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With Bodily Force and Violence: The Escape of Peter by Jeannie Regan-Dinius

By Jeannie Regan-Dinius

Jeannie Regan-Dinius works as the special projects coordinator for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources – Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA). In her role as special projects coordinator she serves as administrator for Indiana’s Underground Railroad (UGRR) research initiative.
Prior to working at DNR, Regan-Dinius worked at the Historic Forks of the Wabash in Huntington, Indiana, as the executive director of a 96-acre historic park and museum.

Originally published in Black History News & Notes, May 2005, Number 100, a quarterly publication of the Indiana Historical Society Library, reprinted here by permission, and also available on the Indiana Historical Society's Web site.

In 2002, I embarked upon a research project to uncover new materials and resources related to the Underground Railroad, slavery, and abolition in Huntington County, Indiana. Trying to understand the work of one individual led me to the National Archives in Chicago to read the federal court cases for Indiana. Surrounded by the large clerk books, docket books, and case files from the 1800s, I could not help but read the cases of how and why Hoosiers were being brought into court. The illegal activities in which Hoosiers were taking part included passing counterfeit coins, stealing letters from the post office, and debt. Realizing that Hoosiers could be arrested and charged under federal jurisdiction for violating the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850, I started to look for these cases. While few prosecutions could be found,(1) what I did find were individuals (slave owners) suing Hoosiers for loss of property. This legal maneuver fascinated me and I wanted to know more and why.

While hearing mostly criminal cases, federal courts also heard civil cases between Hoosiers and those living outside of the Indiana borders. This "Diversity of Citizenship," when a dispute is between citizens of two different states, allowed a non-bias ruling to be made, because the states might have differing laws. By hearing the challenge in federal court, no one state law prevailed over another.(2) When a slave was gone, owners had no other recourse. Since the property was gone, owners were suing individuals for the monetary loss of property. The most interesting story I found in the court records, and perhaps one of the earliest documented escapes in Indiana, was the escape of Peter in Wayne County, Indiana.(3)

Samuel Todd of Kentucky sued William Bulla and Andrew Hoover,(4) both from Wayne County, Indiana, each for five hundred dollars for loss of property. Todd accused the men of helping his slave Peter escape. Peter had fled Kentucky "in the month of August in the year of our Lord 1821 and run away into the State of Indiana which at the [unclear] of his departure and running away was justly owing service and labor by the laws of Kentucky.(5) While Peter had left in 1821, it is not certain how long he had been living in Wayne County.

By the time he was found just north of Richmond, he had changed his name to George Stellow. (See note 13 for an explanation of variations of the name used throughout the article.) Peter had come to Wayne County after the 1820 census and did not purchase property,(6) so there are no known records indicating where he lived. While there were three population concentrations of African Americans in southern Randolph County, Indiana, about this time period, these communities were too far north for Peter to have lived if it was considered that he was a Wayne County resident.(7)

In the spring of 1825, Todd sent two agents to Wayne County to claim Peter and by June 18, 1825, John Millekin (agent for Samuel Todd) had arrested Peter in Wayne County. Millekin then went to the justice of the peace, asking him to approve Peter’s removal back to Kentucky. While at the justice of the peace, a group of people broke Peter out of jail with "bodily force and violence" and with full knowledge of Todd’s rights as a plaintiff.(8) There are various accounts of what took place that day. Wayne County had several newspapers during the 1820s, but unfortunately few have survived and none remain from the time surrounding the court case, but recollections of the events surface in later newspaper articles. One article stated, "while the fugitive was sitting near an open window . . . someone gave a signal to the fugitive to jump out of the window. Thereupon he made a rush to escape and one of the agents seized him, when my father, through an impulse of the moment and believing all such agents to be kidnapers, seized the agent by his shoulders and threw him flat on his back. When thus rescued, Sheldon made tracks for Canada.(9)

Andrew Hoover and William Bulla were related; Bulla married Hoover’s daughter Elizabeth. The families were both Quakers and fragments of the family papers are archived at Earlham College in Richmond. In the collection, two completely different versions of this event, which have been handed down by the two families, can be found. The account found in the self-published genealogy book by Andrew Hoover descendents goes:

A party of Kentucky gentlemen was in the card room of a saloon. They had a slave, Jerry Terry, with them. Three Quakers, opposed to slavery, concocted the idea of freeing him and sending him out of danger by the underground railway. The three were William Bulla, Andrew Hoover III, and Samuel Charles. They visited the saloon, no doubt much to their distaste, and managed to let the slave know that, at a given signal, he was to make a leap for the window, those inside saw what was going on, and a tug of war ensued, with the Quakers pulling from the outside and the Kentuckians from the inside. Before the Quakers could get away, the men from Kentucky rushed outside and caught them. The trio slave rescuers found themselves in jail for the night. Next morning they consulted Andrew’s brother, Judge David Hoover, and his advice was that they had to buy the slave to prevent charges from being placed. The price was set at a thousand dollars and various sympathizers, including Judge David, chipped in to help raise the funds.(10)


The alternative story can be found amongst the mill records, land deeds, and other financial papers in a handwritten family biography written by Daniel Bulla (William’s son) dated May 22, 1896, and titled "The History of an Old Pioneer." This piece would later become an article in the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Times and a self-published family genealogy titled A Family in History: Stories of the Hoover Family. Daniel was a boy at the time and has a slightly different view of the event:

This same pioneer in early times a Whig, of later times a Republican and always a true friend to the oppressed. An abolitionist in the true source of the word. About 1823 Samuel Todd sent out two slave catchers to Richmond. They caught George Shelton a black man who was driving an [o]ax [sic] lumber wagon for Able Thornberry. While on Pearl St they caught him about where the first Methodist Church now stands. They took him down to John Finleys office to try the rights of property and while waiting, old Cory went to Centerville for James Raridan to plead for the Kentuckians. The darkey was sitting under the window on the north side of the office. One of the catchers set at his side and the other was leaning backing in a chair against the jams of the fine place at the south side. He motioned to me as I was leaning against the door check to come to him. I went he told me to go into the kitchen and bring him a pokerstick. He said he see[n] a good one when at breakfast. I went through the door he told me to, and out on the street and looked through the office door at him.

About that time the darkey made a jump backwards, the window being up. The catcher caught his leg and pressed it down over the windowsill. The darkey said "for Godsake don’t break my leg." William Bullas being in the office at the time caught the catcher by back of the neck and threw him across the room. The darkey was pulled out of the window by black and white. I can see it now it was a very exciting time with me. I was 9 years old at the time and it is all fresh in my memory at this time. My father hid from the State Marshall for a time but he told Mother that the case would be tried in his absence and his property would be sold to pay the fine and costs.

Andrew Hoover was sued with him but was worth nothing. Father had to pay $1,000 for the darkey and $500 cash of suit. Judge Park [sic] presided at the trial, a proslavery man. It was a hopeless case to have justice done. I have heard my father and mother say that John Charles and old Cornelius Ratliff were the best friends. They had in that day. His friends paid the costs and he paid for the slave. (11)

Comparing the accounts with the court records, it appears that Daniel’s memory is more closely aligned to what actually happened that day.

A South Bend Tribune article from July 16, 1921, titled "Men Sacrificed for Principle" by C.N. Fassett(12) tells of how Thomas Bulla, found an 1888 newspaper clipping containing a story of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) in which his grandfather, William Bulla, was a central figure in George Sheldon’s rescue.(13) The article explains how Peter was discovered living so far from Kentucky. According to the family story, Judge David Hoover employed a man named Raridan to read law. Raridan was from the same area of Kentucky in which Samuel Todd lived. Peter had been in the settlement for some years when Raridan recognized him and wrote to Todd in Kentucky notifying him that he had found Peter, thereby causing Peter’s apprehension. After the arrest happened, Judge Hoover’s father and brother-in-law helped Peter escape.(14)

After the breakout, Peter was gone. With no other recourse, Todd sued Bulla and Hoover for the loss of property. Family tradition states that Bulla hid for some time, but realized that the court case would go on without him and that he would lose everything if he failed to attend court.(15) The men went to Indianapolis for trial on the first Monday of November 1825. The judge for the Indiana District was Benjamin Parke.(16) Bulla’s lawyers made repeated motions to have the case thrown out of court, but Judge Parke overruled each motion. With no witness testimony or evidence surviving, the only certainty is that Todd won both cases. The judge ordered both men to pay the plaintiff to recover his own debt and costs, a total of $1,500. Interestingly, and further proof of the connections offered by family legends, Raridan served as the attorney for the plaintiff.(17)

Little is known about the main individual in this story, Peter. Because he had changed his name at least one time, it becomes increasingly more difficult to determine what happened to him. While Peter’s story will go mainly unknown, we do have a brief snippet of his life through the trial. How he got to Richmond, why he chose to remain there, or what his life was like before or after the escape is unknown. Living in a state where individuals had mixed views over slavery and the right of African Americans to live in Indiana, Peter found a place where he received betrayal and help.

Thomas Bulla came from Ireland in 1738 or 1739, eventually moving to North Carolina. Throughout his life, he owned several slaves and at his death, freed six slaves in his will. His son William was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 1777. In 1784, William moved to Randolph County, North Carolina. While there, he met and married Elizabeth Hoover. After their marriage, they moved to Lebanon, Ohio, and by 1806 to Wayne County, Indiana. While living in Richmond, William ran a sawmill and farmed. He remained in Indiana until his death in 1862.(18)

Andrew Hoover Sr. emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania and after marrying Margaret Fouts, moved to Maryland. Andrew Hoover Jr. was born in Maryland on September 21, 1752. In 1776, he married Elizabeth Waymire. The Hoovers moved to North Carolina in 1802 and then to Miami County, Ohio, in 1806. Family tradition states that they left North Carolina over slavery and agricultural problems resulting from the 1798 floods. By 1806, the family settled on Middle Fork of Whitewater River, a mile and a half northeast of Richmond. Their daughter Elizabeth (born December 25, 1778) married William Bulla. Andrew died on December 29, 1834, and is buried in Richmond Starr Park.

Despite being Quaker, neither William Bulla nor Andrew Hoover were members of the Newport Meeting House, an antislavery Meeting House.(19) The court records for the trial do not tell anything about Samuel Todd except that he was from Kentucky. In the 1820 Kentucky census, there were four Samuel Todds living in the Kentucky counties of Campbell, Gallatin, and Shelby. The Samuel Todds living in Campbell County and Shelby County did not own slaves, so the Todd involved in this case is most likely from Gallatin County, yet there are two Samuel Todds living there. Even upon further analysis of the census taker’s notes, it is difficult to determine which of these men is the Todd in this case. Further research is needed to help determine more about Todd.(20)

This story fascinates me because it shows the many aspects of the Underground Railroad and the varied attitudes Hoosiers held on the topics of slavery, escape, and recapture of fugitives. Within the small community of Richmond, fugitives not only found a place to call home, but also individuals willing to betray them to authorities in the South. People, who may not have been part of the greater UGRR movement, decided in at least one instance to help another escape and find freedom someplace else. Furthermore, the story shatters some of the myths of the UGRR. Instead of pacifists helping individuals hide, these two men used violence to aid a man seeking his freedom. Finally, this story lacked a tunnel, hiding space, or covert activity. At the most dramatic level, Peter’s story provides a tale of individual acts of bravery and suffering, and Hoosiers and their willingness to participate.


(1) From 1850 to 1865 only five cases could be found of Hoosiers arrested and tried in the Indiana District Court for violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. These men included Benjamin Waterhouse (who was found guilty), Samuel Berry, Dennison Fox, Baldwin Waterhouse, and Sullivan Clark.

(2) William Smith, prosecuting attorney for Decatur County, Indiana, interview with Jeannie Regan-Dinius, September 17, 2004.

(3) A report of all the cases in the National Archives records can be found in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources—Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology’s “Underground Railroad Research in Select Counties” (2004).

(4) Complete Records of Mixed Cases, 1819–1829, U.S. District Court Record Book, Volume 1, 1819-1829, Indianapolis, p. 318. (Located at the National Archives branch in Chicago.)

(5) Ibid., 318-20.

(6) Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples, and David Schaefermeyet, Indiana 1820 Census Index, Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1976.

(7) Cabin Creek was settled in 1825. The Greenville settlement was established in 1822 in Randolph County, Indiana, and Darke and Preble counties in Ohio. Snow Hill was established after 1838. Deborah L. Rotman, Rachel Mancini, Aaron Smith, et al. African-American and Quaker Farmers in East Central Indiana: Social, Political, and Economic Aspects of Life in Nineteenth-Century Rural Communities, Randolph County, Indiana, Muncie, Indiana: Archaeological Resources Management Service, 1998.

(8) Complete Records of Mixed Cases, 1819-1829, pp. 318-20.

(9) Earlham Archives, Bulla Family Papers, FMS 63, William Bulla file folder.

(10) Hulda Hoover McLean. A Family in History: Stories of the Hoover Family, Rancho del Oso, CA: self-published, 1971, 47.

(11) McLean, A Family in History.

(12) Bulla Family Papers, FMS 63.

(13) While the court records call him Shelton, newspaper articles have called him Sheldon and Stellow.

(14) Bulla Family Papers, FMS 63.

(15) Daniel Bulla, “The History of an Old Pioneer.” Bulla Family Papers, FMS 63, William Bulla file folder.

(16) Parke (1777–1835) started his law career in Indiana as a territorial lawyer in Vincennes from 1801–1804. He went on to become the territorial government attorney general (1804-1808), while also serving as a territorial legislator in 1805 and in the territorial House of Representatives from 1805-1808. He was an Indiana Territory judge (1808-1816). He was appointed to the United States District Court of the district of Indiana in 1817. He served at this post until his death in 1835. Judges of the United States, 2nd edition. (Published under the Auspices of the Bicentennial Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983, 381.)

(17) Minute Book, Mixed Cases, 1821–1839 vol. 2, no page numbers, November 12, 1825.

(18) Bulla, “History of an Old Pioneer.” Arnold L. Dean, First Land Entry Book of Wayne County, Indiana, Richmond, Indiana: self-published, 1994; Jackson, Census Index; and “Land Purchase Receipt,” Bulla Family Papers, FMS 63, Business Papers, 1810-1872.

(19) Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, Monday, May 28, 192[8?], . clippings in Bulla Family Records; Hulda Hoover McLean, Genealogy of One Branch of the Hoover Family: Part II. Some Descendants of Andrew Hoover, Rancho del Oso, CA: self-published, 1959, 5; 30 Lost Graves Found by State Highway Crews, Indianapolis News, March 14, 1952;
The Newman and Hoover Family History, (accessed June 3, 2004); Jonas Hoover Family History, (accessed June 3, 2004); Andrew Hoover Descendents (accessed June 3, 2004).

(20) Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples, and David Schaefermeyer, eds., Kentucky 1820 Census Index, Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1976, alphabetical under Todd. Kentucky 1820 Census, Campbell County, 20, roll 24 volume 9; Kentucky 1820 Census, Shelby County, 122, Roll 20, volume 5.

Jeannie Regan-Dinius works as the special projects coordinator for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources–Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA). In her role as special projects coordinator she serves as administrator for Indiana’s Underground Railroad (UGRR) research initiative.
Prior to working at DNR, Regan-Dinius worked at the Historic Forks of the Wabash in Huntington, Indiana, as the executive director of a 96-acre historic park and museum.