May 4, 1837: The Maine schooner Susan departs from the harbor in Savannah, Georgia, where the ship stopped for repairs.

The crew apparently is unaware that a slave named Atticus, trained as a ship’s carpenter, has sneaked aboard to escape from his masters, James and Henry Sagurs.

Atticus comes out of hiding once the ship has been underway for several days. Back in Georgia, aware of the escape, James Sagurs boards a pilot boat and gives chase. After both vessels arrive in East Thomaston, Maine, Sagurs goes to court, gets a warrant for Atticus’ arrest and takes the slave back to Georgia.

He then presses successfully for a warrant for the arrest of Daniel Philbrook, captain of the Susan, and his first mate, Edward Kelleran, as “fugitives from justice.”

Exemplifying a national divide over slavery that would lead to the Civil War 24 years later, two successive Maine governors refuse to comply with the order.


Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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