly offered to help
him get back home. Young Isaac Hopper saw the
two as they waited for the boat to Bermuda. He de-
cided that Joe was really not as pleased at the pros-
pect of returning home as he pretended to be.
Watching his chance, young Isaac whispered to the
slave, "Do you really want to go back?" You can
count on me to be your friend and never betray you."
The colored man looked at him long and earnestly.
Isaac never forgot that look of distress. Then Joe
told him the truth, and Isaac set himself about doing
what he could to help him. He knew few people in
Philadelphia, but he consulted a friendly neighbor
and learned of a Quaker in the country who was a
good friend of the colored people. Joe was given a
letter to this Quaker, along with careful instructions
how to reach him.
According to their plan, in order to avoid suspicion
and pursuit, the Negro went aboard ship, but the
next day was allowed to go ashore for some clothes
he had purposely left behind. Once on shore, away
from Philadelphia he went, walking all night long.
The next morning he reached his destination safely
and delivered Isaac's letter. He was kindly received,
found a job, and lived as a free man for the rest of
This was Isaac's first opportunity to help a Negro
to freedom. Forty years later, he had saved over a
thousand men and women. The colored people of
Philadelphia believed in him absolutely. He knew all
the laws connected with slavery so well that even
lawyers found themselves no match for him. But
when his knowledge of law was not enough, his mind
worked like a flash, and again and again he helped
fugitives to escape from under the very hands of their
On one occasion when an escaped slave was given
haven in Isaac Hopper's home, his master came and
set a guard before the house to prevent him escaping
to the street. But Isaac Hopper had arranged for him
to flee through the back of the house and over the
backyard fence. The master was literally stretching
out his hand toward his property when the slave
bolted through the back door, turned the key which
locked the door from the outside. Before the master
could find another way to the rear of. the house, the
slave had climbed the fence and was out, of sight.
Often Hopper's quick wits turned the tables on
slaveholders in most unexpected fashion. Once a
slave case was brought before a Judge Rush. The
Judge seemed to favor the owner, and the unhappy
Negro began to despair. Just then, Isaac Hopper said
to the Judge: "Hast thou not recently published a
legal opinion in which it is distinctly stated that thou
wouldst never seek to sustain a human law if thou
were convinced that it conflicted with any law in the
"Yes," answered Judge Rush. "I did publish such
statement, and I am ready to abide by it; for in all
cases I consider the divine law above the human
Calmly, Friend Hopper drew from his pocket a
small Bible, and read aloud a couple of verses from
the 23rd Chapter of Deuteronomy:
"Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant
which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall
dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which
he shall choose, in one of the gates, where it liketh
him best; thou shalt not oppress him."
The slaveholder laughed. "Why should that old
Hebrew law be brought into a modern court?" But
when the Judge asked for the book, read the passage
for himself, and then adjourned the decision of the
case, the owner walked out of the courthouse mutter-
ing, "I believe in my soul the old fool will let him
off on that ground." And surely enough, the slave
THEODORE PARKER'S PLACARD
PLACARD WHICH WAS WRITTEN BY THEODORE PARKER AND POSTED
BY THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE AFTER THE RENDITION OF THOMAS
SIMS TO SLAVERY IN APRIL, 1851
So this friend of the Negro labored year after year.
The first fugitive slave who was endangered by the
Law of 1850 was saved by Isaac T. Hopper, then
eighty years old, and living in New York. This slave
had lived for several years in Worcester, Massachu-
setts, but had gone to New York to be married,
on the very day that his former master arrived in
Worcester to search for him. A friend of the colored
man sent word to Isaac Hopper by telegraph. Though
it arrived at midnight, Hopper sprang from his bed
as he had done so often before, and hurried to warn
the fugitive. The poor fellow feared it might be a
trick to capture him, but his young wife looked earn-
estly at the face of the patriarch, and said, "I would
trust that Quaker gentleman anywhere. Let us go
They spent the rest of the night at the Hopper
home, and a few days later went to Canada. Six
months imprisonment and a fine of a thousand dol-
lars was the penalty under the new law for anyone
who should be convicted of aiding a runaway slave.
But Friend Hopper said time and again:
"I have never tried to make any slave discontented
with his situation, because I do not consider it either
wise or kind to do so; but so long as my life is spared,
I will always assist anyone who is trying to escape
from slavery, be the laws what they may."
In 1852, Isaac T. Hopper died. He had been over-
seer of a school for colored children; volunteer
teacher in a school for adult Negroes; lawyer and
protector of slaves and colored people upon all occa-
sions. But he did far more than this. The poor were
continually calling upon him to plead with hard-
hearted landlords and, creditors. In New York, for
years, he was secretary of the newly formed Prison
Association, to help men and women discharged from
prison to find work and lead honest lives. The Isaac
T. Hopper Home on Second Avenue in New York
still helps women who have met with the law, and
carries on the spirit of the man whom it commemo-
rates. A friend once said of him: "The Bible requires
us to love our neighbors as well as ourselves: Friend
Isaac has loved them better."