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    An excellent way to gauge the political climate is to examine the laws that are deemed necessary and enacted and the response of the population. In the inexorable march to the Civil War the most impactful law was the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, strengthening the lax enforcement of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. The 1850 law, enacted as part of the 1850 Compromise, was created to facilitate the recapture of those identified as southern slaves. Southerners felt that Northern sentiment was not in their favor and abolitionism was on the rise. 

    The law added a number of federal commissioners with the power to issue warrants permitting the removal to the South of escapees. Commissioners were paid $10 per authorization for removal. They received only $5.00 if the arrestee was later found not to have been a slave. Legal and physical hindrance of recapture was punishable by 6-month’s incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Escapees could not testify in their own defense. Northerners objected to the use of federal officials and dollars to enforce Southern rights but in 1859 the Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional in Ableman v. Booth. Resistance began almost immediately and Pennsylvania became one of its first battlegrounds and a flashpoint for the North and the South. 
    John Brown’s October 16, 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry tends to be the incidence of armed resistance to slavery with which people are most familiar but eight years prior, on September 11, 1851, a significant resistance took place. The Christiana Riot/ Resistance took place in a farming village outside Lancaster, PA, approximately 20-miles from the Maryland border. Numerous white abolitionists and African Americans, both fugitive and free, were settlers in the area. #visitpa 

    On November 7, 1849 four slaves, Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, George Hammond, and Joshua Hammond escaped from Edward Gorsuch’s Retreat Farm in Baltimore County. Gorsuch felt stunned and betrayed because he considered himself a “benevolent” owner. The 1850 Act provided incentive for Gorsuch to recover his “property” and on August 28, 1851 he was told that three of his slaves were in Lancaster County along with nearly 3,000 other blacks and active Underground Railroad stations. 
    Warrants were obtained on September 9th in Philadelphia where the plan was overheard by a black UGRR operative. William Still was informed and sent Samuel Williams, another black operative, to Christiana to warn the men. On September 11, 1851 eight men, including U.S. Deputy Marshal Henry Kline, Gorsuch and his son Dickinson, entered the village to make arrests.  
    Two of the freedom seekers were protected on a farm owned by an African American, William Parker, who fled Maryland slavery in 1839. He headed a group created to protect the community from slave catchers. The posse took the train to Parker’s house, arriving around 4 am at the two-story stone-fenced house. They demanded the men and Gorsuch quoted the Bible, Parker, countered with Bible verses. The family residents retreated to the second floor as the Gorsuch party entered. One of his men fired and Eliza, Parker’s wife, blew a tin fish horn to signal for assistance. Gunfire was exchanged before the posse retreated to the yard. 
    Armed African American assistance began to arrive in numbers varying from 15 to 150. Tensions grew and two white men, Quakers Castner Hanway and Elijah Lewis arrived. They examined the warrant but refused to assist. At this point the accounts differ but we know Dickinson fired on Parker and was critically wounded with more than 60 bullets. Gorsuch again attempted to retrieve his property and was beaten and ultimately killed. The remaining posse members fled. 

    The three fugitives fled to Canada. Parker, Pinckney, and Johnson fled via Rochester, NY, where they stayed with Frederick Douglass, and then to Buxton, Canada. Eliza and her sister were arrested, eventually freed, and reunited with their husbands in Canada. 
    A cadre of 45 marines was sent from Philadelphia on September 13th to hunt down the rioters and arrests were made. Lancaster County indicted 38 men on 117 counts of treason and imprisoned them in Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia. Castner Hanway was identified as the leader and tried first. His federal trial began on November 24, 1851 and lasted 18 days in the Old Pennsylvania State House, Independence Hall. 

    The Maryland Attorney General led the nationally famous trial prosecution team and PA Congressman Thaddeus Stevens led the defense team. Abolitionists helped finance the trial and Lucretia Mott attended daily, supplied clothing and sat beside the defendants. Hanway was judged not guilty and charges against the other men were dismissed.  

    Historic Zercher’s Hotel is the site of the Christiana Underground Railroad Center. The museum offers guided and self-guided tours that relate a holistic story of the Christiana Resistance. The story is presented chronologically and in an easy to follow format. Documents, photographs, maps, artifacts and informational plaques greatly enhance visitor’s understanding of the event.  zerchershotel.com 

    Immediately outside the hotel is a 4-sided monument commemorating the resistance. One side lists the names of the arrested men and a southern facing side is dedicated to Gorsuch.  
    A detailed map of UGRR locations in Lancaster and Chester Counties is available in the center. Christiana is part of PA’s Quest for Freedom Trail. paquestforfreedom.com 
    Spanning nearby Pine Creek is the 1830 Stone Arch Railroad Bridge. Trains ran across this bridge, some with private cars that were used to hide escapees in hidden compartments. 
    Mount Zion AME Church on Newport-Zion hill Road was the core of the African American community. It was established in 1822 and became a mecca for runaways. During the search after the riot the militia fired through the front door believing fugitives were inside. The original door is displayed inside the church. 

    Descendants of the participants remain in the area. You may be lucky enough to take a tour led by Darlene Colon. To take the journey with her is to live the experience. 
    The riot was a microcosm of the coming Civil War with both factions willing to bear arms over the legality and morality of slavery. It hardened the resolve of the two sides and convinced each of the righteousness of their cause. 

    Gorsuch’s youngest son Thomas was incensed by the murder of his father and the verdict. He wrote to a close friend who was even more outraged. The friend later stated that the Christiana incident shaped his pro-slavery feelings and allowed him to see that a complete separation from the North was just, necessary, and inevitable. That friend was John Wilkes Booth. 



    Renee Gordon has written a weekly travel column for the Philadelphia Sun Newspaper for the past fifteen years and has published articles on local, national and international travel in numerous publications. Her columns focus on cultural, historic and heritage tourism and her areas of specialization are sites and attractions related to African American and African Diaspora history. Renee has been a guest radio commentator on various aspects of tourism and appeared in a documentary, "The Red Summer of 1919". As an educator for thirty years she was an English teacher, event and meeting planner, served as an educational consultant and intern-teacher mentor. She contributed to textbooks on women's history and classroom management and has facilitated workshops on both subjects. Renee considers herself a "missionary journalist" and as such she continues to promote heritage and sustainable tourism.

    2013 Recipient of African Diaspora World Tourism Flame Keeper in Media Award for Travel Writing

    IABTW- International Association of Black Travel Writers
    PBJ - Progressive Black Journalists


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