Osten, Others Seek Virginia Pardon for Lisbon Abolitionist

State Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) and a group of Norwich-area officials have applied to the Commonwealth of Virginia for a pardon for Aaron Dwight Stevens, the Lisbon-born Connecticut abolitionist who joined John Brown’s historic raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859 and who was subsequently executed for “advising slaves to rebel.”

“The one obvious and all-encompassing purpose of his actions and resultant prosecution was to rid the United States of slavery,” says the application for a ‘simple pardon’ in which the governor grants official forgiveness for a crime. “Since his hanging, the country has passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which certainly ensures that slavery has now been eradicated by law in our country.”

The pardon application was submitted by Sen. Osten, state Rep. Doug Dubitksy (R- Chaplin), Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, Lisbon First Selectman Thomas Sparkman, Norwich City Historian Dale Plummer, and Stevens’ biographers Paul Victor Butsch and Thomas M. Coletti.

“I give Paul and Tom full credit for this pardon application. They know Aaron’s story better than anyone, and they know the injustice of his conviction,” Sen. Osten said. “It’s like seeking a pardon for someone involved in the Boston Tea Party. Yes, you violated the laws of the state at the time, but we now realize how heinous those civic norms and those state laws were. Aaron Stevens should be lauded as a hero for doing the right thing, not forever listed as a convicted criminal in some slave-era legal record.”

The pardon application was spurred in large part by the work of Butsch and Coletti, who co-wrote a biography of Stevens’ life titled “A Journey to the Gallows.”

“Dwight Stevens, a Connecticut man, born in Lisbon and raised in Norwich, along with John Brown and 20 other men, both black and white, woke the nation up to the beginning of a new chapter in American history—the end of slavery,” Butsch and Coletti said regarding their petition. “That is what he gave his life for, and that is the way he should be remembered.”

The two authors noted that Stevens was one of John Brown’s lieutenants during the raid, which is viewed by many as having led to the Civil War. At the time of his arrest, they wrote, Virginia accused Stevens of treason, murder, advising slaves to rebel, conspiring with slaves to rebel, and conspiring with certain persons to induce slaves to rebel. The murder and treason charges were dropped, and Stevens was convicted only on the slavery-related charges; he was hanged in Charlestown, Virginia on March 16, 1860, one day after his 29th birthday.

Virginia notes in its pardon application that “there is no reliable method of predicting how long a pardon petition investigation will take to complete. The investigation process may take a year or longer.”

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