John Hossack: Abolitionist, Underground Railway Railroad Conductor and Station Master, Canal Builder, Merchant, Fugitive Slave Law Violator, Spark for the Civil War.


Preston Speech

John Hossack of Ottawa, Illinois.  Abolitionist, Underground Railway Conductor, Canal Builder.  Grain and Lumber Merchant.  Crusader for Human Rights and Liberty.  Man of God.  He feared God and loved his Fellow Man.



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bulletJay Prešton's Dedicatory Speech

Speech of Jay Prešton Honoring John Hossack on November 11, 2002.

We stand here in the shadow of the home that John Hossack built in 1854.  It had been a haven for runaway slaves and for much of the underground railroad history that makes John a man of note.

It was 111 years ago last Friday that John Hossack died.

We are gathered here to celebrate the memory of a man who stood up against the injustice of slavery and worked all his life for the improvement of the human condition. John Hossack said that no man is free until all men are free. There are forces at work in the world today trying to enslave humanity to despots, dogmas, governments and unjust laws. These must still be fought.

John Hossack, his wife Martha Lens, and his children operated a station on the underground railroad before the civil war. He sent several sons and sons-in-law to fight in the war. He had the audacity to openly rescue a runaway slave, Jim Grey, from federal custody. For that act, he was arrested and convicted of violating the fugitive slave law.

With this in mind, let us go back to some of what John Hossack said when he was sentenced on October 3, 1860.

"If slavery is in the Constitution, it is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell. The fugitive slave law is outrageous to the rights of man, and at variance with the law of that God that commands me to love him with all my soul, mind, might and strength, and my neighbor as myself, and the Redeemer that took upon Him my nature and the nature of poor Jim Grey."

"The fugitive slave law so plainly tramples upon the divine law it cannot be binding upon any human being, under any circumstances, to obey it. The law that bids me to do to other men as I would have other men do to me is too, too simple to be misunderstood."

"'He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hands, he shall surely be put to death.'"

"'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 thy gates where it liketh him best, thou shalt not oppress him.'"

"These plain statutes, with many more that I might give, leaves me in no doubt as to the mind of the unchanging Jehovah in reference to man-stealing and slave hunting."

"Sir, the whole system of slavery originated in man-stealing, and is perpetuated by fraud and violence and plunder. Send me a law bidding me to rob or murder my neighbor; I must decline to obey it."

"When He that directs the steps of men conducts a poor, oppressed, panting fugitive to my door, and there I hear his bitter cry, I dare not close my ear against it, lest in my extremity I cry for mercy and shall not be heard. Sir, this law so flagrantly outrages the divine law that I ought not be sentenced under it."

"From the testimony, part of which is false, and from your rendering and interpretation of the law, the jury have found me guilty; yes, guilty of carrying out the great principles of the Declaration of Independence; yes, guilty of carrying out the still greater principles of the Son of God. Great God, can these things be? Can it be possible? What country is this? Can it be that I live in a land boasting of freedom, of morality, of Christianity? How long, oh how long shall the people bow down and worship this great image set up in this nation? Yes, the jury say guilty, but recommend me to the mercy of the Court. Mercy, sir, is kindness to the guilty."

"I am guilty of no crime; I, therefore, ask for no mercy. No, sir, I ask for no mercy; I ask for justice. Mercy is what I ask of my God. justice in the courts of my adopted country is all I ask. It is the inhuman and infamous law that is wrong, not me."

"My feelings are at home.  My wife and my children are dear to my heart. But, sir, I have counted the cost. I am ready to die, if need be, for the oppressed of my race. But slavery must die, and when my country shall have passed through the terrible conflict which the destruction of slavery must cost, and when the history of the great struggle shall be candidly be written, the rescuers of Jim Grey will be considered as having done honor to God, to humanity, and to themselves."

"I have endeavored to obey the divine law, and all the laws of my country that do not conflict with the laws of God. My humble wish is that it may then appear that I have done my duty. All I wish to be written on my tombstone is: 'He feared God and loved his fellow men.'"

It is up to us today. We honor John Hossack by naming this street after him. We must heed his words. We must continue the fight so that all men on earth are free.

Jay W. Prešton

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This website is produced by Jay W. Preston to honor John Hossack, the Abolitionist of Ottawa, Illinois.  The father dedicates this to his son, Yujin Jay Preston (1979-1999), daughter Elika, and daughter Yuli, great great great grandchildren of John Hossack. Permission to reprint this material is granted when this notice is included in full.  © 2000 - 2010 Jay W. Preston.  For information, comments or contributions of time, money, information, materials, or manpower to this site: E-mail Copyrights of works cited, quoted, or excerpted remain with the respective owners, if not in public domain.