Ottawa commission planning sign to commemorate Jim Gray’s escape to freedom

Ottawa abolitionists help free escaped slave in 1859

John Hossack

Jim Gray’s 1859 escape to freedom will be commemorated on the Madison Street-facing side of the downtown Ottawa courthouse this summer.

The Ottawa Historic Preservation Commission discussed the item Thursday afternoon, with retired Times reporter and preservation committee member Charles Stanley presenting the marker’s draft.

Gray escaped from Missouri only to be captured in Illinois by slave hunters before he was taken to Ottawa for a hearing in front of State Supreme Court Justice John Dean Caton.

Hundreds gathered outside the courthouse where Caton ruled Gray free of charges from the state but he still attempted to send him to the U.S. Commissioner in Springfield for a hearing under the Fugitive Slave Act.

Abolitionists, such as Ottawa grain and lumber merchant John Hossack, helped free Gray and while he and several other abolitionists were arrested and taken to jail in Chicago, they were treated like celebrities in Ottawa.

The rest of the story will be told on the historical marker, which will be dedicated during a ceremony sometime this summer, although the date has not yet been set.