"The US Marshals have not always been on the right side of history, but they've always upheld the law." US Marshal Museum Curator David Kennedy stated when asked about the existence of pro-slavery names on the museum's Hall of Honor. "We're memorializing these people for...dying in the line of duty in support of the Constitution and the Law."
The Hall of Honor was dedicated in September 2019 in celebration of the 230th anniversary of the judiciary act being signed into law that defined the parameters of the US Marshals. This bill was the first act of the first Senate of the United States and it formed what is now the oldest Federal Law Enforcement Agency in 1789.
The Times Record recently received a question about two names in particular that are on the wall, Edward Gorsuch and James Batchelder. Gorsuch and Batchelder both died in defense of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which raised the question of whether they deserved to be honored. The Fugitive Slave Act was part of a compromise to keep the country together in a time when tensions were high.
Out of the 376 names on the wall, 122 died in what is now Oklahoma — most of whom came out of the court in Fort Smith. Most of the names at the museum are on the Wall of Honor at the US Marshal Headquarters outside of Washington, DC and have no special indication. Others have one or two asterisks indicating that they are not on the wall in DC, but there is enough evidence to show they were killed in the line of duty and therefore have a spot on the wall in Fort Smith.
Kennedy called the Fugitive Slave act "one of the most cruel pieces of law ever hoisted upon this country." During this interview, he also pointed out members of the Marshal Service who died fighting the Klan. The wall does not defend their actions, only their positions in the service. Once the main gallery of the museum opens, there will be a dedicated exhibit about the Fugitive Slave act as well as the two men in question.
Edward Gorsuch was a resident of Baltimore County, Maryland who demanded the District Court to return six of his slaves who ran away. When Gorsuch reached Philadelphia with some of his family members, Deputy Federal Marshal Henry Kline deputized them into an official posse. On September 11, 1851, the group reached the small town of Christiana where the runaway slaves were held up. A riot ensued and Gorsuch was killed. Even though 36 blacks and five whites were charged with high treason, all were found not guilty.
James Batchelder, on the other hand, was simply carrying out the law. As a part of the Fugitive Slave Act, the North was required to return any slaves caught escaping on their way to Canada. While guarding the Court House where an escaped slave was being held. On May 26, 1854, a group of black and white Bostonians charged the Court House and Batchelder was killed by a blade of some sort.
"Any time something bad happens with the Marshal Service, they've always done really well at identifying 'Hey, this is a bad thing and we need to fix this.'" Kennedy truly believes the Marshal Service not only acknowledges their mistakes, but learns from them as well. He likens defending the Fugitive Slave Act to Ruby Ridge where the Marshals were trying to bring in a fugitive and ended up killing several innocent people and losing one of their own in the process. These were both morally wrong, but happened in the process of carrying out the law.
Kennedy stands by U.S. Marshal Al Butler's explanation of the service, "You put on the badge, you do the job."