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Rare Letter for Sale: Pardon of Black Underground RR Hero

A letter that documents President Franklin Pierce’s pardon
of a black man who harbored slaves went up for sale Monday.

 The 1854 presidential pardon, which is valued at $75,000,
grants clemency to Noah C. Hanson, who was convicted three years earlier of
stowing two slaves in a hiding place under the kitchen floor of his employer’s Washington,
D.C., home.

The document is currently the only known presidential pardon
of a black man convicted of harboring slaves, according to The Raab Collection,
a dealer based in suburban Philadelphia.

“This rare manuscript highlights the important role
that African American people in the North played in the Underground Railroad
and the risks they took to free slaves,” said Steven Raab, founder of The
Raab Collection, owner and seller of the document.

Stanley Harrold, a professor of history at South Carolina
State University who has written a book about abolitionists in the nation’s
capital that includes the Hanson case, said he knew of no other pardon of its

“There was an earlier pardon by President Fillmore of
two white men imprisoned in D.C. for helping slaves escape, but as far as I
know the Noah Hanson one is the only presidential pardon for a black man who
did something similar,” he said.

Hanson, a free black, was arrested after he was discovered
hiding the slaves, who belonged to a South Carolina congressman, in the home of
his employer himself a Southerner who later served as a colonel in the
Confederate Army.

Hanson was sentenced to remain behind bars until a $1,080
fine was paid; his fellow abolitionists tried unsuccessfully to raise the

In the signed presidential pardon, Pierce orders Hanson
released from prison and from the requirement that “declares he shall be
committed a prisoner until said fine and costs be paid.”

Historians don’t know what happened to Hanson after his
release from prison, Harrold said.

“He’s one of these people who are just on the edge of
history,” he said. “I’m afraid we’ll probably never know his full

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– Associated Press

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