Racine County ALHN

Colonel William F. Utley and Adam the African American Slave
Contributed by Kevin Dier-Zimmel

State Journal
Madison, Wisconsin
(Weekly Edition) Tuesday, February 3, 1863

Col. Utley and Judge Robertson:

"Last fall, a dwarfed mulatto boy, whose African decent was perceptible only in the kinks of his hair, took refuge within the lines of Col. Utley's regiment, the 22nd Wisconsin, then as now in Kentucky. He was the slave of Judge Robertson, and had been hired by his master to an Irishman, who had not seen him at the time of acquiring a claim upon his services, and who expected of him a man's work. Being disappointed in the physical ability of the slave, the Irishman had beaten him, threatened to kill him if he could not get back the worth of his money. The boy fled to the woods and subsided awhile on nuts, but was finally driven within the lines of the 22nd by a snowstorm. His owner hearing of his whereabouts applied for him to Col. Utley. The slave declining to go on his own accord, Col. Utley, in obedience to the act of Congress prohibiting officers of the Army from returning fugitive slaves, would not deliver him against his will. The Judge then tried the bullying game, but in vain. Since then he has been making ranting speeches against the abolition Colonel, as he styles Col. Utley. Not content with that, he has procured the indictment of the Colonel by a Grand Jury, on a charge of kidnapping a slave, the penalties for which, by the Statutes of Kentucky, are very severe. Col. Utley relies to the speeches in a letter to the Lexington Observer, bidding the "conservative" Kentucky Judge defiance. At the latest accounts the "boy" was still in camp, and or so was he Colonel of the 22nd. It is probable they will remain there for some time to come, as it is quite likely that Wisconsin pluck will be for Kentucky Chivalry.

Adam the African American Slave in Kentucky
Colonel William F. Utley, 22nd Wisconsin Infantry

1. Chief Justice George Robertson the slave owner from Kentucky and signatory of the Missouri Compromise. He also was the lawyer for Mary Todd Lincoln's father's estate when he died.

2. George Robertson was a cruel man who rented his boy Adam (who was a human being) to a very cruel Irishman.

"During the entire war there hung in the post office at Racine a heavy collar of rough heavy prongs about eight inches tall projecting upward therefrom. This was sent us by Col. William L. Utley, a Racine man, who was the Colonel of the Wisconsin Regiments which were at the quartered somewhere in Kentucky. It seems a Negro had come into the camp (ADAM) of the regiment wearing this collar which his master (Justice George Robertson of Kentucky) had ordered welded around his neck "to teach him not to run away," and that Colonel Utley had ordered it taken off and the Negro given employment in the camp. As this was after Lincoln's preliminary emancipation---whose terms excepted the State of Kentucky---this was a risky thing for Colonel Utley to do. And so, when some days after, the Negro's owner, one Judge Robertson, who, was as I remember, was a justice of some higher Kentucky state court, drove up in a coach and four demanded his slave of Colonel Utley, it behooved the Colonel to circumspect in his reply. "Paris is worth a mass," said Henry the Fourth when reproached with apostatizing to retain his thrown; and the loyalty of the Border States---always a ticklish thing in the diplomacy of those days-was worth one poor slave! But the Wisconsin Colonel was equal to the delimena. He received the Judge with dignity and deference. " I am almost sure that your runaway slave is here at this moment in my camp, he said." "You are at liberty to go and come as you desire through the camp, and will be amply protected, and if you find your slave you can make him any inducement or offer you please to return with you, and no opposition will be offered you by any of my men to his accompanying you. But of course," added Colonel Utley, "I have know right to order my men to perform anything but their military duties, and there is only one provost marshal to a thousand men and he may not be in camp at present to restrain any undue activity of my men outside of their strictly military duties." At least Colonel Utley is credited with words to this effect upon that occasion. Whether it was because Judge Robertson himself of Falstaffian proportions, or because he perceived an absence of cordiality in the bearing of a thousand soldiers among whom his search was to be conducted, His honor appears to have agreed with Sir John that the better part of valor is discretion and to have ordered his coachman to drive him thence sans his proprietary Negro! This did not prevent him, however, from instituting a civil suit in the Kentucky Supreme Court against Colonel Utley for (reparations) personally for the value of the slave, which suit, Colonel Utley did not defend, went to judgment, and a transcript or exemplified copy of such judgment being filed in the office of the clerk of the circuit court RACINE County, Racine Circuit Court against Colonel Utley in his home county. I suppose this judgment is still on record in the clerkıs office of Racine County. But I am sure it is superfluous to add that no sheriff of that county or any other ever received an execution against Colonel Utley-or, if he did, ever levied thereunder upon any assets of Colonel Utley or of Colonel Utley's estate."

"The dwarf Negro fugitive (Adam), about whom much of this controversy raged, came to Wisconsin and located at Waukesha, where it is reported, he was living until quite recently, engaged as a drayman." Drayman-a man who drives a dray; dray-something drawn, a low built cart with detachable sides, for carrying heavy loads. To carry or haul on a dray; to drive a dray...

Judge George Robertson to Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862
Dispute over his property Adam the slave: "In my late Telegram to you I did allude to either my boy Adam, or to Utley, or in his case. Deriving your information, as you must have done, from some other source you have been misinformed and, consequently, have altogether misconceived the motive of the dispatch, when you say, in your letter the 26th ult., "I now understand the (my) trouble is with Utley" &c. and also "If were to be personally wounded, I think I would not shew it"‹I had put Col. Utley in the position which I preferred and I neither intended nor desired to seek any foreign intervention in that, my own case. According to the law of Kentucky that Col has been guilty of a Felony punishable by confinement (for not turning over Adam) in the Penitentiary where Fairbank has already served nearly 12 years for a similar offence. Col Utley has, at the instance of the public prosecutor, been indicted and the Grand Jury returned "a true bill" unamimously."
"AS TO MY BOY Adam I have not yet decided what I will do." I never was proslavery-in principle or in feeling. Living in a slave state I have been necessitated to own a few slaves who are happier with me than they could be if free and of a degraded caste."

Colonel William Utley to Governor Alexander Randall (Wisconsin)
November 17, 1862
"I am in a devil of a scrape, and appeal to you for assistance. I have to a very limited extent carried out the laws of Congress and the Proclamation of the President. All of Kentucky is a blaze. I am ahead yet, but they have taken a new dodge on me, they have got me indicted at Lexington under the Laws of Kentucky. The warrant is in the hands of the sheriff of this county (Jessamin Co.) he finds the same difficulty that the rats did in getting the bell on the cat, it would be a good thing to have done, but a bad thing, to do. They find it so in arresting me. They can never do it while there is a man left in the 22nd Regiment."

Colonel Utley to Abraham Lincoln
November 17, 1862
Writing about the fact his reward for serving his State and Country:

"As compensation for these sacrifices, hardships and exposures, for which Kentucky receives the benefits, I now find myself indicted for man-stealing, by a Kentucky court, and hunted by her officers as a felon for her penitentiary."

President Lincoln to Hon. Judge George Robertson
November 26, 1862
"A few days since I had a dispatch from you which I did not answer. If I were to wounded personally, I think I would not shew it. But it is the life of the nation."
"I now understand the trouble is with Col. Utley; that he has five slaves in his camp, four of whom belong to the rebels and belonging to you. If this be true convey yours to Col. Utley, so that he can make him free, and I will pay you any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars."

November 20, 1862: letter: Lincoln to Robertson
"Your dispatch of yesterday is just received. I believe you are acquainted with the American colonies (if this he said) and to able remember a speech of Patrick Henry in which he represents a certain character in the revolutionary times, as, totally disregarding all given times country, hoarsely howling, beef, beef! Beef!! Beef!!!
Do you not know that I may as well summon out this blank directly as to make say over this obvious papers which blank blank to return fugitive slaves."

Springfield, Illinois
August 15, 1855
Lincoln to Robertson
Excerpt: " I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal failure of Henry clay, and other good and great men, in 1849, to effect any thing in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky, together with a thousand other signs, extinguishes that hop utterly. On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that "all men are created equal" a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim "a self evident lie" The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still great day for burning fire-crackers!!!
"Our political problem now is "Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently-forever-half slave, and half free?" The problem is too mighty for me. My God in his mercy, superintend the solution. Your much obliged friend and humble servant."
A. Lincoln


As published in "The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1879), p. 613-614

COL. WILLIAM L. UTLEY is a native of Monson, Mass., where he was born, July 10, 1814; when 4 years of age, his parents removed to Ohio, which was then an almost unbroken wilderness; when he was 21 years of age, feeling the necessity for better educational opportunities, he went to New York State, where he struggled hard, with little means, to gain the end he had in view; he lived a nomadic sort of life, and, in 1844, he found himself in Racine set up as a portrait painter and musician; in 1848 he became politically roused, and united with the Free Soil or Republican movement, and, upon that issue, was elected the first Marshal Racine ever had; in 1850, was elected to the Legislature, and re-elected in 1851; in 1852, he was appointed Adjutant General of the State, and, in 1860, was elected to the State Senate; in 1861, he was again, appointed Adjutant General of the State, and, though there was hardly a soldier in the State when he entered upon his duties, within six months he placed 30,000 men in the field, and was complimented for his brave and energetic action, in a private letter from President Lincoln; upon the accession of Gov. Harvey, he again entered the Senate, and soon after his return home, at the close of the session, he received a colonel's commission, with orders to raise a regiment in ten days; at the expiration of that time, he reported at Madison with men enough for two regiments, one of which, the 22d. was assigned to him, and with them he went to the front; he was at one time confined for several months in Libby Prison, and, withal, had a most stirring military experience; in July, 1864, he was obliged to resign his commission, on account of impaired health; after being, in a measure, restored, he, in company with his son, purchased the Racine Journal, which he conducted for nine years; in 1869, he was appointed Postmaster, and was re-appointed in 1873; he has given special attention to the raising of blooded horses, for nearly thirty years, and has raised many which have become celebrated; Col. Utley has been twice married: first, on July 11, 18--, to Louisa Wing, who died April 10, 1864; they had three children, only one of whom, a son, is living; he again married, on the 22d of February, 1866, Miss Sarah J. Wooster, by whom he has one son.

As published in the "Racine County Militant", p. 106: The following letter of Samuel D. Hastings, treasurer of the state during the war, fairly expresses the sentiment of the people of Wisconsin for Colonel Utley:

Excerpts from the "Racine County Militant", pages 97-106: Colonel Utley and the Runaway Slaves

During the Fall of 1862, there was much controversy in the border states over the status of the slave and the slaveholder in their relations with the army and its operation there. In Kentucky, the difference between a Union man and a Rebel was often determined by the character of the army in closest proximity to a given point; if it was a Rebel force, a loyal man could not be found; if a Federal army was near, anybody could qualify as a Union man even though he kept slaves. The state tried to be neutral but made poor work of it.

Under these circumstances, the Federal commanders, as a rule, found it convenient to return any negroes held in their lines, on demand of their masters and in accordance with state law.

There was one brave, tender-hearted, right-minded officer from Racine, however, who took a course in the matter which although in direct conflict with the wishes of his superior officers, met a prompt and enthusiastic response of approval and applause from all over the loyal North, and particularly from his home state and town.

Colonel William L. Utley, of the Twenty-second regiment, persistently refused to deliver to their alleged owners any fugitive slaves seeking refuge in his line, in which position he was earnestly supported by his men. The following account of the difficulty has been made up from letters to the Racine papers by Chaplain C. D. Pillsbury; articles in The Milwaukee Sentinel from its correspondent in the field, "B. S. H."; and from Colonel Utley's own written version of the controversy. These men saw and heard the things about which they wrote. This sketch was submitted also, to Captain Francis R. Mead and John C. Lunn, of Company A, of the Twenty-second, and they endorsed it as being a substantially correct account of the experience of their regiment and its colonel with the slave power in Kentucky.

About November 4, 1862, in the midst of a snow storm, a dwarf African American boy came into Colonel Utley's camp. He said that he had been living on waInuts and acorns in the woods for more than a week, and had sought refuge in other regiments but was told they were not allowed to keep him. The boys of Company A took pity on him, gave him clothes and shoes- for he was nearly naked- and "fed him up." About ten days later, there drove into camp one morning in a fine carriage with a coachman, the Chief Justice of the state of Kentucky, Robertson, who demanded of Colonel Utley that he deliver to him his runaway boy. The colonel said that if the boy was within his lines, and was willing to go with him, he would not object, but he refused to deliver him otherwise.

The boy was found and brought before his master and the colonel, both of whom questioned him closely. In his replies he accused fhe Judge of cruelty and injustice and declined to go with him. Judge Robertson then assumed a magisterial air, informing his hearers that he. was "some pumpkins" in Kentucky; "was the only man living who had voted in Congress for the Missouri Compromise; he had written and spoken eloquently in favor of emancipation." He said that he "didn't like slavery, but that if the Union army was going to trample the rights of Kentucky citizens under its feet, there wouldn't be a Union man left in the state, and the Union could never be restored."


"Sir," roared the colonel, "do you think you will take that boy?"

The shout that went up from a thousand soldiers, told him plainly that it would not be safe to attempt it, and he did not, but drove out of camp in high dudgeon.

In about two hours, Colonel Utley was ordered to report forthwith to General Coburn, brigade commander, who advised him that in the interest of peace and harmony he had better obey the order of General Gilmore, and return the fugitives; that notwithstanding the proclamation of the president, (*see below) he regarded the status of slavery in Kentucky the same, and entitled to the same rights and privileges "as though no army was there."

Colonel Utley, though an inferior officer, begged to differ with him; he "regarded the status of the army the same in Kentucky, and entitled to the same rights and privileges as though no slavery existed here." Continuing he said: Kentucky has resorted to all means to seduce the officers of the Union Army, and all that handsome women, fine carriages, sumptuous dinners, win, and great men could do, has been done to lay me under obligations to their policey, but my honor as a gentleman and a soldier has so far deterred by from yielding. I stand alone. Every other officer has yielded, and I am reminded of a speech of Charles Sumner, who said that slavery reminded him of the fabled mountain in Arabia whose magnetic attraction was so great that it drew the bolts out of every ship that passed, so that they fell to pieces; so it is here. Slavery in Kentucky has, by her wily machinations, drawn the bolts out of every true man, they have gone to pieces. But I want you, General, and Judge Robinson (who stood near) to understand that God Almighty put heads on both ends of the bolts that hold me together, which slavery can never draw out so long as soul and body hang together"; and he did not deliver the boy to Judge Robinson, nor did his superior officers attempt to force his acquiescense in their view of the matter.

While the fracas was at its height, one of the African Americans was decoyed out of the lines, into a cornfield, where he was delivered over to his owner, by a soldier of the regiment named Luce, who, it is said, turned traitor to his comrades for money. He never repented the depicable trick, although life was made miserable for him during the balance of his stay with the regiment. If the boy had been smart enough to have stayed within the regimental lines, he would have been safe, for that, under the proclamation of the President, was United States territory, and not under state law.

Testing their mettle
When the brigade to which the Twenty-second was attached was about to leave Louisville, that regiment was ordered, in punishment for the obstinacy of its commander and men, to remain behind to receive alone the wrath of the citizens of the town for holding and attempting to carry away slaves. The brigade, minus the Twenty-second, as they marched through town on their departure, still carried in their ranks, some few colored men, but the soldiers were assaulted with stones, clubs, and revolvers, and actually intimidated into releasing all of them.

The next day when the Twenty-second was to leave, Colonel Utley was informed that he would never get away with any African Americans. When ready to march, he ordered his regiment to load their guns and fix bayonets, and then advised the citizens of Louisville that if they intended any such hostile demonstrations against him as was shown the other regiments of the brigade the day previous, that they had better clear the city of women and children, for "as sure as there was a God in Heaven, he would shoot down every man who interfered with him, and lay their town in ashes. Not a hand was raised against theim as they marched out, although one slave owner did allow his valor to get the better of his discretion, and ran inside the regimental lines to lay hold of his boy, but found himself at once, "up against" about a dozen bayonet points, some of which got through his hide to the seat of his intelligence, and prompted a precipitate retreat.

Captain Mead says that Judge Robertson's boy, and another about his size, were quartered with his company, and marched at its head through the city of Louisville, to the steamer landing. He, Captain Mead, was officer of the day at Louisville, and placed the boys between two big guards at the head of the column, and although there were officers at the gang plank with civil processes for their arrest, and although threats were made that they would never be taken away, they were marched onto the boat and locked in a stateroom by Captain Mead, who ordered that no civil officer should be allowed on the steamer. No attempt was made to take the boys off.

Chaplain C. D. Pillsbury's view of the matter was given in a letter to The Advocate of February 11, '63, as follows:

"There can be no doubt, from circumstances, that the Twenty-second was left to march through Louisville alone, that she might settle the question with Kentuckians in her own way. It is a significant fact that orders were issued to every other regiment, by General Granger, to take no colored persons on the boats who had not free papers. In referring to this order, Colonel Utley said to General Baird, Ours have no free papers, but they have declared their intentions."

An attempt was made to prevent the 'Commercial' from leaving with contrabands on board, and the Captain, a Kentuckian, declared that he should be responsible for all African Americans who left in the boats." The Colonel told him that he was commanding that boat, and ordered him to steam up.

"Then came the sheriff of Jefferson county to serve writs on Colonel Utley, for three African Americans, Abraham, George and John, valued at $800 each. He received them with dignity, and though informed that all action would be withdrawn if they were given up, he gave the necessary order, and the boat, with all on board, including contrabands, moved quietly down the river, as though nothing had happened.

There was evidence that those citizens of Louisville capable of appreciating courage and self-respect, had a better opinion of the Twenty-second regiment than of those that submitted to their bullying tactics, and surrendered their principles with the colored whom they released.

After Colonel Utley and the Twenty-second regiment left the state, the controversy was continued for weeks in the newspapers, on the platform, and by correspondence, and although in the end, the verdict of the courts was adverse to our fiery colonel, and a judgment of $1000 was ordered paid, and was paid by him, the facts of the case, and its merits, were so well aired., that every right-minded, straight-thinking man, in the North, at least, was back of Colonel Utley in his courageous stand for principle, and for humanity.

Matt. H. Carpenter of Milwaukee, was attorney for Colonel Utley, in the trial of the case, but he was obliged to pay the $1000 judgment, although the government later reimbursed him fully.

Some years later it was reported in Racine that Judge Robertson was dead, and Colonel Utley, in his paper, The Journal, gave him the benefit of an extended obituary notice, which could hardly be called a eulogy. On learning a few days later that the report of the Judge's death was incorrect, the Colonel had the pleasure of transmitting a copy of the paper containing his funeral notice to Judge Robertson in Kentucky. How it was received the colonel never knew, or much cared.

Both sides in this controversy appealed to the President and the matter was discussed at two cabinet meetings. Mr. Lincoln said to Colonel Utley's representative, The Sentinel correspondent: "this is a devilish vexed question at this time. Both sides wish to draw from me an opinion, and although I despise duplicity, perhaps more than any other living man, yet for the sake of harmony in this hour of our nation's greatest trial, I would like to slide along through this crisis without committing myself to either side." And he took no part in the controversy.

The dwarf African American fugitive, about whom, much of the controversy raged, came to Wisconsin, and located at Waukesha, where it is reported, he was living until quite recently, engaged as a drayman.

On Nov. 26, 1862, the local papers printed an open letter to Colonel Utley, signed by 49 prominent citizens of Racine, expressing approval, satisfaction, and pride in his action in refusing to surrender the runaway slave at the demand of the Kentucky state authorities.

Chaplain Pillsbury's reports of the affair seemed particularly to nettle Judge Robertson, and he took occasion to make a public address at Lexington, Ky., in which he accused the chaplain of many unfair and untrue statements. The local papers had been furnished a full report of the address, and printed some abstracts from it, in reply to which Rev. Pillsbury made full and satisfactory refutation of the charges.

*Proclamation of the President, dated September 22, 1862, declaring his intention of freeing all slaves in states or parts of states which are in rebellion against the United States Government on January 1, 1863; and calling attention, among others, to section 9 of an Act of Congress entitled "An act to make an additional article of war." approved March 13, 1862, which reads - "And be it further enacted, that all slaves or persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army, and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them, and coming under the control of the government of the United States, and all slaves of such persons found on or being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterward occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war and shall be forever free of their servitude and not again held as slaves."

Some terminology has been changed or omitted from the originally published version so as not to offend. For the originally published version, please obtain a copy of the book from a public library.

Click here to go to

Back to the Racine County Biography Page