The Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions originated in a public meeting held on the 29th of July, 1836, not far from the banks of the Scioto River, at the original courthouse of Pike County, Ohio, in the village of Piketon. By the summer of 1836, Piketon’s future prospects were already being eclipsed by Waverly’s. Thanks to its location on the Ohio-Erie Canal, Waverly had risen to regional economic dominance.
In the weeks preceding the Piketon meeting, great excitement and controversy had erupted in Waverly and Piketon over the issue of abolition. The Rev. Edward Weed, an organizer for the American Anti-Slavery Society, had been run out of Waverly by a mob led by the town’s founder and most wealthy resident, James Emmitt. In reaction to Weed’s visit, a group of prominent community members called a public meeting and, according to an account published in the Chillicothe Gazette, “a large and respectable meeting of citizens of Piketon and the vicinity” assembled and chose John Innskeep Vanmeter to preside. Vanmeter was a Virginian by birth, who had been raised in a family of wealthy slaveowners. He was a graduate of Princeton University, a lawyer and former state representative in Virginia before moving to Pike County in the 1820s, where he settled on lands inherited from his father. Upon his arrival in the Scioto valley, Vanmeter had quickly emerged as a prominent leader of the local Whig party and was, at the time of the Piketon public meeting, a candidate for the Ohio legislature in the upcoming fall elections. His victory that November of 1836 would re-launch his political career in Ohio, a career that ultimately took him to Washington, D.C., as a US Congressman, representing a district that included much of the Lower Scioto Valley.
Vanmeter and his neighbors who had gathered here at Piketon in the summer of 1836 were anti-abolitionists, opponents of the antislavery movement that sought the emancipation of African-Americans. As the presiding chairman of the meeting, Vanmeter was given the job of selecting a committee to draft resolutions – and on this committee were among others, Abraham Chenoweth and William Reed.
Abraham Chenoweth, one of the older members of the committee, was an early settler on what was then called Pee Pee Prairie, just north of Piketon. Chenoweth was the patriarch of a family that had recently become divided over the abolition question. Chenoweth, it turns out, was the father-in-law of Dr. William Blackstone of Waverly, one of the most vocal supporters of abolition in the region. Blackstone had sparked the local controversy that led to the Piketon public meeting. It had been at Blackstone’s invitation that Edward Weed had come to Pike County.
The other notable member of the Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions Committee was William Reed, who, it turns out, was another one of Abraham Chenoweth’s sons-in-law. Reed’s familial background is particularly noteworthy as he came from a prominent southern Ohio family. William Reed’s mother, Rebecca Lucas Reed, was the sister of Robert Lucas, who was just then finishing his second term as governor of Ohio. His uncle, in other words, was the sitting Governor of Ohio. William Reed’s father, Samuel Reed, served as a Judge on the County Court of Common Pleas. When the Waverly mob had threatened to destroy the home of Blackstone and do violence to Rev. Weed, it had been Samuel Reed who interceded and negotiated the abolitionist organizer’s immediate, but non-violent expulsion from the town. William Reed, Abraham Chenoweth, and John Inskeep Vanmeter were among the most powerful and influential residents of Pike County and southern Ohio; they were also the region’s leading anti-abolitionists and their resolutions, adopted that day in late July 1836, captures the popular sentiment of the time. The Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions illustrates why the abolition movement and their efforts to help runaway slaves had to be conducted in secret, why it is possible for us today to say that these men and women played the part of an underground resistance movement, one that we more commonly know as the Underground Railroad.
Vanmeter’s committee produced and the meeting then adopted the following resolutions:
“Whereas the subject of modern abolition has created, and is still causing great excitement in this State, particularly in the town of Waverly and Piketon, and the county generally, and viewing with regret the unwarrantable steps taken by certain enthusiastic abolitionists lately, to agitate the public mind on this subject by lectures, and by circulating pamphlets, calculated not only to disturb our peace and happiness as citizens, but, if suffered to proceed, will ultimately cause a disunion of this great and glorious Republic. Viewing, then, Abolitionism as one of the greatest evils, and tending directly to infringe the compact of our Federal Union, we cannot but look upon these infatuated zealots as the worst of enemies we have to fear in this day of our national prosperity.
“1. Resolved, Therefore, that we, the citizens of Piketon and the vicinity, in council assembled, are diametrically opposed to modern abolitionism, and feel no desire to interfere with the concerns of the slave-holing States, and still less between master and slave.
“2. Resolved, That we disapprove of the late conduct of certain abolitionists who have attempted to deliver lectures on this subject; also, we are determined to discountenance them in the circulation of inflammatory publications.
“3. Resolved, That we do in the most unequivocal terms request all abolitionists to desist from visiting our towns for the purpose of delivering lectures, or circulating publications on the subject of abolition; and should they persist we will not hold ourselves accountable for the consequences.”