The Case Against Daniel Drayton

Testimony about Andrew Houver's slaves


 and being asked [crossed out: by the perpetrator concerned] what he understood by the shore commander and as that it related, answered that he understood it as meaning that Drayton would aid  a runaway to escape to the free states, and that he never had heard Drayton charged, in fact or comment, with being capable of stealing a slave: and upon [crossed out: the] __ by __ values the said Andrew Houver gave evidence lending to prove that the two negroes in question led themselves out of the house of the said evidence certainly on the night of said larceny, after the family had retired and went on board said ship.


That the river from Point Lookout to the upper end of Cornfield harbor was a good harbor That the witness had presumably seen vessels anchored under Point Lookout, both on the Bay side, and on the river side, came an unfaceable wind for going on the bay: that sometimes they would anchor there mainly to take rest if they had been kept out by the weather 

The prosecution’s fantastic allegations against Daniel Drayton laid the foundation for an dramatic trial. The prosecutor Barton Key accused Captain Drayton of stealing and transporting slaves and further attempting to profit by fleeing further south to sell the fugitives. Interestingly, in one indictment concerning Andrew Houver’s slaves, Key argued that stealing a slave was not only stealing physical property but also intellectual property: the slaves’s knowledge. In this argument, Key had seemingly acknowledged a slave’s humanity, an idea that contradicted foundational basis of slavery. 

The defense countered that Drayton was not a profiteer feeling south, but rather was determined to set the enslaved persons free. Horace Mann, who represented Drayton, brought forth character witnesses to testify about Drayton’s moral character and intentions. The above document A describes the direct testimony of one such witness, Samuel Nelson of Philadelphia, who described Drayton’s good standing in the Methodist Church and impeccable moral character. On cross-examination however, Key was able to have Nelson admit that Nelson had heard about Drayton’s “running off negroes into the free water” but Nelson quickly mentioned it was done in a joking manner. Furthermore, as shown in document B, the captain of The Salem, the ship which captured the Pearl, also testified that the schooner was in no condition to sail any further than the bay, making it unlikely that Drayton was heading further south.

Mann called slaves, Joe and Frank, who owned by Houver, to testify that the two of them had in fact had not been stolen but rather ran away on their own account. However, Mann’s attempt was stymied. The judge ruled that blacks could not be called to testify in cases involving whites regardless of their legal status, demonstrating the legal discrimination against free blacks as well.

Thus, it was not a surprise when only a few days later the jury returned a guilty verdict for all counts of stealing and transporting Andrew Hoover’s slaves. It certainly didn’t help that the proceedings had rapidly captured the attention of much of Washington and the nation. Many people’s had already made up their mind about the guilt of Daniel Drayton. The jurors were selected from the same crowds that angrily accosted Drayton following The Pearl’s capture. The cards were clearly stacked against Drayton and Mann. 

After unsuccessful attempts at appeals, both Daniel Drayton and Edward Sayers were sentenced to upward of ten years. However, after only serving four years of their sentence, Senator Charles Sumner petitioned President Millard Fillmore for pardons of both men. In 1852, Sumner’s request was granted and the men were freed.

 Siena Marcelle, Junior Researcher, OC History Lab 2016

The Case Against Daniel Drayton