People of Ontario County: Daniel Prue & John Hite

Excerpt from Preston E Pierce’s A Tour Guide to Black History Sites in Canandaigua, NY.

When Daniel Prue died in 1895, he was quietly buried in the first row of graves in the old soldier (GAR) plot in Woodlawn Cemetery. Each year, his tombstone literally overlooks the Memorial Day ceremonies.

In 1857, Daniel Prue was the 20-year-old son of a fugitive slave living in Geneva. There, Prue met Napoleon VanTuyl, nearly the same age: the 21-year-old son of a respectable family, born in Penn Yan.

In November 1857, Daniel Prue was persuaded to travel west with VanTuyl where a good job was promised with a relative in Columbus. Another young Geneva man, 18-year-old John Hite, a freed slave with manumission papers, recently moved from the District of Columbia, was also persuaded to go.

As their train neared Columbus, Ohio, Prue heard his “friend,” VanTuyl, talking to some other men. Their real intention was to sell Daniel Prue and John Hite into slavery in Kentucky. Prue jumped off the train. Hite was not so lucky – he was sold in Louisville for $500 in gold. Under the fugitive slave law, and after the Dred Scott decision, a fugitive slave could not introduce evidence in court, testify, or bring a lawsuit.

A great many people in Geneva were outraged when they realized what had happened. Mass meetings were held. The governor was persuaded to send a Geneva lawyer, Calvin Walker, on a mission to Kentucky to find Prue and Hite and bring them home. That he did. Kentucky refused to turn VanTuyl over to the Ontario County Sheriff, however. Later, VanTuyl traveled to New Orleans, then Canada, on his blood money. He was finally arrested in Niagara Falls, tried, and sent to Auburn prison – for just two years. Kidnapping was only a minor crime then. 

Daniel Prue was drafted in 1863. He found himself in a segregated army and became part of the 8th US Colored Troops. In action at Olustee, Florida alongside the 54th Massachusetts (made famous by the movie Glory), Prue received a severe wound in his left arm making it useless. He was discharged for disability at Fortress Monroe, Virginia.

Prue returned to Geneva after the war and built a life for himself. Shortly before his death, Daniel Prue moved to Canandaigua where he lived with his aunt, Emily Williams. In 1895 he was laid to rest in the Solder’s Plot in Woodlawn Cemetery.