African American History Culture : 9/11: The Christiana Riot

Discussion in 'African American History Culture' started by RAPTOR, Sep 11, 2011.


    RAPTOR Well-Known Member MEMBER

    United States
    Sep 12, 2009
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    On September 11, 1851, near the Quaker village of Christiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland slaveholder Edward Gorsuch, his friends, and three U.S. marshals surrounded the home of William Parker, a local black leader and an escaped slave. Gorsuch believed that some of his slaves were hiding there. Parker sounded an alarm and about one hundred armed black men and two whites arrived. The conflict resulted in Gorsuch’s death and the wounding of three members of his party, including his son. Parker and the Gorsuch slaves fled to Ontario, Canada, where Canadian officials refused to respond to U.S. federal demands for extradition. Hoping to make examples of the rioters, federal prosecutors charged them not only with resisting the Fugitive Slave Act, but also with treason. The Christiana Revolt greatly heightened the growing tension between the North and the South, and marked the first episode of African-American resistance to the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act.

    Survivors of the Christiana Revolt

    Survivors of the Christiana Revolt


    Any fugitive slave cases in Harrisburg in September 1851 paled against the events in Lancaster County that month. Maryland slaveholder Edward Gorsuch, backed by U.S. Marshalls, surrounded the Christiana home of William Parker, a Black community leader and an escaped slave himself. Parker had previously vowed not to surrender any fugitives to the law, openly defying one of the key components of the 1850 act. Parker’s wife Eliza Ann sounded an alarm and local Blacks, who had been planning a defense, flocked to the scene. Gorsuch was killed by a gunshot blast and three members of his party were wounded. Parker and the fugitive slaves were forced to flee to Canada. The situation was so serious that President Fillmore dispatched a company of U.S. Marines to reinforce a contingent of Philadelphia police that had been hastily dispatched to restore order.[xxi]

    Fallout from the Christiana Revolt did not affect Harrisburg immediately, but it appears Commissioner McAllister saw an opportunity to use the white community’s fear of Black uprisings to his advantage. In October 1851 four Blacks were arrested on the charge of complicity in murder for having participated in the Christiana uprising. At McAllister’s request, Judge Pearson postponed their hearing for one day. The following day, Pearson , finding no evidence against the men, dismissed all charges and lambasted the magistrate for false imprisonment. McAllister and District Attorney James Fox both admitted wrongdoing in the matter, yet immediately handcuffed the men and took them across the street to McAllister’s office where a party of southern slaveholders awaited. A brief hearing behind closed doors followed, after which the slaves left with the slaveholders for the south.
    This incident was widely reported upon in local newspapers and picked up by both the pro-slavery and anti-slavery newspapers. An anonymous source reported that McAllister, knowing from circulars that the four men were runaway slaves, had them imprisoned on the false Christiana charges and delayed the proceedings until he could notify the owners in Baltimore to quickly come to Harrisburg to claim the men. The source also reported that McAllister accompanied the large posse, appointed to intimidate the usual gathering of local Blacks, with the slaves and slaveholders back to Baltimore where he collected an $800 reward.[xxii]

    If 1851 was a year of fear and uncertainty for Harrisburg Blacks, 1852 was worse. Christiana’s bloodshed was still fresh in everyone’s mind; the acquittal of the lone defendant who came to trial and the dismissal of charges against the others produced a fierce determination to resist in Blacks throughout the state, and a bitter resentment in southern minds. The furor had not yet subsided when two sisters, Rachel and Elizabeth Parker, were kidnapped from their Chester County homes and taken to Maryland. Elizabeth was almost immediately sold into slavery and later turned up in New Orleans, while Rachel and her kidnapper were followed by a party of friends, one of whom was Joseph Miller, with whose family she had been living for six years. Miller located Rachel in a slave pen in Baltimore, then brought her assailant, Thomas McCreary, before a magistrate on kidnapping charges. Miller was on his way home with friends when he became separated from them and was waylaid and murdered. Rachel spent more than a year in Maryland prisons while the competing state courts tried to find a solution that would satisfy everyone. In the end, Maryland courts agreed to declare Rachel and Elizabeth free women in exchange for a dismissal of all charges by Pennsylvania courts against McCreary and those under investigation for Miller’s murder.[xxiii]