6 Days: The Trial
Wheeler was infuriated by the escape. And in order to regain what he believed was his rightful property, he took immediate action against Passmore Williamson, depicted here conspiring with Jane Johnson in a political cartoon at the Library Company of Philadelphia.
As the incident unfolded, according to Wheeler, Williamson declared he “would be responsible for any claim that I might have.” So the very next morning, Wheeler had Williamson’s attorney served with a writ of habeas corpus. But Williamson had not taken Johnson and her sons — no one had. Other than William Still’s assurance that they were in good hands, Williamson had no idea as to where the Johnsons’ whereabouts.
Judge John K. Kane found Williamson’s response “evasive, if not false” and threw him in South Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison for contempt. Twice, Johnson weighed in with support for Williamson. She tried with an affidavit, which Judge Kane dismissed. Then, on July 29th, Johnson appeared at the trial as a surprise witness, her face covered by a veil as she entered the courtroom. Still described the scene: “Deliberately, Jane arose and answered, in a lady-like manner to her name… Never before had such a scene been witnessed in Philadelphia. It was indescribable.” On her way in and out of the courtroom, Johnson was flanked by a protective group of female abolitionists. Not wanting to create a scandal, federal marshals on the scene stood down, choosing not to apprehend Johnson. That would be her second and final escape in Philadelphia.
But what of Williamson’s freedom?