Dr. Benjamin Fussell versus the State of Pennsylvania

by Chris Densmore

Abolitionists weren’t necessarily very popular in the days before the Civil War. No less a
person than Pennsylvania Governor David R. Porter in his inaugural address in 1839
complained that “To agitate the question [of slavery] anew is not only unwise and
impolitic but is a virtual breach of good faith to our brethren in the South [and] and
unwarrantable interference with their domestic relations and slavery….” In other words,
Pennsylvanians shouldn’t be speaking out against slavery. The great American poet John
Greenleaf Whittier was at this time the editor of the Pennsylvania Freemen and a frequent
visitor to the home of Dr. Benjamin Fussell in Kennett Square. Whittier put his
opposition to Governor Porter in a poem, reading in part:


Go hunt sedition! Search for that
In every peddler’s cart of rags;
Pry into every Quaker’s hat
And Dr. Fussell’s saddle bag,
Lest treason wrap, with all its ills
Around his powder and his pills.


As a doctor of his times, Dr. Fussell frequently traveled on horseback to visit his patients.
Since Dr. Fussell was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, it is
likely that he did carry abolitionist literature in addition to the pills and potions.


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